Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Original Sins and Special Relationships: Amy Kaplan’s American Israel
Original Sins and Special Relationships: Amy Kaplan’s American Israel

Original Sins and Special Relationships: Amy Kaplan’s American Israel

  • Adam Garfinkle
  • May 6, 2019
  • Center for the Study of America and the West

Amy Kaplan, Our American Israel: The Story of an Entangled Alliance. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2019. 368p Cloth $29.95

Amy Kaplan, an English professor at Penn, decided to write a book about the joint cultural history of Israel and the United States in modern times. The book, well-titled Our American Israel, is mainly about the development of American images of Israel, and touches in some ways, but not others, on the implications of those images for the real world of politics and policy.

As a cultural history, Kaplan’s main sources are varieties of the written word, but also the occasional Hollywood movie, TV show, sculpture, a museum, and other cultural artifacts as well. So we meet and get to know, more or less in chronological order, Bartley Crum and Richard Crossman of Anglo-American Commission fame, Judah Magnus and Martin Buber, I.F. Stone and Freda Kirchwey, Leon Uris and Otto Preminger, James Reston and Stuart Alsop, Barbara Tuchman and Saul Bellow, John Chancellor and David Shipler, Elie Wiesel and Michael Berenbaum, Steven Spielberg and Hal Lindsey, Natan Sharansky and many other usual suspects with the passage of literary time. If you have been alive long enough and paying attention, a good deal of the text feels like a virtual walk down memory lane, allowing for, of course, the various forms of warped selectivity that enable authors to shape books to achieve their purposes.

Alas, in the case of Our American Israel, the author’s form of selectivity has nothing to do with culture, except by way of expository method. It rather has something to do with history, and it specifically turns on a point of history that can be pinned down to the roughly three-year period between the end of the Second World War and the end of Israel’s War for Independence. In sum, Kaplan takes on virtually the entirety of the original sin version of Israel’s birth, referring on several occasions to the “violent dispossession” of the Palestinians in the course of Israel’s emergence as a modern state. That is why, presumably, Harvard University Press has chosen laudatory jacket praise from Rashid Khalidi and Paul A. Kramer, a Vanderbilt history professor whose lifelong career goal has been to show how violently racist the United States was and presumably still is. Within the book’s covers we find, not surprisingly, homage paid to “literary critic” Edward Said (four times), Noam Chomsky, and Naomi Klein. 

The book’s purpose is to ratify and advance the burgeoning counternarrative of Israeli-Palestinian relations that, were it to become hegemonic (to use current academy lingo), would expunge America’s cultural affinity for Israel among right-thinking (meaning left-thinking) people in the glare of harsh truth about the reality of Zionism and America’s own copious historical sins. The only Americans left affirming that affinity would be, for lack of a better word, deplorables of one kind or another.

The burden of Kaplan’s cultural argument is that Americans—non-Jews as much or more than, but a bit differently than, Jews—tried to Americanize the Israeli/Zionist experience, and that Israeli propagandists helped the illusion along. Without question, there is a great deal of truth in the general argument. There must be, because those untutored in history and the inevitable moral complexities of it are forever projecting their own wishful or damning frames of reference onto others. In the case of American Jews, that projection has generated over the years a cottage industry of myths designed to harmonize the universalism inherent in the American Enlightenment heritage with the particularism inherent in Jewish faith and history. That industry in due course could not help but take up and mythologize Zionism and Israel, which it has done to varied and, in my view, ultimately unhappy effect.

The result of Kaplan’s deconstructing this aspect of a broader mythology is a selective truth telling, at least on a certain level. And it is a truth telling bound to make “immaculate conception”-type American Jews, those for whom Israel is “not my country, right or wrong,” very uncomfortable. Kaplan adeptly uses the concept of Israel as an “invincible victim” to organize her effort, and the contradiction inherent in her language tool works as a kind of bulldozer of much lazy and common wishful thinking.

Analytically, however, Our American Israel can be shallow, and it is consistently unbalanced on account of its original sin framework assumption. The essence can be gathered from Kaplan’s conclusion. “Concern for Israel’s vulnerability,” she writes, “casts its exercise of power in a humane light because of the idea that it is wielded to protect a historically persecuted people from extermination, and not from any desire for domination or expansion. In this way, Israel mirrors a widespread image of America as anti-imperial.” [p. 277] But of course this is wrong:

Looking beyond romantic reflections of the past—promised lands, chosen peoples, frontier pioneers, wars of independence—would enable us to see the darker shadows of shared exceptionalism: the fusion of moral value with military force, the defiance of international law, the rejection of refugees and immigrants in countries that were once known as havens. . . . Not seeing ourselves in the mirror—but seeing the mirror itself—would allow us to understand ourselves as actors and not observers, and to take responsibility for the tragic consequences of our actions. [pp. 279-80]

To accent the tragic, she adds: “To see daylight between the two countries would suggest a separation and betrayal. But ‘no daylight’ also means darkness, a fitting metaphor for the blindness that has characterized a special relationship between the United States and Israel.” [p. 280]

A consequence of this ideological tilt is that Kaplan stretches many of her main arguments beyond the balance of the evidence. One argument that threads throughout the book, that Americans identified the Zionist pioneer ethos with the pioneer ethos of the American West, seems overdone. Out of millions of words written on the subject, she has picked some morsels to serve as prooftexts. She has perhaps unearthed every one of them. That’s how confirmation bias works: One finds what one is looking for.

Confirmation bias can tempt anyone. So unless a person is trained in specific professional fields not to give in to temptation, it often has its way with truth. But the reason Kaplan leans on the pioneer motif in Our American Israel is to equate vanquished Native Americans with vanquished Palestinians: Thus does one original sin supposedly parallel another.

Same with Kaplan’s claim that the establishment of the Holocaust Museum Memorial marked a moment when the Holocaust “began to represent more than the horrific suffering of the Jewish people in the past—now it also signified an imminent threat to the future of the Jewish state. A past atrocity in Europe came to foreshadow an impending apocalypse in the Middle East.” And even less plausible: “But when we look back at the history of the memorial, it becomes clear that this national institution of memory, dedicated to facing the ultimate evil of the past and to imparting universal values to the future, bears indelible traces of its origins in American Middle East policies, especially its commitment to support Israel.”

This is proverbial nonsense on stilts, twice. Fear of a second Holocaust via the destruction of Israel in war did not start in the 1980s; it was baked into the creation of the state from the start. And the energies devoted to creating the Museum had nothing to do with U.S. Middle East policy. Putting the Holocaust Museum on the National Mall seemed to me a bad faith attempt to Americanize and universalize a tragic event that was about as particularist as they come, but of then contemporary policy connections there were none. As for all the sonorous speeches by politicians that Kaplan quotes, who has encountered a politician unwilling to pile on the symbolic fairy dust when an opportunity presents itself? That is not evidence of causation, only political egos at work.

And the same with Kaplan’s claim that after 9/11 the United States “adopted a distinctly Israeli conception of homeland security.” It is a stretch to argue that a superpower with a then-new and quite distinct sort of problem with terrorism from Israel’s would copy the conceptions of a small country with a different political culture and predicament. But she argues it, and goes trawling for evidence to support it. The reason is familiar: Fighting terrorism and launching a war on terrorism are things deplorables do to defend their past and continuing evil deeds.

As a typical example of preemptive defense against accusations of excess, Kaplan admits as an afterthought that the “American military was certainly not learning for the first time about methods of counterinsurgency, assassination, torture, or attacks on civilians; it had its own long history of interventions, from Southeast Asia to Latin America.” [p. 246-7] And so again, one set of sins supposedly parallels another, because in this case, as Kaplan puts it, “Paradoxically, homeland security is inseparable from an expansionist agenda, with the acceptance of a never-ending war against terrorism and the embrace of empire as a way of life.” [p. 258]

Kaplan even characterizes Israel’s vaunted scientific and technological creativity as sinister. It’s all about turning the occupied territories, especially Gaza, into a technological “laboratory of state control,” and then marketing the technology to others so they can do the same thing to other subject populations. That is why, Kaplan claims in language recalling a classic anti-Semitic trope, “Israelis have little incentive to negotiate a real peace with the Palestinians, because the lucrative security market has too much potential.” [p. 269] Another such trope is the illusion of Jewish omnipotence: The export of Israel’s “idea factory” will bring about “a dystopian future: all around the world, people will inhabit cities that look like military zones, occupied by police indistinguishable from soldiers, and monitored by sophisticated systems of homeland security.” [p. 273]

So if the reader is already disposed to take an adversary culture view of the United States, then it becomes easy to project that view onto Israel—and vice versa of course—on account of the “special relationship.” It works like this: Americans have not only projected their frames of reference onto Zionism and Israel, they have been correct to do so—and the result damns the two together.

This is where Kaplan’s obvious conclusions fall apart. It is true that Americans have projected their frames of reference onto Israel, but to conclude that such projection really reflects an identity of experience is illogical as well as historical nonsense. Once one strips away the lulling scholarly tone and the defensive subtleties, Our American Israel argues, without saying it in so many words, that Americans have liked Zionist racism, aggression, butchery, and imperialism because they themselves have been overly fond of their own racism, aggression, butchery, and imperialism. If the reader buys the premise, then he probably buys the core conclusion. And if not, then not.

Is it basically true that the American cultural affinity for Jews, and for Zionists in modern times, led many Americans for many years to be essentially unable to see the Palestinians in an objective light, or in any light at all? Yes, unquestionably—and there is a new book by Khaled Elgindy, Blind Spot that takes up this point without being addled by a self-fulfilling ideological premise. Kaplan’s original sin framework, however, shapes the whole book and prefigures the conclusions to which readers are ineluctably pointed, if not exactly by the nose led.

That is why, for example, when Kaplan is rehearsing the would-be restorative arguments made at the dawn of the counternarrative in the late 1960s by people like Michael Walzer and Martin Peretz, she writes with the presumption that they and others like them were, and are, both wrong and morally suspect. She lets Walzer and Peretz speak in their own words, notably in a coauthored July 1967 Ramparts essay, and, while she abbreviates, she does not distort their arguments. But their words are placed in a broader “original sin” framework whose purpose is to discount and disparage them.

Same goes for Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s attack on the U.N. General Assembly’s 1975 “Zionism is Racism” resolution. Kaplan just describes Ambassador Moynihan’s arguments—after tarring him as an original neoconservative, a dirty word among her crowd if there ever was one. The reader is supposed to already know as the text enters the mid-1970s that Moynihan is just another clueless, myth-spinning deplorable.

The insinuative character of the framework shows its nature fairly often, if sometimes subtly, in the text. For example, as early as page 6 we encounter this sentence: “The oft-repeated claim that Israel is the ‘only democracy in the Middle East’ not only mirrors American values, but it also renders Israel both unique and exemplary among its neighbors.”

Claim? Unless one includes Turkey in the Middle East, or in far more recent times Tunisia, the “claim” also happens to be plainly true—except for people who think Israel is not a democracy, despite its regular elections, because it is really an apartheid state. Is that the judgment lurking behind Kaplan’s formulation of this sentence?

Here is another example: In telling the story of The Nation’s editor Freda Kirchwey’s 1948 trip to Israel, Kaplan recalls Kirchwey’s encounter with a nervous Arab woman in Ein Kerem, just outside of Jerusalem. Let Kaplan’s words go forth verbatim:

[Kirchwey] happily reported that a Spanish priest confirmed … that the Jewish soldiers had behave properly, protecting the holy sites as well as the abandoned and locked houses and a handful of remaining villagers living in the courtyard of an old church. This idyllic scene was suddenly interrupted by an agitated older Arab woman who ran up to the Arabic-speaking press officer and, “shaking her fist and gesturing toward the door,” dragged him upstairs. There they saw a young woman shouting a complaint against an Israeli soldier. From the look of “fierce indignation” on her face, Kirchwey “could imagine nothing less serious than rape.” Hence, she expressed astonishment to hear that the women were only accusing the Israeli soldier of stealing the lid of their Primus stove. . . .

Kirchwey did not probe the uneasiness of the Arab woman any further, or her own. The story ostensibly showed how the worst that Israeli soldiers were capable of was petty theft. But the fact that Kirchwey herself brought up rape, even if only to dismiss it, means that it must have been on her mind. Traveling in Israel at the time, even with the press officer translating, she might well have heard stories from other journalists about rape and looting in the demolition of villages by Israeli soldiers. One event she could not have missed hearing about was the massacre at Deir Yassin, a village in sight of the hilltop of Ein Kerem. [p. 56]

The fact that Kaplan presumes to know what was on Kirchwey’s mind in 1948 is noteworthy, because Kaplan presumes, and tries to get readers to presume, that the Irgun’s behavior at Deir Yassin was normal for Israeli soldiers. Writing about Leon Uris, she states: “Uris was primarily concerned that the story of Deir Yassin might tarnish Israel’s humane reputation so he presented it as an aberration on the part of otherwise restrained Jewish fighters.” [p. 86]

But at least as far as its scale went, Deir Yassin was an aberration: more than 100 people were killed there (not the 250-plus of lore). There were other episodes of smaller scale; Majd al-Krum, in the Galilee, is an example, and there are others.[1] If there had been a second and a third and a fourth episode even remotely as large as Deir Yassin, Kaplan surely would have described them. She doesn’t describe, only insinuates, for example that there were a great many documented cases of Israeli soldiers raping Arab women. There were some; Benny Morris estimates “several dozen” in messy, largely irregular warfare that lasted more than a year. But no scholar claims that it was akin to the systematic program of rape perpetrated in Germany by the Red Army, for example, in 1944-45, or that it was normal, standard, or extensive.

And just as Deir Yassin was an aberration made to seem within Kaplan’s framework as standard and normal, so the arguments made by Walzer, Peretz, and others back in the day were essentially correct. At least in the period before the 1967 war, if not also for a long time thereafter, Israel was neither a colonizer itself nor an outpost of imperial power; it was, as they wrote, an imperiled democratic nation struggling for normal security conditions if not always survival. They also argued, correctly, that Israel was more authentically socialist than any of the supposedly socialist countries around them: “The typical Jewish agricultural unit is not the plantation but the kibbutz.” As for Moynihan, it was the “Zionism is racism” resolution that was racist—anti-Semitic, to be specific—not Israel or Zionism.

And another, typical use of language, this time in the course of demonizing Elie Wiesel: “Ignoring Israeli violence against innocent people and Palestinian children, Wiesel claimed that the Holocaust taught Israelis to respect the sanctity of life, while the Palestinians’ tragedy debased them into supporting the murder of innocents.” [p. 192-3] Wiesel may have stretched his point to a condition of being clearer than the truth, as Acheson once put it, but by adding “Palestinian children” to her sentence, as if “innocent people” did not already subsume them, Kaplan gives us a particularly raw example of her bias.

 When we get right down to it, Our American Israel bases itself on an original sin that does not exist in the simple, flat way that Kaplan presumes it. At the risk of bearing tedium for those who already know this history well, we have no choice but to examine the fundamental framework presumption without which Our American Israel could not exist: the supposed violent dispossession of the Palestinians.

There is no reason to think Kaplan insincere about the underlying framework argument she advances. She is merely mistaken about the crisp way she seems to believe it. Genuine scholars of history, Jewish, Arab, and otherwise, do not agree on everything. Nevertheless, the basic picture they paint emphasizes that the birth of refugee problem was a complex multi-causal event involving many factors: the shock waves of inter-communal violence; the urging of Arab leaders and military officers that villages and townspeople leave their homes so as not to get in the way or be pinned down in crossfires; selected cases of forceful expulsions at various phases of the fighting; and, above all as critical background, the flight of Palestinian leaders, dependents, professionals, and capital that left their communities rudderless and economically devastated. The best summary of all these factors, taken together, remains that of Benny Morris, who Kaplan mention, and who has been by no means uncritical of the Jewish side. [2]

Kaplan herself reviews almost none of these issues. She takes selected snapshots of them as her narrative proceeds, but all from the same angle.  For example, there were many examples of communal violence before May 1948, and some of this violence—Deir Yassin being a key example—certainly created panic among many Arab residents of Palestine. Arab massacres of Jews, including an infamous case of 78 nurses and doctors trying to make their way from Hadassah Hospital in east Jerusalem to the western, Jewish side of town, also occurred—in this case just a few days after Deir Yassin. Kaplan does not mention it, or any similar episodes. Nor does she note that, under the circumstances, many Jews in Palestine at the time also experienced panic, not least at the prospect of the arrival of large Arab expeditionary forces from outside the country. Such emotions are baked into civil/communal wars on all sides, not just one. But Kaplan’s pastry is decidedly misshapen, enabling her to present the origins of the refugee problem as a simple “violent dispossession” perpetrated by racists and imperialists.

As it turns out, two and only two basic ways exist to interpret the origin of the conflict, with but modest wiggle room in between them. One sees the conflict’s actions and reactions from the start as a function of the dispute between the parties, and reasons that the Israeli and Arab leaderships share responsibility for its outcomes. Any serious history affirms this way of thinking about the problem. The other sees the conflict as primarily an outcome of the very essence of Zionism and of Israel’s aggressive nature. Of these two poles, Kaplan clings firmly to the second, essentialist pole, in what is a projection of her own ideological framework onto the topic. She never tells the reader that honest people disagree on this paradigmatic point. She simply pretends tendentiously that her extreme position is the only position, and that anyone who disagrees is either delusional or worse.

Most important in this difference of historical interpretation is the fact that had communal violence against Jews mounted by Palestinian irregulars and some foreign militias not commenced in 1947-48, before the declaration of the state in May 1948, and had there been no subsequent state-level war, there would have been no great and sudden flood of refugees. Conspiracy theories have abounded for years that the Jewish Agency had a secret plan to expel the Arabs even before any violence occurred. Scholarship, however, has established that no such preexistent plan existed or was implemented.

What is true is that once the war began and the refugee flight commenced, Israeli leaders were determined not to let refugees return—and toward the end of the fighting expelled still more from sensitive areas. The war changed nearly everything. It confronted Jews with the specter of a second genocide, and the bloodlust of the war hardened positions on both sides. It was now clear, as it had not been before, that the Arabs would not just speak of a war of annihilation but actually launch one, and just as clear that the Jews would as brutally and cold-bloodedly resist its implementation as they believed necessary. Had there been no war as the result of Arab rejection of partition, things would certainly have looked and been different— though as with all counterfactuals, we will never really know how, or how much, different.

War also shaped the core political fortunes of the Palestinian Arabs. If the Jewish Agency sinned against the Palestinians, it was not because of any plan to expel them, but rather on account of a secret arrangement worked out with King Abdullah in Transjordan. That arrangement, of which much has also been revealed in the scholarship, basically involved a trade: The Arab Legion would not seek to conquer any of the territory set out by the UN Partition Resolution for the new State of Israel, and in return Israel would acquiesce to the Hashemite absorption of what would have been Arab Palestine. The two sides could not agree about Jerusalem, except that its internationalization, as provided for in the UN plan, should not occur—and it didn’t. The deal broke down in the heat of war’s moment; the Arab Legion did not stay out of the war entirely and some of the fiercest fighting occurred around Latrun and up to Jerusalem. The armistice eventually signed in 1949 nevertheless left a territorial result recognizable from the prewar deal, not because of the deal but despite it—since neither side had better options.

The deal also helps explain why the military forces of the Arab countries failed to prosecute effectively the 1948 war. Abdallah undermined efforts at an effective joint Arab effort. He was not about to let the Egyptians outbid him for the fealty of a rump Palestine, or prevent its quick annexation to his kingdom. To understand why Abdallah would do this, one need know something about his relations with key figures within the Palestine national movement before World War II. Hint: He disliked and feared many of them, and sought (and secured) Palestinian allies against them.

To explain why the Jewish Agency would do this deal requires a lot less research effort, just a bit of common logic about self-defense in parlous times. The idea that, under the circumstances of 1947-48, the leadership of the Zionist Executive would not have been satisfied with a Jewish state—and one with a Jewish majority in the territory marked out in the Partition Plan—but instead would have risked that historic achievement in an effort to gain more land by inciting a war no one could possibly have known the outcome of, is very close to insane. What was not insane was seeking an Arab partner whose own interests even temporarily aligned with the Zionist desire to reduce the chances of the Yishuv being annihilated in a likely war.

In the end, then, a Palestinian state did not emerge from the partition resolution not because of what Israel did, but because of what Jordan did. The Hashemites proceeded to expunge the name Palestine from the map, created the term West Bank instead, and proceeded to rule the territory with the aid of its pre-World War II local Palestinian allies. Kaplan mentions none of this, because in her view only Zionists (and Americans) are capable of promoting true Middle Eastern tragedies.

Finally, ironies want airing, not unusual since history really is Emil Cioran’s “irony in motion,” when it is not also G.W.F. Hegel’s “butcher’s bench.”

Kaplan shows how the vanguard of the postwar American cultural affinity with Israel came mainly from oracles of triumphalist postwar liberalism. After the ordeals of fighting the Depression and fascism armed with liberal ideas fortified by liberal power, the dawning future held forth the obligation to expand liberalism’s values and influence worldwide. It was a kind of “end of history” moment, although that terminology did not make its appearance for another 43 years, during which the Cold War and other interruptions temporarily took the shine off the liberal apple. Kaplan brings the perfect quote to illustrate the sensibilities of the moment, in which Israel, for perfectly understandable if happenstantial Jewcentric reasons, became the star of the greatest liberal show on earth. Israel’s “model state,” said Eleanor Roosevelt, could “promote an international New Deal.”

Kaplan doesn’t pursue the point much further, but she might have pointed out that the allure of Zionism for many Jews (and others) during the Mandate and early state period rested more on Israel’s promise as a light unto the nations as exemplar of socialist modernization, not anything having to do with Jewish civilization, faith, or values. When realities de-purified the example as time passed, and Israel’s socialist character became attenuated by successive layers of non-socialist immigration and what may be called real life, many enthusiasts peeled away from the project. The list is long and the characters diverse, but it runs from Hans Kohn, a renowned scholar of nationalism, in the late 1920s to Tony Judt, a renowned historian of Europe, in the late 1960s—with hundreds of prominent socialism-friendly others in between.

So where is the irony? That today’s intellectual Left, its Jews included, finds virtually everything about Zionism and Israel to be odious, in part because it finds nationalism—civic and ethnic forms alike—to be odious (with exceptions made, of course, for anti-Western “third world” nationalisms). Just as the postwar Left romanticized and fantasized about how cosmically good Israel might be, today’s postmodernist Left romanticizes and fantasizes about how cosmically evil Israel is. In a matched case of classic, unfalsifiable revisionist logic, good Israel’s enemies had therefore to be evil, and now evil Israel’s enemies must therefore be good. There is just no way, it seems, to prevent forms of ideological thinking from turning actual, complex, and mixed history into one form of bullshistory or another. Kaplan abhors the cultural mirror in which Americans see themselves reflected in Israel. But she’s looking into a mirror, too; just a different one.

In this case, the mirroring phenomena resemble two stars orbiting each other: Israel has changed, and the Left has changed.

Israel’s founding socialist fathers were mainly deep idealists and ideological thinkers. The majority really believed that class solidarity would create a heaven on earth of comity and brotherhood between Jews and Arabs in Palestine. It bothers me to admit it, but the stone-cold Revisionist countervision of what the future would bring has proven more accurate. Whether that was inevitable I doubt; it had a lot to do with the fact that a war broke out in 1947-48, and that war was a consequence of contingent decisions made by people who might have decided otherwise. But whatever the case, the way things turned out is at least part of the reason that the traditional labor-left in Israeli politics now lies vanquished—that and the fact that an unimagined affluence has in many ways undermined the seminal point of the leftist agenda (and not just in Israel).

The self-styled “progressive” Left in the West, meanwhile, has journeyed far from its Enlightenment roots. It no longer credits individual agency or really any agency at all, but only certain forms of determinism; so it no longer credits reason as a potential engine of human progress. In its postmodernist crypto-Marxist form, now regnant in humanities departments nationwide, it has fallen into the maw of raw identity politics: People believe what they believe about politics based mainly on the bio-essentialist group they are in, and the possibility of genuine intersubjective understanding among groups is viewed as being between very limited to nonexistent. So everything comes down to zero-sum struggle between oppressors and oppressed, a vision in which politics becomes not a way to build community and a more just society amid diversity, but a permanently militarized affair just short of actual violence—and not always short of it.

Today’s postmodernist Left believes its determinist theory of bio-cultural essentialism stands at the frontier of progressive thought. But there was a 20th-century example of a similar bio-essentialism that is understood as having been anything but progressive: It was called Nazism. So as today’s Left purges its guilt over ever having praised Israel and Zionism, it unwittingly employs a theory that resembles the thinking of former enemies of Jews and Zionism.

One result, momentarily at least, of these twin changes is that we now have in Israel the most rightwing government in its history, and it gets along all too well with what might be described as the most rightwing government in U.S. history—although the Trump Administration is too incoherent to fit any conventional category. So if you count yourself a connoisseur of irony, consider this: It used to be that friendly observers of U.S.-Israeli relations pined for periods when Israeli prime ministers and American presidents were on roughly similar political wavelengths, and to fret over situations in which either a Likud prime minister matched up against a Democratic president, or a Labor prime minister matched up against a Republican president. So Goethe again mocks us: Now that we have what we wanted, many of us find that we don’t want it after all, for the current Netanyahu-Trump matchup promises to be disastrous for both countries, for the American Jewish community stuck between the two, for the Palestinians, and possibly for the entire Middle East.

Worst of all, perhaps, the match-up gives rise to a peculiar circumstance in which what is true at the moment suggests causes for it that are not true. That is especially conducive to producing an adulatory audience for books like Our American Israel, which can superficially seem right to the untutored and the ideologically devout without actually being so.

Withal, what is really astonishing in some ways, but almost banal in others, is that somehow Israel and the Jews find themselves, yet again, at center stage in a drama that uses them mainly as props in a larger and differently intended argument. Why does this sort of thing keep happening? God only knows.

[1] A list, reliable for the most part, of inter-communal massacres can be found here:

[2] Morris, The Birth of the Palestine Refugee Problem (Cambridge University Press, 1988)..