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Commemorating a national tragedy requires integrity. Memorial Day is not observed with proclamations of pacifism, nor should it be. December 7, 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, is properly remembered as the day that will “live in infamy,” not as a plea for international sensitivity.
As Americans prepared to remember the loss of nearly 3,000 innocent lives in the most horrific attack in our history, our measure of fidelity to the meaning of 9/11 was tested. There was, understandably, a wide array of commemorative responses. Amid the profusion of agonizing replays, poignant reminiscences and solemn reflections, one response was conspicuous for its willful distortion of history.
As it happened, it came from the White House in the form of guidelines to government officials. Released to The New York Times (and curiously unavailable on any government website), it provided a dismaying glimpse of memory transformed by a political agenda.
“A chief goal of our communications,” declared the guidelines, “is to present a positive, forward-looking narrative.” No space would be wasted with reminders of the war that had been declared by jihadi Muslims, inspired by Osama bin Laden, against the United States as the ultimate embodiment of evil.
Indeed, as one government official explained, “The important theme is to show the world how much we realize that 9/11 – the attacks themselves and violent extremism writ large – is not just about us.” Precisely why a targeted attack against the United States was not “just about us” was left to the imagination.
Contriving a multicultural event, the White House proclaimed: “We honor and celebrate the resilience of individuals, families, and communities on every continent, whether in New York or Nairobi, Bali or Belfast, Mumbai or Manila, or Lahore or London.” This alliterative recitation was clearly designed to deflect attention from the nation that was exclusively targeted on 9/11.
It also conspicuously omitted two cities in one country that has been the target of choice for Muslim terrorists for decades. That country, of course, is Israel, where Palestinian terrorists carried out deadly massacres in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv long before, and ever since, 9/11. In the past decade alone, more than 1,000 Israelis were murdered in targeted terrorist attacks, while more than 8,000 rockets have been launched into Israel by Hamas and Hizbullah. Why the White House chose to ignore Jewish victims of Muslim terrorism in the Jewish state, targeted solely because they were Jews, deserves an explanation – and an apology.
In a revealing display of wishful thinking, the White House guidelines instructed American officials abroad to emphasize that “Al Qaeda and its adherents have become increasingly irrelevant.” It all depends, of course, on what the meaning of “adherents” is. Certainly Hamas and Hizbullah, funded and armed by Iran and Syria, have not disappeared.
As New York Times culture critic Edward Rothstein noted in his scathing commentary (September 3) on the White House guidelines, they contained no hint that 9/11 was “about Islamist extremism or the jihadist proclamations by its aspirants.” They also carefully avoided mentioning that American military power has had anything to do with crippling Al Qaeda or obliterating Osama bin Laden and other top leaders.
According to the guidelines, the tenth-year anniversary was to be a national day of “Service and Remembrance.” Commemoration should encourage “service projects” and a “spirit of unity” to strengthen the nation whenever it is called upon to confront “whatever dangers may come – be they terrorist attacks or natural disasters.” Somehow 9/11 and Hurricane Irene became moral equivalents.
What the White House guidelines, and the president who authorized them, ignored is the horrifying uniqueness of 9/11: Muslim terrorists declared war against the United States by flying airplanes filled with innocent travelers into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and (due to the uncommon bravery of passengers on Flight 93) the ground at Shanksville rather than the Capitol.
Perhaps the more urgent conclusion to be drawn from 9/11, missing from the commemoration guidelines, is that appeasement of terrorism is misguided. There was, after all, a history of pre-9/11 terrorism directed against American targets. In 1998, 257 people were killed by Islamic terrorists who blew up American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. Two years later an Al Qaeda attack killed 17 American sailors aboard the USS Cole.
But the response of the Clinton administration was muted. And the incessant bureaucratic infighting and ineptitude in the CIA and FBI, and between them, left the nation woefully unprepared for what was coming as bin Laden grew ever more emboldened.
In his Cairo speech in 2009, and since, President Obama has defended Islam as a religion of peace while soft-pedaling Muslim extremism and avoiding its continuing targeting of Israel. According to his director of national intelligence, after all, the Muslim Brotherhood “is largely secular, eschewing violence.” The president’s counter-terrorism adviser claimed “there is no Jihadist terrorism, because Jihad is a process which purifies the soul.” His homeland security secretary avoided mention of terrorism by substituting the ludicrous “man-caused disaster.”
An unprecedented national tragedy cannot be understood, nor future danger averted, by wishful thinking, euphemism, and denial. But the revisionists are already hard at work to do just that.
The integrity of commemoration, as most Americans surely realized, required truth-telling. But the White House 9/11 guidelines lamentably demonstrated that a president known for “leading from behind,” except when Israel is available for pummeling, may not yet realize that while 9/11 is now a decade in the past, the dangers to Americans – to say nothing of Israelis – from Muslim terrorism remain front and center on any jihadi target list.
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of “Brothers at War: Israel and the Tragedy of the Altalena” (Quid Pro Books), published in June.
About the Author: Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of “Jewish State/Pariah Nation: Israel and the Dilemmas of Legitimacy,” to be published next month by Quid Pro Books.
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The decision to not publicly light the Menorah in Sydney, epitomizes the eternal dilemma of Judaism and Jews in the Diaspora.
Am Yisrael is one family, filled with excruciating pain&sorrow for losing the 4 kedoshim of Har Nof
What is its message of the dreidel?” The complexity and hidden nature of history and miracles.
Police play down Arab terrorism as mere “violence” until the truth can no longer be hidden.
The 7 branches of the menorah represent the 7 pillars of secular wisdom, knowledge, and science.
Obama obtained NO verifiable commitments from Cuba it would desist from acts prejudicial to the US
No one would deny that the program subjected detainees to less than pleasant treatment, but the salient point is, for what purpose?
For the past six years President Obama has consistently deplored all Palestinian efforts to end-run negotiations in search of a UN-imposed agreement on Israel.
It’s not an admiration. It is simply a kind of journalist fascination. It stands out, it’s different from more traditional Orthodoxy.
For Am Yisrael, the sun’s movements are subservient to the purpose of our existence.
Israelis now know Arab terrorism isn’t caused by Israeli occupation but by ending Israeli occupation
Anti-Semitism is a social toxin that destroys the things that people most cherish and enjoy.
Amb. Cooper highlighted the impact of the Chanukah/Maccabee spirit on America’s Founding Fathers
Times reporter Anne Barnard reported (7/15) that Israel was to blame (so her Palestinian sources asserted) for its continued “occupation” of Gaza – which, Barnard failed to note, ended nearly a decade ago.
During much of the 20th century, elite American colleges and universities carefully policed their admission gates to restrict the entry of Jews. Like its Big Brothers – Harvard, Yale and Princeton – Wellesley College, where I taught history between 1971 and 2010, designed admission policy to perpetuate a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant elite.
Yossi Klein Halevi’s Like Dreamers (Harper) explores the lives of seven Israeli paratroopers in the Six-Day War who, his subtitle suggests, “Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation.” It offers a fascinating variation on the theme of Israel at a fateful crossroads, in search of itself, following the wondrously unifying moment at the Western Wall in June 1967 when Jewish national sovereignty in Jerusalem was restored for the first time in nineteen centuries.
In death as in life, Menachem Begin remained who he had always been: a proud yet humble Jew.
Eighty years ago, in January 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany. Barely a month later Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated president of the United States. For the next twelve years, until their deaths eighteen days apart in April 1945, they personified the horrors of dictatorship and the blessings of democracy.
One of my searing early memories from Israel is a visit nearly four decades ago to the Ghetto Fighters Museum in the Beit Lohamei Hagetaot kibbutz. The world’s first Holocaust museum, it was built soon after the Independence War by survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
Nearly sixty-five years ago Israel declared its independence and won the war that secured a Jewish state. But its narrow and permeable postwar armistice lines permitted incessant cross-border terrorist raids. For Egypt, Syria and Jordan, the mere existence of a Jewish state remained an unbearable intrusion into the Arab Middle East. As Egyptian President Nasser declared, “The danger of Israel lies in the very existence of Israel.”
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