Friends IV: Is America Irrationally Infatuated With Israel

Gershom Gorenberg

My friend Shaul Magid has an essay up at Religion Dispatches looking at the one consensus subject in American politics: all candidates must profess unquestioned support for Israel:

The world markets are collapsing, Russia invades Georgia, the Taliban are back in power in Afghanistan, Pakistan is on the verge of imploding, we don’t even know if the dictator of a nuclear North Korea is alive (and, if not, who is running that country), Iran may be building a nuclear weapon, and they are crawling all over one another to pledge their allegiance to…Israel? What exactly is going on?!

Shaul suggests that no electoral calculus can explain this. Rather, there is a fascination with Jews as mythical creatures:

I suggest that it borders on an obsession that is structurally similar to historic anti-Semitism. By this I mean that either depicting the Jews as the devilish scapegoat for all societal ills or this new expression of seemingly unreflective love both present Israel (or the Jews) in an exceptional and, perhaps, unreasonable light. The structure of a double standard, whether to demonize one group or overly favor them, plays into old stereotypes of the “Jew” as other; in one case pariah, in another, charmed hero….

For many centuries, perhaps beginning with Augustine’s post-triumphalist Christianity, Christendom was obsessed with the Jews (or, “The Jewish Question”). That obsession led them, among other things, to construct the Jew as Christ-killer, anti-Christ and a pariah people. America (along with much of the Christian West) has thankfully righted that wrong even as they have yet to cure their obsession. In some way America seems to have retained the structure of the old negative stereotype despite, or precisely due to, [the] pledge of uncritical support for Israel.

In other words, philo-Semitism — expressed as “Israel, right or wrong” — ignores Jews as real human beings. What Shaul might have added here is that the goal of Zionism (I’m paraphrasing Amos Oz here) was to allow Jews to be people rather than figments of Europe’s mythical imagination.

I’m not sure I’d dismiss the electoral considerations as quickly as Shaul does. (But then, exaggerating Jews’ electoral importance is another way of treating them as wizards.) My criticism of The Israel Lobby is sharper than his – indeed, I think the book also treats Jews as mythical creatures. But I do think he’s on to something that deserves discussion. Take a look.

4 thoughts on “Friends IV: Is America Irrationally Infatuated With Israel”

  1. The Jews

    My relatives are Jews, my partner’s deceased husband was a Jew, a good percentage of the parents with whom I attended PTA meetings when my kids were in grade school are Jewish. My rep in Congress is Jewish, my state senator is Jewish. My downstairs neighbor is Jew. The people from whom I bought my house were Jewish. The next door neighbors at that house were Jewish. I used to sit on a park bench and shoot the breeze with an octogenarian who was Jewish.

    So you might say I have some familiarity with Jews. What is my conclusion based on a lifetime of talking to and living with Jews?

    They are remarkably like everybody else though they seem to have a few more holidays.

    The End

  2. Thoughts:

    I have an Israeli friend who is a U.S. submariner. I told him that if anyone ever gave him a hard time about anything from faith to the cultural undercurrents of USS Liberty incident to the unspoken suggestion of him being a secret agent (i.e. mythical creature syndrome) to simply remind that person that it it was a Jewish immigrant from Poland who oversaw the development of the American nuclear submarine program: Admiral Rickover.

    I’ve always admired Israel for what it did during the Yom Kippur War.

  3. I loved your response cliff. Jews not the chosen people. we, like other nations, are the choosing people, and when it comes to elections, we have the right to choose just like everyone else.

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