cover image The Chosen Peoples: America, Israel and the Ordeals of Divine Election

The Chosen Peoples: America, Israel and the Ordeals of Divine Election

Todd Gitlin and Liel Leibovitz, Simon & Schuster, $26 (272p) ISBN 978-1-4391-3235-7

Two drastically different interpretations of "chosenness" inform this ambitious religio-political meditation on American and Israeli history. The first, which sociologist Gitlin (The Sixties) and journalist Leibovitz (Aliya) deplore, is an arrogant assumption of God-given superiority and entitlement—especially to a "Promised Land" inhabited by others—that breeds jingoism, imperialism, and bitter wars with Canaanites, Palestinians, or Native Americans. The second, which they locate in a humbler tradition stretching from the Torah to the writings of Abraham Lincoln, treats chosenness as an obligation—"closer to a curse than a blessing"—to strive towards ideals of humanity and social justice. The theme of chosenness yields an insightful reading of the Israeli national project, which is explicitly linked to ancient religious imperatives, but it says less about the American experience. Yes, as the authors demonstrate, Americans from the Pilgrim Fathers to George W. Bush have claimed divine sanction, but are such sentiments deeply motivating or just rhetorical window-dressing for opportunistic land-grabs and military adventures? Gitlin and Leibowitz load too great an explanatory burden onto a forced comparison between the two nations. (Sept.)