Walter Russell Mead on why many Americans support Israel

Walter Russell Mead argues that AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) is good for both Jews and America because it ties being pro-American and pro-Israel, which in turn stigmatizes anti-Semitism.  It’s kind of an interesting argument that you might want to read all the way through.  The most obvious objection might be that a powerful AIPAC fuels anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, but I think that Mead would respond that in mainstream American culture it works to promote American identification with Israel and therefore favorable views of Jews.  Something to mull over, anyway.

Mead argues that there are three reasons that “lobbying for Israel makes Jews look more patriotic, more American, even in a certain way more pro-Christian.”  The shared idea of a special relationship with God, similar enemies in the Middle East, and the contradiction of the anti-Semitic trope that Jews are “‘rootless cosmopolites’ out to destroy the cohesion of our country” (because Jews are attached firmly to their state).  It’s interesting to note that Theodore Herzl, who advocated for a Jewish state in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, hoped that establishing a Jewish state would drain the swamp of anti-Semitism in Europe.  If Mead is right, then Herzl’s idea worked as far as the U.S. goes.  Not as much other places, obviously.

I want to quote at length Mead’s idea of the religious affinity between American and Israel:

Chosen Peoples

First, in America, you can’t forget God. It’s not just the long history of American pro-Zionism, a history that can be traced back to Cotton Mather and before him to the Puritans in England.  And it’s certainly not just fundamentalist religious fervor.  Nobody ever called Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Harry Truman or Bill Clinton Christian fundamentalists, but there is plenty of evidence that their personal religious convictions played a substantial role in their decisions to support the Jewish project in the Middle East.

There’s a sense in which Americans (liberal as well as conservative, theologically moderate or even modernist as well as evangelical or fundamentalist) feel that the restoration of the Jews to the Holy Land is proof that America’s God is real.  For centuries, Americans of many different theological perspectives have read their Bibles in ways that highlight the importance of the Jews in the divine plan and the parallels between God’s plans for the Jews and the divine intentions towards the United States.  The continuing existence of the Jewish people against so many odds and through so many persecutions is one of the most powerful arguments that Christian apologetics can produce for the truth of Christianity.  The preservation of the Jews and their return to Israel is seen as proof that God acts in history — a very reassuring thought for people concerned about the dangers of modern life.  While premillennial dispensationalists and others may believe that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land signals the beginning of the apocalypse, there are many others for whom it means just the opposite.  Despite the nukes, the ozone layer, the biological WMDs and the other horrors lurking out there we aren’t about to disappear because history remains under the control of an all-powerful, all-loving God.  The God who delivered Daniel from the lions’ den, who rescued Shadrach, Meshach and Abendego from the fiery furnace, who brought the children of Israel dry-shod through the Red Sea, and fed them on manna for forty years in the wilderness, this God is still around, still faithful to his promises, and still guiding humanity through the dangers that surround us.  To be pro-Israel is to be pro-hope.

The perception that American Jews support Israel and that they want the United States to support Israel strikes many Americans as less evidence of dual loyalty than of evidence that ‘all things work together for good for those who love God.’  For scores of millions of people in this country, loyalty to the United States, support for Israel and love of God all go hand in hand — and America’s special relationship with Israel is a sign of America’s special relationship with God.

It is those who challenge this set of ideas who seem to many Americans to be anti-national cosmopolites.  To be pro-Israel is to be pro-American exceptionalism, to buy into the great myths that sustain America’s self image.  Gentile Americans who think that AIPAC represents American Jews at large are reassured, not disturbed by this support.  It stands as proof of the essential compatibility between American Jews and American values.

Hat tip: Jeff Goldberg


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