Saturday, June 30, 2018
Eye on Israel: How America Came to View Israel as an Ally Paperback – January 1, 2007 by Michelle Mart (SUNY Press)
Plenty of people have written about the US alliance with Israel. But just how did the United States get to the point of regarding Israel as an ally in the first place? Michelle Mart has some ideas on this matter.
Yes, we've had a State Department that has been strongly pro-oil and has often been anti-Israeli for two reasons: residual inherent anti-Jewish biases plus ties to the Arab world. But we've had a Congress that has been pro-Israeli, and a public that has been pro-Israeli. Where do these attitudes come from?
Mart shows us some of the possibilities. She gives examples of books, movies, and even magazine articles that have helped shape Israel's image in the minds of many Americans. We see how the events of World War Two helped make up the minds of some folks, not always in the simple sense that some Americans felt that the Jews had been through some tough times and deserved a break, but often in the sense that doing immoral things to Jews was really a poor idea for everyone. Arguments tied to oil money that blatantly encouraged people to deny human rights to Jews simply looked immoral to most Americans, plain and simple.
In addition, we see examples from these same books and movies about some of the transformation of attitudes towards Jews in general in the United States.
The moral arguments we're talking about were anything but specific to Jews. They were general. They were indeed of the form that all people ought to have human rights, not everyone but Women, or everyone but Blacks, or everyone but Jews, or everyone but Arabs. And that had a great appeal.
Mart also spends plenty of time on the attitudes of churches, and of the Truman and Eisenhower administrations. She concludes that "the Israel of the American imagination in the 1940s and 1950s embodied the hopes, ideals, and values of Cold War America."
Why am I giving such an intriguing book only four stars? Well, I think that at some point, the author has a duty to discuss the reasonableness of some of the arguments that were made. Which look correct? Which make sense? Which look controversial at best? Were the values of Cold War America worthwhile or not? Without going into this, it is just too easy for readers to conclude either that we Americans finally realized that Jews are human beings who ought to have human rights and thus are entitled to sovereign land in the Levant (something I claim, by the way) or that Americans misled themselves into thinking that Jews ought to have rights on the basis of general and universal principles when in fact it can be argued that they really ought not have them. I think Mart needs to take a more explicit stand here. Others may disagree with me, saying that doing this would introduce excessive editorializing into a careful and scholarly work.
In any case, I recommend this book.