Posts filed under ‘Zionism’

Jesse Jackson (Unintentionally) Highlights Something Interesting

A recent article in the New York Post (10/14/2008) quotes Jesse Jackson at the World Policy Forum in France saying that, under an Obama administration, “decades of putting Israel’s interests first” would end. He further noted that “Zionists … have controlled American policy for decades.”

His assertion of Zionist control is inaccurate, though Walt And Mearsheimer’s The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy certainly establishes that the Israel Lobby (in various forms) certainly has substantive influence. Influence and control are two different things — and it is important to understand the distinction.

Because Jesse Jackson doesn’t understand the difference between control and influence, his conclusion is incorrect. Control is obvious, and it can be seen as directly as the laws of cause and effect. Control is causation. Influence is less obvious, and can be seen only in terms of patterns and trends, and is much more akin to the idea of probability in quantum mechanics. Influence is correlation.

Ending or reducing control is easy — because there is an immediately visible feedback loop of cause and effect that can be observed to measure success. Ending or reducing influence, on the other hand, can be like nailing jelly to a tree because its source and effects are far less obvious.

Ending or reducing so-called “Zionist” influence in this country is extremely unlikely under an Obama administration because even folks like Jesse Jackson misunderstand the intermingling of Americanism and Zionism and the strong parallels between the two.

The first thing to be understood is that “Zionist” is not a polite way of saying “a subset of especially bad Jewish people” — even when certain people intend it to have that meaning — because many Jews are not Zionists and many Zionists are not Jews. Many people in this country — of every ethnic and political persuasion — are Zionists. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, “Modern Zionism is concerned with the support and development of the state of Israel.” If you were to ask European-Americans if they support Israel and its development, quite a few would answer in the affirmative. Whether they should or not is a story for another day, but the simple fact is that they do. That makes them Zionists.

I think the reasons why many folks of Jewish ancestry would support Israel are fairly obvious and understandable. Israel serves as a reservoir of Jewish genes that assures the continuity of the Jewish folk no matter what may happen in Diaspora. Every race and people should, in order to prevent genocide and promote important human biodiversity, have an equivalent of Israel. (Though without the presence of what Jimmy Carter characterized as apartheid.)

But the thing that makes the phenomenon of Zionist influence so hard to quell lies deeply in the European-American psyche — pre-dating Theodore Herzl and philosophical Zionism by hundreds of years. In very important ways, Zionism existed among European-Americans long before Jewish folks had even considered the idea.

European-Americans came to North America under many different conditions and for many different reasons. Our ancestors came here as members of dissident religious groups that were persecuted in our European homelands. Our ancestors came here to practice their religions freely without fear. Many of our ancestors came here to populate debtor’s prisons in the Carolinas. And far too many of our ancestors came here in chains in the holds of ships where they were forced to endure the Atlantic passage on meager rations in disease and rat-infested holds from which many did not emerge alive.

But pretty much across the board, America was seen in terms of the biblical metaphor of Exodus: the Promised Land. You can see this in journals, logs, and letters of the time; and the theme repeats itself continuously. The idea of North America fulfilling the role of Promised Land for the European diaspora, replete with endless Old Testament biblical references, was a dominant aspect of the thought processes of our ancestors who came to this continent from Europe. The idea of Manifest Destiny drew its primary strength from this conviction. North America was the New Israel, and members of the European diaspora were the new Jews. We (European-Americans) were the new Chosen People, and North America was the Promised Land, delivered to us through divine Providence, and flowing with milk and honey.

Thus it is no mistake, when you look at a map of the United States, to see towns with names taken straight out of the Bible, with a preponderance from the Old Testament: Canaan, Lebanon, Hebron, Bethel, Goshen, Jericho, Eden, Nineveh, Sharon, Zion, Shiloh, etc. There are literally thousands of cities, towns and landmarks in the United States whose names were directly derived from the Bible. The preponderance of Old Testament names is living proof of the mindset of a great many of our ancestors. Anyone who has paged through birth and death records will find that a large proportion of our ancestors had names like Samuel, Isiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Adam and even Moses. Our ancestors weren’t Jewish of course; but, in a certain way, they thought of themselves in similar terms.

Biblical sensibilities, and particularly Old Testament biblical sensibilities corresponding to the Jewish Torah and Tanakh, formed the core of the mindset of many of the earliest European-Americans coming in through Plymouth and Jamestown. You can see the depth of Old Testament biblical influence in the old so-called “Blue Laws” that mandated keeping the Sabbath (and certain other commandments) with a zeal practically indistinguishable from Ultra Orthodox Judaism. For many years, the divorce laws in the United States mirrored those that exist in Israel today.

It is important to keep these aspects of the history of Americans in mind when trying to fully grasp the idea of Zionist influence. You see, Americans have a long history of relating both intensely and personally with many of the stories, ideas and narratives that form the core of Judaism and give rise to Zionism.

Because of these similarities, it is extremely easy for folks whose loyalties lie with Israel rather than the United States to manipulate Americans through a call to commonality. There is commonality in the tales of establishing a homeland after fleeing oppression or persecution, a deep resonance with the David and Goliath story, and a nearly innate sympathy with the people whose narrated past was adopted by many of our ancestors as their own. Naturally, people affiliated with organizations such as AIPAC and the American Jewish Committee work to foster and intensify such feelings.

Of course the Old Testament wasn’t the only source of inspiration for our European-American forebears. Throughout the country we find places named after Greek and Roman cities such as Athens, Carthage, Troy and Rome ; our buildings and monuments reflect the sensibilities of the Greek and Roman polytheists; our mottoes are largely expressed in the classical Latin of the Roman Republic and many of our heroes were named after mythological and historical figures such as Ulysses. Likewise, New Testament influences made themselves felt in laws named after Jesus’ parables — like Good Samaritan Laws, charitable endeavors on a scale beyond anything the world had ever before seen, and a host of children named after Apostles, Saints and Popes.

So the European-American zeitgeist cannot honestly be seen as arising entirely from Old Testament archetypes. Rather, as a new experiment in self-government arising at the height of the Enlightenment when all of the older Greek philosophers were being re-read for perhaps the first time in hundreds of years; and with a host of manifestations of Christianity with varying loci of scriptural emphasis … the European-American zeitgeist arises from a mixture of influences and narratives; but only a person ignorant of our history would miss the undeniable influence of the Old Testament.

A while back I took the time to read all of the articles of secession passed by the various Southern legislatures. Easily two-thirds of them made reference to the institution of slavery as having been divinely ordained and a precious gift of deity. Where is the institution of slavery established in the Bible, along with all of the rules governing its exercise? In the Pentateuch, of course. That part of the Old Testament also known as The Torah.

This is something that Dr. Tomislav Sunic has dealt with at some length in his recent book Homo Americanus; though he comes at it from a somewhat different direction. Our approaches to the subject differ, but many of our conclusions are similar. Specifically, that Christianity, as practiced by most of our European-American forebears, was of a strongly Jewish flavor that didn’t exist in continental Europe.

As James Russell described in his book The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity; when Christianity came to the heart of Europe, its emphasis and practice were transformed from that of a breakaway sect of Judaism to a religion that absorbed not just the pre-Christian extrinsic manifestations of the European folk-soul (such as the solstice and equinox holidays); but also maintained a body of philosophy as a lens through which scripture was viewed so that the emphasis and meaning of scripture were interpreted in a European rather than Middle Eastern context; and in which explicitly relating to the Old Testament was practically non-existent. Thus the medieval Christians of Europe didn’t see themselves as de-facto extensions of Judaism; but rather as its repudiation.

This changed with Martin Luther who, in spite of his extensive scholarship, probably failed to understand the consequences of his religious advocacies. I don’t want to cover the entire story of Martin Luther, but suffice it to say that he is responsible for many of the principles of language translation, the standardization of the German language and a host of other positive accomplishments. Moreover, the motivations that led to his religious advocacies were founded in true concern over abuses by the dominant religious authorities of his time. But those factors notwithstanding, by translating the Bible into the vernacular, putting forth a view that scripture should be individually interpreted and understood by each person and furthering the idea that every person of faith was an ipso facto priest … he managed to strip away the distinctly European philosophical lens through which scripture had been viewed in times past, thereby leaving many of our ancestors, for the first time, with an unfiltered Hebraic scripture from which they were to draw their own opinions.

In most of Judaism, the Hebraic scriptures are informed, interpreted and expanded upon by a supplementary text written by Jewish biblical scholars known as the Talmud; and by an oral tradition that is said to pre-date the written Torah. Thus, no matter what the written scriptures may say, there is plentiful room for philosophical interpretation to keep the end result true to the intent of the religion as a group evolutionary strategy.

Up until Martin Luther, while Medieval Christianity didn’t draw from the Talmud (which Luther condemned as being filled with lies), it DID draw from an analogous body of literature and thought composed by far-seeing theologians such as Thomas Aquinas, Augustine of Hippo, Albertus Magnus and others. This body of literature served a purpose for European Christianity very similar to that served by the oral law and Talmudic scholarship for Judaism. It helped to keep European Christianity focused on a distinctly pro-European path. Obviously, this system was imperfect; but when Martin Luther appointed each individual person as the arbiter of scriptural truth — that body of knowledge became superfluous and was largely discarded.

Bereft of the foundation of hundreds of years of Euro-centric scholarship, many new branches and interpretations of Christianity took on a cast that was influenced by the un-mediated interpretation of Hebraic scriptures that lacked a European cultural anchor — thereby setting the stage for a group of Europeans who considered themselves to the the true Chosen People sailing for their own Promised Land, and entrenching specifically Zionist ideas within the early European-American psyche. It is thus no shock to discover that the number of Christian Zionists in this country is larger than the number of Jewish folks who explicitly self-identify as Zionists. (As a side note, consider that at one time the theory that the English people were the true Jews spoken of by the Old Testament was quite popular.)

This is an important factor in understanding Zionist influence because the number of people in the United States who are specifically and explicitly beholden to Israel is relatively small — certainly no more than 2% of the population, and likely a lot less. Compared to the 98% or more of the population that lacks such explicit loyalties to a foreign state, such a small population is relatively powerless — especially in a democracy — without incredible leverage. Wealth differential, beneficial symbiosis with owners of mass-media and similar factors can only provide so much leverage. The primary leverage comes, as I described above, from the long acquaintance and implicit acceptance of Zionist ideas among European-Americans that pre-dates modern Zionism. In other words, many of our people — with names like Samuel, Sarah, Levi, Rachel and David, living in towns like Canaan, Sharon or Shiloh and reading weekly from a non-mediated Tanakh — are implicitly predisposed to accept the explicit arguments of Zionists, thereby multiplying their effective power by a factor of 20 or more.

What I am saying, then, is that the Israel Lobby — composed of a very small number of activists — gains its primary power through US, and retains that power through OUR sanction. The moment sufficient numbers of European-Americans explicitly reject the idea of congruity between the American and Israeli narratives, the Israel Lobby will crumble to dust of its own accord.

Until that time, despite Jesse Jackson’s attribution of near-messianic powers to Barack Obama, he will be unable to substantively reduce the power of Zionism. At the one-on-one level of politicians, Zionist lobbies will hold sway in this country as long as it doesn’t create a dramatic electoral liability.

That is to say that a lobby for a foreign state can only use money and/or threats to secure favorable votes from politicians so long as the electorate does not strongly oppose those votes. If Americans were to decide that the American narrative was far from congruous with the founding of the modern State of Israel, and that uncritical support of Israel might even be contrary to America’s best interests — and if they were to decide this to be a hot-button issue determining their votes in elections — all the lobbyists in the world would be powerless to effectuate their desired ends among our political class.

But such a repudiation of Zionism has not gained currency among most voters. As a result, explicitly pro-Zionist lobbies composed of Christian Zionists, AIPAC and many others hold sway. Barack Obama could, conceivably, reject their overtures — though I consider that unlikely for a candidate so gutless that he voted “present” 130 times. But even if he did, as long as the bulk of the American people see the Israeli narrative as their own; the lobbies need only appeal to the American people to bring politicians back in line.

Barack Obama, even on his best day, doesn’t have the power to change that.

But WE do.

There’s nothing wrong with the Jewish people wanting their own state. That’s very normal and in some cases even laudable. (Though I have certain ethical qualms with the details of how Israel is run.)

But there is something VERY wrong with a United States citizen of any ethnicity relating so strongly to a foreign country — ANY foreign country — so strongly that they would willingly subjugate the interests of the United States in its favor.

That is something that needs to be changed.


October 26, 2008 at 4:57 pm 3 comments


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