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Published on: March 10, 2010
Don’t Blame The Jews

Many people think that Jewish lobbying, pressure and influence dragged a reluctant Uncle Sam into the Middle East.  Think again. Now it’s true that American opposition to Zionism has a long and distinguished pedigree.  In the 19th century, American missionaries built a network of colleges and hospitals across what was then the Ottoman Empire and […]

Many people think that Jewish lobbying, pressure and influence dragged a reluctant Uncle Sam into the Middle East.  Think again.

Now it’s true that American opposition to Zionism has a long and distinguished pedigree.  In the 19th century, American missionaries built a network of colleges and hospitals across what was then the Ottoman Empire and what today we call the Middle East.  The missionaries and their students helped develop modern secular Arab nationalism. The idea was that if Arabs stopped thinking of themselves as Muslims and Christians, but developed a communal inter-religious identity, this would allow Christian Arabs to play a larger role in political life and, the missionaries hoped, one day open the doors to present the gospel to the Muslims.  Many of the great leaders of Arab secular nationalism, including the (French-educated) Michel Aflaq, founder of the Ba’ath Party that once ruled Iraq and still rules Syria and whose beautiful tomb in Baghdad (at right) was built by Saddam Hussein, were Arabs of Christian origin.

Michel Aflaq's Tomb in Iraq

For these missionaries, the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine looked like a disaster.  It radicalized and fragmented Arab politics and introduced the motifs of religious struggle that to this day divide, for example, the Palestinians between religious parties like Hamas and secular ones like Fatah.  Zionism was especially polarizing in modern Syria, Lebanon and Palestine — where some of the highest concentrations of Arab Christians were.  Moreover, the American missionaries in the Arab world identified with the Arab struggles for independence first from the Ottomans, and later from the British and the French.  They generally had a great deal of respect for Arab culture and looked to establish a close relationship between the United States and the rising Arab peoples.  The missionaries and their successors believed that the smart choice for the United States in the Middle East was to make friends with the Arabs; American support for the Jews was a foreign policy disaster that ran clearly counter to our obvious national interest.

Today when we think of missionaries we tend to think of evangelicals from what we East Coast types call the boondocks when nobody is looking, and the heartland when we are running for office, especially in the Iowa caucuses.  One hundred years ago, that wasn’t true.  Missionaries for the mainline denominations — which were the ones who predominated in the Ottoman Empire and who controlled the great missionary institutions of the day — were often extremely well connected and were sometimes well heeled members of the establishment.  Prominent business and political leaders sat on the boards of missionary colleges and missionary kids regularly returned for college at places like Yale before heading into careers in government service — and especially into the State Department.  (Missionary kids understood foreign languages and culture; they played a huge role in the expansion of America’s international presence during and after World War Two.)

The missionaries were more like the development establishment and the Ford Foundation of today than like Campus Crusade for Christ, and the young people (more than half of them women by some counts) who went into missionary service were more like Peace Corps and development workers.  They were, in other words, very much like the people in America today who are least likely to sympathize with Israel in the Middle East: well connected, well educated intellectuals and professionals from a high WASP and usually New England, background.  They generally had a wider knowledge about foreign affairs than most other Americans, and were interested in and concerned about development, democratization and women’s rights.  Their connection to Christianity was closer than that of their descendants; they believed that the promotion of social equality, economic development, rights for women and transparency in government were all intrinsically connected to the promotion of Christianity, but the missionaries and their allies were liberal upper-middle-class professionals from the mainline denominations and their descendants and heirs are very much with us now — and they still tend not to like Israel very much.

samuelzwemer Samuel_Martin_Jordan_Missionary Michel_Aflaq

Then, as now, they thought Zionism was basically a bad idea (though once the state of Israel was a fait accompli they didn’t support its destruction), that it was bad for American foreign policy, and that the United States ought to stay as far away from it as possible.  Then, as now, they were largely clueless about why the Zionist cause was so persistently popular in Congress; then, as now, they blamed it on the Jews.  At that time, unlike today, these sentiments were often expressed in overtly and even virulently anti-Semitic language.

Although American anti-Zionists have never quite been able to figure it out, the typical pattern in the politics of American policy toward Israel dates back into the 19th century.  Public opinion is generally strongly pro-Zionist and Congress reflects that sentiment.  The diplomatic and academic establishment is much more cautious, with attitudes ranging from coolly skeptical to bitterly opposed.  Presidents occupy the middle ground, looking to harmonize the public’s support with the establishment’s unhappiness and they tilt one way or another depending on their assessment of the domestic and international politics of the day.

This, I think, is the heart of the matter:  American Jews didn’t drag reluctant American gentiles into the Middle East; it’s much more accurate to say that American gentiles pushed reluctant American Jews into the Zionist movement.  If American Jews had the power to shape American policy towards the Jews through the twentieth century, most likely there would be no state of Israel today.  This is an inconvenient truth.  Zionist myths about the Jewish past and gentile myths about American innocence are both challenged by this history.

American Jewish leaders in the old days were largely anti-Zionist for both ideological and pragmatic reasons.  Ideologically they mostly accepted the view that Judaism was a religion not a nation.  There were American Jews and French Jews and Russian Jews just like there were Swedish Lutherans and German Lutherans and American Lutherans.  Pragmatically, they thought that helping the tiny Jewish community in Palestine to grow was a distraction from the much more important job of helping millions of Jews in the war-devastated parts of Europe and the Middle East survive, and defending their rights in the chaos and anti-Semitism that marked the aftermath of the war.  (Some were also anti-Zionist because Zionism was strongest among Russian Jews.  Assimilated German-American Jews had little in common with these strange new ‘eastern’ Jews.)

If Jews had been running America back then, our foreign policy before and after World War One would have first stressed strong and effective support for Jews in central and eastern Europe.  We would have stayed involved in Europe after the war and worked with Britain and France to make sure that countries like Poland treated their large Jewish minorities fairly.  But Jews weren’t in charge.  Gentiles didn’t want to do that, and it didn’t happen.  We wrote nasty notes and pursed our lips in disapproval, but that was about it, and there was virtually no support for a more aggressive human rights policy at the time.

The second priority of American Jews earlier in the century was to permit greater Jewish immigration to the United States, especially as the Nazi persecution intensified.  Once again, the answer was clear, unambiguous and united: No.

America made the decision with wide public support after World War One that immigration to the United States could not be the solution to the world’s humanitarian problems.  Not for Jews, not for Christian Armenians and Greeks, not for refugees from the massacres of Christian minorities in the post-World War One Middle East, not for Italians, Czechs or Poles.  The door was closed; America was full.  In 1924 a narrow quota system was imposed which dramatically cut the overall number of immigrants and slashed immigration from countries where Jews lived even more.  Well placed and wealthy Jews lobbied to keep immigration open, and when that failed they lobbied for special emergency quotas to help Jews trying to flee the worsening conditions in Germany and elsewhere.  No dice and no deal: no ‘special treatment’ for the Jews.  (This wasn’t just anti-Semitism, though anti-Semitism played a role.  Politicians didn’t see how they could let Jews in without angering other American ethnic groups whose immigration quotas were small.  Operating an immigration system that essentially discriminated in favor of Jews was something the American political system could not handle.)

The third and last possibility, something that many American Jewish leaders could only bring themselves to endorse, reluctantly, after World War Two had already broken out, was to ask for American support for Jewish immigration to Palestine and for Jewish political aspirations there.  Here, American Jews were basically pushing on an open door.  Public opinion always favored this option; after World War One, the Balfour Declaration was endorsed in both houses of Congress by unanimous votes (in the same 67th Congress that issued emergency immigration quotas).

A conspiratorial-minded and paranoid Jew could come up with a description of the modern Zionist movement as a gentile plot against the Jews: to push them all into a narrow, inhospitable strip of desert land entirely surrounded by people who hate them.  This in fact is one reason so many American Jewish leaders opposed the Zionist movement in the early years.  They saw it as a kind of “Jewish Liberia”; just as whites once hoped to recolonize African-Americans in Africa they might want to send the Jews ‘back’ to their ‘home.’

From a Jewish point of view, it was Zion or bust.  Given gentile attitudes in the United States, Zionism was the only possible program to help world Jews that the United States was actually willing to support.  This stark and unavoidable fact is what slowly turned many American Jews toward the Zionist movement.  If the United States had organized a strong and effective western coalition to defend Jews across Europe after 1919 or alternatively had simply permitted free Jewish immigration to this country after 1923, Jewish history might have taken a very different course.

You may be proud of this history, you may think it was all a ghastly mistake, or you may shake your head over the mysterious and twisting turns that history makes.  It doesn’t much matter; when Americans look at the Jewish state today, we need to recognize that if there was a paternity suit in this case, the DNA test would nail us.  Like it or not, that’s our baby over there.  Jews built the state of Israel, but Israel exists today because it was an American as well as a Jewish dream to build it.

Without an understanding of this history, I think it’s impossible to think clearly either about the realities of the Middle East or about the politics of Israel policy in the United States today.  The missionaries never got this; their heirs still get it wrong.

[This post reflects some work I've done on a book about gentile co-responsibility for Israel; I'm publishing these thoughts in part as a kind of open study group.  Feel free to comment -- not that you need any encouragement!  The responses will help me test my assumptions, see where the argument -- which looks solid to me -- might need more work, and come out at the end with a better, stronger book.  Who knows: you might even persuade me that I'm wrong.]

show comments
  • Luke Lea

    Hmm. You need to explain why American popular support for Israel didn’t really pick up until after 1967.

  • Hardy

    Mr. Mead-

    An interesting angle, but you make two assumptions here that, at the very least, need a great deal more support to make your argument work.

    1) You contrast the “WASP missionaries” of the early 20th century, who you claim were virulently anti-Zionist and even anti-Semitic, to the majority of “American gentiles”, whose pro-Zionist opinions you claim were reflected by Congress’s attitude. While this seems plausible enough, you give very little evidence as to what made this majority of pro-Zionist American gentile population so pro-Zionist in the first place. You state of our WASPish elites, “they were largely clueless about why the Zionist cause was so persistently popular in Congress” and so blamed it on the Jews, without ever really explaining why it was in fact so popular in Congress. Why did the common American gentile in fact give a damn about the Zionist project in the first place if they were not part of the outward looking elite, but instead the common mass of Americans in that time period, who unless I am very much mistaken, were strongly isolationist? And if they did deem the Zionist cause important, is there any particular reason they did so?

    2) While not arguing so directly, your tone seems to strongly suggest that the New England, outward looking, elitist missionary population that supported the Arab world and not the Zionist project were mistaken in their outlook. But where exactly was their miscalculation in thinking Zionism would hurt America’s interests in the region? When you present the reasons for their pro-Arab sentiment and their worries about the Zionist movement, they sound both rational and in fact staunchly centered on what was best for American interests at the time. Perhaps you are in fact supporting their sentiments, but if, as I’m guessing, you are not, an explanation of a fallacy in their line of thought clearly needs to be included.

    Good luck on the book.

    -CH Calvert

  • Dimitry

    Your description of the missionaries in this post is rather simplistic and cherry picks what you want them to be. I am currently in the middle of Michael Oren’s book (“Power, Faith and Fantasy”). According to him, at least in the 19th century many of the missionaries came to the ME partly in order to convert the Jews as well as encourage Jewish return to the Holy Land to spur the second coming. They settled for the developemental projects such as clinics and colleges because they failed to convert either Jews, Muslims or other Christians (from “eastern” denominations). I suspect that it was a mix of things.

  • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com/ Norwegian Shooter

    “it’s impossible to think clearly … about the politics of Israel policy in the United States today” by going on about 19th century missionaries, even if you include their incredibly influential offspring. (A Protocol of the Elders of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, perhaps?)

    Your claim is that overwhelming public support for Israel drives American policy towards that country. You cited a Gallup poll on “favorable” opinion towards countries. (I think it’s safe to ignore the very flawed “sympathy” poll) You simply assumed America’s 67% “favorable” attitude towards Israel explains why American policy is so pro-Israel.

    Larison rebutted you, both factually with a World Public Opinion poll and in your assumption that public opinion drives Israel policy.

    What say you?

  • Roy

    Jews as a nation

    Respecting the idea that Jews do or do not constitute a nation, modern genetic research affirms the strong biological kinship among Jews, and their closeness to other ethnic groups in the Middle East.

    Nobel Laureate Harold Varmus created a fantastic online reference called pubmed. Every medical paper published in every journal around the world is indexed, and typically include an abstract summary that states its methods and aims in something like plain English. (English, as Walter has said in God and Gold, is the language of science.)

    You can search by topic, by journal, by disease, by physicians or scientist name, etc. If you or a family member or friend is coping with a medical condition, this is an excellent way to catch up with the state of modern research and care on the subject.

    Contrary to the myths about Jews not representing a bona fide ethnicity, this paper linked to below, among others, shows the relative biological homogeneity of the Jewish people.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10801975

  • RS

    First, I just want to say how refreshing reading your blog posts regarding American support for Israel has been. Thank you, really.

    I have some minor quibbles with your characterization of mainstream Jewish views of Zionism. For sure, a good deal of the Jewish “elite” and major Jewish orgs were non- or anti-Zionist, for the reasons you pointed out. And Zionist activism from these quarters only began in any significant way post-WWII. But the Jewish populace was a different story – shortly after the turn of the 19th century, the majority of Jews in America were Russian and East European – more religious, more traditional, more exposed to Zionist ideas, more inclined to think of Jewish peoplehood. And this was reflected in communal trends.

    For example, the Conservative movement in America was Zionist almost from its inception (not too surprising, since its inception coincided with heightened Zionist immigration from Europe). The Reform movement (founded by German Jews of the “old school”) increased its Zionist sympathies as a result of Louis Brandeis’s exhortations that being a good Jew meant being a Zionist, and being a good American (in the liberal sense) meant being a good Jew. This obviously has implications for today’s rhetoric on shared values and the like. It was only the Orthodox community that became Zionist after the Holocaust – theological motivations prevented them from supporting the movement beforehand.
    Jonathan Sarna’s book – American Judaism – has a good description of American Jewish support (or lack thereof) for Zionism.

  • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com/ Norwegian Shooter

    BTW, “incredibly influential offspring” was tongue in cheek, I forget that sarcasm doesn’t exist on the internets. On that topic, shouldn’t you post a disclosure when you assert that East Coast liberal elites whose fathers were Christian missionaries are incredibly influential in Mideast politics? And you never did explain what you were meeting about when Arafat kissed you tenderly on the noggin.

  • Roy

    From “The Politics of God” in The New York Times.

    By MARK LILLA
    Published: August 19, 2007

    Among Jewish liberal thinkers, there was a different sort of hope, that of acceptance as equal citizens. After the French Revolution, a fitful process of Jewish emancipation began in Europe, and German Jews were more quickly integrated into modern cultural life than in any other European country — a fateful development. For it was precisely at this moment that German Protestants were becoming convinced that reformed Christianity represented their national Volksgeist. While the liberal Jewish thinkers were attracted to modern enlightened faith, they were also driven by the apologetic need to justify Judaism’s contribution to German society. They could not appeal to the principles of the Great Separation and simply demand to be left alone. They had to argue that Judaism and Protestantism were two forms of the same rational moral faith, and that they could share a political theology. As the Jewish philosopher and liberal reformer Hermann Cohen once put it, “In all intellectual questions of religion we think and feel ourselves in a Protestant spirit.”

    In August 1914, Adolf von Harnack, the most respected liberal Protestant scholar of the age, helped Kaiser Wilhelm II draft an address to the nation laying out German military aims. Others signed an infamous pro-war petition defending the sacredness of German militarism. Astonishingly, even Hermann Cohen joined the chorus, writing an open letter to American Jews asking for support, on the grounds that “next to his fatherland, every Western Jew must recognize, revere and love Germany as the motherland of his modern religiosity.”

  • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com/ Norwegian Shooter

    “For these missionaries, the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine looked like a disaster. It radicalized and fragmented Arab politics and introduced the motifs of religious struggle that to this day divide, for example, the Palestinians between religious parties like Hamas and secular ones like Fatah. Zionism was especially polarizing in modern Syria, Lebanon and Palestine — where some of the highest concentrations of Arab Christians were.”

    The establishment of the Jewish state in 1948 united the surrounding Arab countries, they jointly attacked Israel immediately.

    There were no large religious motifs that existed in Palestine at that time, virtually all states involved were secular. The Palestinian nationalist movement, epitomized by the PLO, was entirely secular for decades. Only since the first Intifada have radicalized Muslims been a force in the conflict. In case you forgot, Hamas was created in 1987.

    How could Zionism not be highly polarizing in Lebanon, Syria and Palestine? In 1948, a new Zionist state was created on their borders. Then in 1967, they lost a war and significant territory to Zionists! Arab Christians had nothing to do with it.

  • http://n.a. Adam Garfinkle

    Mr. Calvert would probably be edified by chapter 5 of JEWCENTRICITY, which explains the multiple philo-Semitic origins of the American republic. Walter already knows them. It has to do with the peculiar nature of Anglo-American Protestantism.

  • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com/ Norwegian Shooter

    “Although American anti-Zionists have never quite been able to figure it out, the typical pattern in the politics of American policy toward Israel dates back into the 19th century. Public opinion is generally strongly pro-Zionist and Congress reflects that sentiment. The diplomatic and academic establishment is much more cautious, with attitudes ranging from coolly skeptical to bitterly opposed. Presidents occupy the middle ground, looking to harmonize the public’s support with the establishment’s unhappiness and they tilt one way or another depending on their assessment of the domestic and international politics of the day.”

    Any evidence for these sweeping generalizations? (the nicest way to characterize them)

  • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com/ Norwegian Shooter

    “Ideologically they mostly accepted the view that Judaism was a religion not a nation. There were American Jews and French Jews and Russian Jews”

    Yes, Judaism is a religion, not a nation. Duh! We’re talking about a homeland for the Jewish people, not a homeland for a religion. They didn’t want compound Jews, they wanted just Jews.

  • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com/ Norwegian Shooter

    “there was virtually no support for a more aggressive human rights policy at the time.”

    Small point, but “human rights” didn’t exist as a foreign policy concept in the inter-war period.

    “The third and last possibility, something that many American Jewish leaders could only bring themselves to endorse, reluctantly, after World War Two had already broken out, was to ask for American support for Jewish immigration to Palestine and for Jewish political aspirations there.”

    Yes, in time the first two possibilities vanished, but it is also true that support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine among American Jews increased of its own accord before WWII, not just as a last resort. See Louis Brandeis’ efforts in the 1910’s.

  • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com/ Norwegian Shooter

    “Public opinion always favored this option; after World War One, the Balfour Declaration was endorsed in both houses of Congress by unanimous votes”

    The crux of the issue you have so far evaded. Public opinion does not have a direct link to actions of Congress. America is a representative democracy, not a direct democracy. And the Balfour Declaration was a pretty mild statement of Zionism at the time: “That the United States of America favors the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”. Unanimous Congressional resolutions are a dime a dozen btw.

  • Matt

    As nearly always, a great post that should be widely read.

    I think, as others have pointed out, that you could do a better job distinguishing between elite, Reform Jewish opinion and the Jewish “street” of the early 20th century. By World War I, for example, most American Jews were the eastern Jews that so repulsed anti-Zionist German Jews.

    There is also more to say (but this gets you more into the post-1967 period) about how American Jewish institutions have used Zionism as a prop for American Jewish identity and significance in world affairs. Organizations like ADL and AJC would have far less access, say, to foreign political leaders if not for the existence of the Jewish state. And it has been far easier for many years for non-Orthodox Jewish institutions to teach support for Israel as a hinge of Jewish identity, as opposed to the Jewish religious tradition.

    Again, that gets you closer to the present day.

  • Revlon

    7 comments (50%) so far. I hadn’t realized Walter had brought on a co-blogger.

  • telaviv

    overall it was quite interesting..to go up a level, it needs additional sources on the zionist movement in this period to give a deeper and more contextualized picture of the people, attitudes, and features of these times.

    calvert has a point that there needs to be explaining why americans supported zionism- i think it has something to do with their sympathy for the jews of europe, but i am not sure if this sympathy was so strong before the lead up to WWII? what about the commonality of judeo/christian values?

    calvert’s 2nd point is off the mark. supporting the arabs was not in the US interest beyond the discovery of oil in s. arabia in the 1930s by aramco corp. after the fall of the ott. empire at the end of WWI the US supported independence movements with the rise of Wilsonianism-the british and french did not want to give up on colonialism too easily. at that time the US was for more independence that the british and the french who had their own interests in the region. the british were in palestine and saw it as a way to protect its shipping lanes through egypt. so in a way the US was quite isolated until WWI, and afterwards it wanted to support nationalism. this interest would technically support zionism since the Balfour declaration and British policy had made a jewish state its policy.

  • telaviv

    i meant the US was isolationist until WWI.

    on your point about US paternity for Israel, I think we could say that the Br. had even more responsibility (but acted irresponsibly) by abandoning palestine in 1948 when they knew the arabs would invade and try to destroy israel, not allowing jewish immigration (even after learning of the holocaust), and training jordan’s army and selling arms to egypt and other arab countries.

    i dont think you can say american jewish leaders thought of judaism as a religion and not a nation- the torah repeatedly says the nation of israel, was sent into the diaspora but that one day will be rebuilt. the jewish nation has always been in the jewish heart but the question was when and how it would be reconstructed. that many relgious jews thought that israel would only be re-established when the mashiach arrived while other and more secular zionists wanted to take matters into their own hands.

    i think there was a good comment that the US really didnt become pro-israel until 1967. truman had to overcome opposition from his advisors to recognize the state of israel, which was a brave decision indeed.

  • telaviv

    one last thing. must keep in mind that post WWII is that the onset of the cold war increased Israel’s strategic value for the US (even though at first it was thought israel would be an ally with the soviets due to zionists socialist ideology)

  • Pingback: The Israel Lobby and Gentile Power - Walter Russell Mead's Blog - The American Interest()

  • Bigmo

    Egypt in the same poll has a favorable opinion by Americans of 58%. But they have to go against their own people and [...] kiss America for that.

    What does Israel do? When is the last time you heard any Senator or Presidential candidates say anything critical about Israel?

    And why is this only in America?

    Because of the Lobby fool.

  • Cynic

    CH Calvert

    “they were largely clueless about why the Zionist cause was so persistently popular in Congress”

    Maybe it was so popular in Congress because it was preferred that the Jews were in Palestine and not in the US? :-)

  • Bill

    I think in the mind’s eye of many conservative American Christians (Protestants or Catholics, like myself), Jerusalem is the Jewish City (under Roman occupation of course)in which Jesus walked. Naturally, this ignores 1900 years of interim history, but this is not hard to do when you have no great love for Islam in the first place. Two tours in Iraq did little to change that feeling for me.

    Backing Israel, solely form an American foreign policy perspective, is an expensive proposition. However, in my view, it is a correct one. It would be nice to see more of a quid pro quo for this from our american Jewish friends. How about a Creche in the public square at Christmas time for a start? A little less secularism at home would go a long way in improving Jewish-Gentile relations here.

  • RKV

    Your tacit assumption that American interests and Jewish interests are similar is below your usual standard of scholarship. While there may be many common interests there may also be conflicts between nations and allies – e.g. after World War 2 the US did not support joint Anglo-French adventurism in the ME. Some Americans treat Israel like the 51st state. This is a mistake, and as for the real anti-Semitism which existed in the US, the debt for that was paid in full in blood on the battlefields in Europe, which ultimately ended the genocide. You say “it’s much more accurate to say that American gentiles pushed reluctant American Jews into the Zionist movement.” If this was true the other Middle Eastern race which was subject to genocide in the last century (the Armenians) ought to have had an equivalent movement. They didn’t, and your logic fails.

    Your statement that ” It doesn’t much matter; when Americans look at the Jewish state today, we need to recognize that if there was a paternity suit in this case, the DNA test would nail us.” completely ignores the British Mandate in Palestine, and indeed the whole Sykes-Picot agreement. Britain and France made the ME mess that we have today, out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. See the tripartite racial composition of Iraq for one example with tragic consequences in our modern era.

    Americans should not let Middle-Easterners of whatever ethnic or religious persuasion guilt them into doing ANYTHING other than what is in Americas’ own best long term interests. We should be unapologetic about such policies. Other nations act in this manner (e.g. the French in Africa where the treat their former colonies like their own backyard). We should also, the Saudi and the Israeli lobbyists both be damned.

  • alientech

    Yes, it’s ALL America’s fault. What BS.

  • http://www.assistantvillageidiot.blogspot.com Assistant Village Idiot

    Revlon, I had the same thought. Someone needs to get his own blog.

    Answer to Bigmo’s question: Every day. They just say it politely and evasively, rather than bluntly and rudely, as you do. The desire to have one’s leaders kick one’s personal enemies in the balls, else they are accused of siding with them somehow, is a pretty clear indicator of fevered fanaticism. You might begin to notice this if you apply the principle to other people and other causes first.

  • Punditarian

    Dear Mr Mead,

    The United States built the USS Constitution and the USS Constellation in large part to respond to the depradations of jihadist terrorists in the Mediterranean — and that was in the XVIIIth Century.

    America’s problems with extremist Islam in the Middle East are much older than the modern State of Israel, and are the result of Arab expansionism rather than anything else.

  • Michael

    I think you downplay two issues. First, American anti-semitism. With Father Coughlin’s popularity (not to mention Linbergh’s), restrictive covenants, hotels that wouldn’t cater to Jews, etc. American Jews had plenty of reason to keep their heads down and not advocate too strongly for other Jews — and certainly not to advocate for bringing more (poor East European) Jews to this country. Those positions are easy to judge in hindsight (hell, I certainly do so ) — but played a large role in the lack of advocacy by the Jewish community.

    Second — and more important: the Holocaust was a game changer for the vast majority of American Jews (and what was left of world Jewry). How could a Jew not support Zionism and the establishment of a Jewish homeland/state after 1/3 of the Jewish people were wiped off the face of the earth — many because they had no place to go? No matter what other positions Jews might have taken between the wars — the Holocaust put an (hopefully not temporary) end to any part of the mainstream Jewish community not supporting Israel or the Zionist cause.

  • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com/ Norwegian Shooter

    Note that I do have my own blog. What’s wrong with dividing up a long post into sections? Address my points or get over it.

    RVK, “below your usual standard of scholarship”. What standard is that? WRM has no graduate degree and has never published in a peer-reviewed journal.

  • T-Max

    Very interesting, but the author doesn’t explain why the non-Jewish American public supported Zionism…

  • RKV

    Apparently you’ve never read Mead’s books Norwegian. I have and find quite a bit of good work there. So if you had bothered to get some facts before you spouted off, you might be aware of his academic honors, Ph.D. or not. Yale doesn’t have to hire any professors they don’t want to, btw. Further, based on what I have seen of peer review in non-technical subjects (and in light of doings on the AGW front now in the sciences) – peer review can be over-rated. Oh and I DO have a graduate degree myself and have worked in academia in the past.

  • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com/ Norwegian Shooter

    RKV, help me out, what academic honors should I be aware of?

    PS, WRM is a fellow at Yale, not a professor.

  • RKV

    Bother to read his wikipedia entry. At least do first level due diligence before you spout again.

  • Rich Rostrom

    The 1948 Arab war against Israel may have been the project of “secular” governments, but Arab rhetoric had a strong jihadist element.The Arab forces in Mandatory Palestine were led by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. The invading armies included several thousand of volunteers from the Muslim Brotherhood.

    As for the conflict between popular support for Zionism and “Arabist” insiders: in 1948, the State Department (including Secretary Marshall) was adamantly opposed to U.S. recognition of Israel. But thirty-three state legislatures passed resolutions calling for recognition.

  • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com Norwegian Shooter

    I saw no academic honors on his wikipedia page, which I had already read. Mead is a good popular writer, but he is not an academic writer.

  • rob

    i read some lebanese blogs/columnists (michael young, tony badaran, others) and they often take pot shots at the failed protestant missionary enterprise in the levant when possible. according to your article, the region should be thankful for at least preparing the framework of nationalism for countering the jewish enterprise in zion, rather than scorning it. (maybe they scorn it because/despite it helped them, this being the middle east and all.)

  • RKV

    Try the Lionel Gelber Award from University of Toronto. Learn to read. Of course after the affair with Michael A. Bellesiles, even a Bancroft Prize can be rescinded. I don’t think UT is headed in that direction with Mr. Mead.

  • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com/ Norwegian Shooter

    RKV, I know how to read, and the Lionel Gerber Award is not an academic honor. It’s managed by a center at UT, so what. Like another Gerber prize winner, David McCullough, Mead writes popular books, not academic ones.

    And I’m not saying academic books are inherently better than popular ones, I’ve read many good reviews of Mead’s books, just not in the academic press.

  • annie

    This is a fascinating article but I think you miss some things. On the one hand you state that missionaries and the WASP establishment were anti-Zionist, and yet you state that the American public at that time (late 19th to mid 20th century) were pro-Zionist without bringing any evidence or explanation. I’m not saying it’s not true, just that it’s a rather contradictory stance to take.

    Also, you pin the “blame”, as it were, for the establishment of Israel on America, saying that if American immigration policy had been more liberal, more Jews would have been able to escape to America and would have had no need to run to Israel. But in truth, the Jews had already been returning to then-Palestine since the early to mid 1880s, at a time when America’s immigration policy was much more liberal and hundreds of thousands if not millions of Jews immigrated to the US. If the blame can be pinned anywhere, it should be stuck on Tzarist Russia and the Kossacks. WW1 and WWII just exacerbated the problem and made the need for a Jewish homeland all the more urgent.

    You also make no mention of Oriental (Sephardic) Jews of Middle Eastern origin, who had no interest in escaping Arab pogroms by fleeing to America which was a totally alien culture to them. Those Jews – almost a million of them – fled to Israel too.

    The first commenter on this site also points out a very interesting point – American support for the modern State of Israel really only began post 1967,which is also not addressed in the article.

  • http://www.coachingthejourney.com Jonathan Rubinstein

    The most prominent “fact” about the religious experience in the Middle East since the Napoleonic Wars has been the steady decline of any Christian presence in any of the emerging countries. The Ottomans favored both Jews and Christians as useful minorities. The British and the French to a lesser degree also pursued minority policies but none of the so-called Christian powers supported Christians in the middle east. The Christian population has been reduced by almost 90%! without a peep. Mostly by emigration, but there has been massacre. Israel is the only country in the region whose Christian population has increased, a reality for which it is attacked as being racist.

  • nm

    The Israeli-US relationship is a two way street and the article focuses only on the US’s attitude to Israel without taking into account the Israeli’s own stance up until 1967. Israel was much more connected foreign policy-wise to Europe (1956 war), and there was a good portion of the country that leaned to the USSR. Esp. re the USSR, this changed in 67 – there are those who claim that that war was instigated by Russia to sure-up their Egyptian client-state. (Also soon after, Golda Meir, an American-born and raised politician was running the country!)
    If I was working up this for a book, I would broaden the focus to include what Israel itself was doing re the US as well.
    good luck,
    NM

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  • Jake in Jerusalem

    Very interesting ideas. Worth elaborating on.

    One point: a commenter above stated that Conservative and Reform Jews were originally supportive of Zionism while Orthodox Jews were not. This is incorrect. The Reform movement was originally infamously anti-Zionist, prefering to see Jews melt into the American populace and culture (something the Reform movement still promotes). It was only after Israel became a reality, and a successful one at that, that the Reform movement jumped on the bandwagon, claiming some connection to Israel. To this day, the overwhelming majority of American Reform Jews never visits Israel even once in their lifetime, while a very large proportion of American Orthodox Jews visit Israel and support the modern state. It’s important to get facts right.

  • JYitzchak From Israel and USA

    Great thought provoking article and comments about the greatest riddle-enigma-sui generis-obfuscation of history. How What and Why of the eternal riddle Jews!
    I have been working on an answer to the “Jewish Problem of Today.’ It needs a lot more work, but it raise a solution, and it was sparked by Walter’s paper. Here it is!

    ISRAEL THE 51ST American STATE REIFIED

    The time has come to reify* the proposition of asking the US government to have THE present Israel as the 51st state of the USA to be governed by basic American principles of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Smithsonian Institution. The problems of the Middle East are unsolvable. There has never been a solution in all of history to the tragic drama of this area. Israel was always caught in the maelstrom of the antagonisms of the largest states and empires in the area. Only by becoming a part of a larger empire, becoming full citizens of that major power that “gives to bigotry no sanction” and that places human rights of its citizens as the top priority, will the Jewish People survive. This solution would do the following for the Jewish People:
    1. Eliminate the MYTHS of Torah, Bible and Koran that sow the eternal seeds of hatred in the 51st State (the “STATE” here-on-in). Only human beings count in the STATE. The STATE would still be called Israel with a Magen David state flag. All citizens of USA would have a right to move to the STATE. It would have one governor two senators and 10 Congressmen. Both the Land of the STATE and the Demography of the STATE would then have representation. The STATE would then become a REPRESENTATIVE democracy that gives the Jewish People what it needs first and foremost, a place where Jews can live without fear, in prosperity and in accord with their fellow citizens and neighbors. To be fully human allows the Jew his greatest opportunity for his Jewishness.
    2. Religion shall play no political role in the STATE. No tests for political office. Hebrew and English will be the only official languages and any other language that has more than 25% of the citizens speaking that language, will have that language included as secondary languages. The Anthem of the USA will be the Anthem of the State. The calendar of the State will recognize the major Holidays of the major religious groups as STATE secular Holidays. No American civil holidays will be officially recognized in the STATE unless chosen to be observed by the STATE legislature (could be called the Knesset but with no Federal authority.)
    3. The USA military will be the only military in the STATE. To be a soldier in the STATE means that you must defend the USA against all enemies foreign and domestic. There will be a MANDATORY DRAFT and a National Guard made up of ALL STATE citizens and called upon by the Governor when necessary. All National Guard members shall have initial basic training; with a 2 week duty minimum every year. The FBI and CIA will have branches in the STATE. The Police will have a small National Police Force- State Troopers, but each city town and village will have its own police force appointed by the locally elected mayor and answerable to the National police force. Any act of aggression against the STATE would be an attack against the USA.
    4. All institutions would be governed by American laws and any institutions viewed as sacred to multiple groups would be governed by the Smithsonian Institution. All religious lands would be governed by Federal American taxation laws with the STATE having the right to implement its own taxation laws. The dollar would become official currency together with the Shekel pegged to the dollar permanently and accepted freely in the STATE and converted whenever leaving the STATE.
    5. The immigration laws of the STATE would allow for any Jew seeking asylum because of persecution of Jewishness, would be allowed immediate immigration rights TO THE STATE. Any other individual seeking asylum would submit a plea to the USA and would then be free to move to the 50 States. After 5 years as a resident in the STATE all citizens of the STATE could move permanently to any other of the 50 USA states. No more law of return for anyone would be necessary.
    6. Education shall be public school education mandatory 4 hours daily; private religious education shall be optional AND FREE in the afternoons. All citizens must be educated in the core curriculum of enlightened human beings.
    7. Rabbinic courts shall operate informally and non-officially with litigants binding themselves to the Rabbinic court decisions; all other courts shall be subject to the court systems of the USA. Matters of personal status shall be determined solely on the basis of human concerns. No longer will religious disputes and sectarian rivalries divide the political establishment. The separation of Church and State must prevail as the court of last resort.
    8. Corruption would be dealt with by the American Court System. Trials will be on the basis of peer decisions with JURIES composed of fellow citizens.
    9. The national 48 hour day of rest will be Friday morning until Sunday noon. Jewish Dietary Laws must be the only meal service that must be offered at any official institution of the STATE, but with alternatives provided.
    10. All clergy and religious institutions shall be paid for with private donations that are not taxable and are subject to all IRS regulations. There will be no deferments from mandatory draft requirements of the STATE for religious reasons or other reasons. National service can be offered as a substitute. All matters of personal status shall be regulated by the non-official /governmental volunteer religious incorporated institutions.
    If you have realized by now that this proposal will virtually eliminate the idea of a Jewish State, then you have understood the intent of changing the nature of the Problem of the Jewish People from one of outer parochial combative forms and ideologies, into a program that sets the context for Jews as the best of human forms of a political meritocracy. The Holy Roman Empire became Christendom and Christendom eventually was reduced to the VATICAN. England has a State religion and it became, in symbolic form, a monarchy. Turkey was a Moslem country which Ataturk deMuslimized, until recently. Israel must become part of something much larger where the Herzlean Jewish Problem has been solved by the grandeur of becoming the 51st American STATE. The Jewish People need first and foremost a powerful free and uncorrupt representative democracy where the Jewish People have an even playing field to develop freely. If you think American Jewry is becoming assimilated, you are right; but if you look carefully at Israeli values lifestyles and religious practice, they are far more disconcerting than the organized small but active and identified American Jewish community. Think about it!
    GOOGLE has 33,900 sites that refer to America’s 51st State – mostly Israel. Type and then search within results . Here are two:
    *http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Judaism/2002/11/Should-Israel-Be-The-51St-State.aspx?p=1
    *http://www.experiencefestival.com/51st_state_-_israel
    *http://www.commentarymagazine.com/viewarticle.cfm/seven-existential-threats-15124 – Amb. Oren

  • John Doe

    No … don’t blame the jews … just make them go home to Israel.
    There allegiance is to a foreign nation to whom we owe nothing.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @”John Doe”: Ignorance and anti-Semitism: as always, hand in hand. Thanks, “John”, for the useful example of bigotry and stupidity allied.

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