“Why is America so much more pro-Israeli than Europe?” The Economist recently posed this question, and, peremptorily, answered it: “The Israeli lobby (AIPAC) and the religious right.”
The idea of a Jewish lobby that looms larger than life feeds nicely into the “wars for oil and Israel” conspiracy, popular in Europe. The madcap crowd propounding this “perspective” believes that, by and large due to The Lobby, the small satellite state (Israel) controls the colossus (US).
This explanation is shorthand for Jewish supernatural powers. Unlike mere mortals (or Muslims), whenever Jews organize, they are said to exert influence that is both bad and excessively broad.
In their defense, Muslim lobbies were becoming mighty efficient too. Their representatives were regular guests at the White House, no less—even giving an invocation to Congress. But then one after the other these media-savvy mouthpieces were implicated in terrorism. Or, conversely, caught on tape cussing America and vowing to transform it into an Islamic state. Not even the GOP’s Grover Norquist, also the Muslim community’s most powerful lobbyist, has been able to reverse the damage done.
The second reason for the support for Israel, surmises the Economist, lies in Americans’ Christian faith. Evangelicals especially are viewed by European sophisticates, and others on the fashionable left, as happy-clappy cretins. Writes the Economist:
White evangelicals are significantly more pro-Israeli than Americans in general; more than half of them say they strongly sympathise with Israel. (A third of the Americans who claim sympathy with Israel say that this stems from their religious beliefs.) Two in five Americans believe that Israel was given to the Jewish people by God…
Fear of Islamic terror and cultural commonalities also account for the baffling support Israel has among Americans, grants the Economist. Hollywood and high-tech, however, are not what the suggestive polls invoked by the magazine imply, when they speak of a shared “culture.” As Europeans see it, fealty to the atavistic forces of nationalism and militarism is the only “culture” that unites the two nations.
If lily-livered Europeans want to understand the ties between the US and Israel, they’d be better off reading Russell Kirk than the Economist. In “The Roots of American Order,” Kirk traced the profound influence the Hebraic faith and traditions had on the New England Puritans, who drew for sustenance and guidance on Exodus, just as they did on Kings and Romans.
The American colonists, who were heavily influenced by “John Calvin’s Hebrew scholarship,” saw in the children of Israel and the story of the Exodus a metaphor for their own quest. In 1630, on the ship sailing to the New World, Puritan leader John Winthrop “preached a lay sermon to remind his fellow-voyagers how they made a covenant with the God of Israel.”
“Because freedom from slavery and oppression were dominant themes in the Old Testament,” wrote Kirk, “the legacy of Israel and Judah nourished American liberty.” The Torah, or the Law—”the moral commandments revealed to Moses upon Mount Sinai”—were guiding principles to early Americans. According to Kirk, “The American moral order could not have come into existence at all, had it not been for the legacy left by Israel.”
Indeed, the American founders had a deep affinity for—and knowledge of—the Mosaic faith and morals. In the Israelites, they saw a people that had set up a political order that was unique in the ancient world for the “existence of a partial check upon civil authority,” said Kirk.
In the prophets, in particular—from Amos to the second Isaiah—John Adams saw exemplars for American order, political and private. “The great prophets restrained the kings’ ambitions,” and constantly rebuked the king and the people for their transgressions (at great personal risk).
For the greater part of its history, Israel lived without a state (i.e., a monarch). But when they did form one, “their one clear political principle was a religious doctrine. The human rulers of this people…remain subordinate to God and they are judged by the degree of their fidelity to the indissoluble covenant between God and his people.”
“A vast majority of Americans at the time of the framing of the constitution” were intimately familiar with the Law and the teachings of the prophets. These laws, in Kirk’s telling, were “not a set of harsh prohibitions imposed by an arbitrary tribal deity. Instead they are liberating rules that enable people to diminish the tyranny of sin; that teach people how to live with one another and in relation to God, how to restrain violence and fraud, how to know justice and to raise themselves above the level of predatory animals.”
Israel keeps falling from grace. “America,” as Kirk observed, “is no Bible state.” And the political caste of both houses is plagued by false prophets. Americans needn’t emulate Europeans, although both Israel and the US might want to revisit their shared roots, occasionally.
© 2006 By Ilana Mercer