The Right’s False Patriotism: American ≠ Israeli

Confused some?

I’m an American. A citizen of the United States. When I sing, “My country ‘tis of thee…” I’m singing about that country. When I “pledge allegiance to the flag…” the flag I am talking about has thirteen red and white stripes and a blue rectangle with fifty little white stars. It does not have a blue Star of David on a white background, between two horizontal blue stripes. My national anthem speaks to the American flag in glorious poetry, composed when it was under attack by an invader: “O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave, O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

Notice that it was not an Israeli flag flying over Fort McHenry that day.

I’m an American. Like most people, I love my country. And like most people, I’m willing to complain about it when things don’t seem quite right. When my leaders make mistakes or break laws. “My country right or wrong” is true only in a sense, that sense being that I would not betray my country simply because it did something I don’t approve of, say like invading a sovereign nation for no legitimate reason whatsoever, but rather for political gain. My country made a mistake, but I still love my country.

I can criticize my country when it does wrong; I can also apologize for it when it does wrong, as it did repeatedly for eight years of the Bush administration. I’m not sure I can ever apologize enough for that.

American Exceptionalism is the poisonously radical nationalism of the 19th century all over again. It identifies my country with the god of a specific pantheon and credits not only its creation but it’s survival and prosperity with that god, and so of course, any complaining or criticism is taken as an attack not only on the country (really, the country’s policies) but on that god. It’s that same old ancient trick used in the days of state-sponsored religion known as the divine right of kings. If the king is chosen by god he can’t possibly ever be wrong, can he? Well, neither, it seems, can a country chosen by god.

But I’m here to tell you: if God chose Bush, he made a mistake. I mean, he blew it big time. Let’s make no bones about it.

All this might seem bad enough, but I want to get back to the issue of the flag here for a minute. As I said, there is no Star of David on my flag. I owe no pledge of allegiance to that flag, any more than I do the Union Jack or the tricolor. I don’t sing about their flags in my national anthem. I don’t pay them taxes. They supply me with no essential services. Their soldiers do not stand on a wall to ensure that I can sleep safely at night.

Why did Sarah Palin keep an Israeli flag in her governor’s office in Juneau? She needed an American flag and an Alaskan flag. Didn’t her governor’s obligations stop there?

Why is it that Americans are expected to express loyalty to another country? You can see how bonds of friendship, such as those which exist between the U.S. and Great Britain might be a good thing for both, and none have been tighter since the Second World War, but nobody is expecting me to say, “Great Britain right or wrong!” But that is precisely what they want me to do for Israel.

Israel right or wrong?

In case you hadn’t clued in yet, I’m an American.

Not only do I have the right to criticize my own country, but I have the right to criticize others.

The problem, while frustrating enough for me, a Pagan, is far worse for American Jews. Roger Cohen wrote in the New York Times about ‘[t]he view that American Jews supportive of Israel but critical of its policies are not “real Jews”.’ As he points out,

Israel-right-or-wrong continues to be the core approach of major U.S. Jewish organizations, from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Cohen writes that Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of the progressively-oriented organization called J Street, told him:  “These organizations’ view remains essentially that any time you engage in an activity critical of Israel you are trying to destroy the state of Israel.” Fundamentalist Christians take the same attitude in this country, that to criticize Israel is to seek its destruction, simple criticism labeling you a “terrorist” or “terrorist supporter.”

Sounds familiar doesn’t it? We non-Jewish Americans have heard all that and had it directed at us, often enough when criticizing Republican policies.

Christian fundamentalists (Christofascists) have criticized Obama for not being “Christian enough” – a euphemism for “not being the right kind of Christian” (their kind) and they have criticized him for not defending Israel enough, missing somehow the point that Obama was elected president of the United States to defend Americans – like me. I didn’t vote for him to put my interests – my safety – behind those of another country.

And we are two different countries. I can understand being torn if you have dual citizenship, but 99.99% of Americans don’t have Israeli citizenship. I damn sure have a right to criticize Israel’s policies and I’m not going to lose any sleep doing so. But the problem is a real one and it has the potential to affect millions of lives. As Cohen points out,

President Barack Obama had virtually no domestic constituency for his attempt to denounce the continued growth of settlements as unacceptable and as undermining a two-state peace at its core: land.

Obama was left dangling, more so after the midterms, and had to retreat. This is not merely a failure of the parties. It is a failure of U.S. politics and the way those politics are straitjacketed by an Israel-right-or-wrong mantra that leads inexorably, over time, to one state with more Arabs in it than Jews.

Israel, it seems, is more important to some Americans than America is.

Cohen relates how Ira Strup, a Columbia graduate who experienced the effects of this mantra while performing a one-year fellowship based in Tel Aviv, asked, “Why is it poisoning minds to encourage them to think critically about the actions of the Israeli government?”

Why indeed? The real poison is not the willingness to criticize, but ideology that suppresses all questioning, the poison of nationalism – the poison of a twisted American or Zionist Exceptionalism that demands utter and unquestioning devotion. That might be a reasonable request in a theocracy, or even within a religion, but it has no place in the diversity and pluralism of a modern liberal democracy such as the United States, or, supposedly, Israel. It might have a place in the Old Testament, but it has no place in the Constitution. And the Constitution, not the Old Testament, is the founding document of the country I love, the country I am free to criticize.

The Constitution nowhere demands a religious test. It nowhere demands loyalty to any country other than the United States.

I would cordially suggest, therefore, to those who hold to that mantra that they emigrate to Israel, where they can “rah rah” all they want to a flag with a blue Star of David on a white field between two horizontal blue stripes, kibbutzing with radical Zionists on the West Bank. I, meanwhile, will live in my country under my flag with thirteen red and white stripes and a blue rectangle with fifty little white stars.

I will continue to be critical of, but continue express my love for – just as I would my own children – its actions when they are disappointing. For that is real love; not the “right or wrong” type of devotion that has become not love, but a twisted obsession.

18 Replies to “The Right’s False Patriotism: American ≠ Israeli”

  1. The United States does have strategic interests that would be significantly impacted were either Hamas or Hezbollah (or anybody else) to eliminate Israel. (Not least among those interests would be the sea passage). If the U.S. today does not express the same level of protective involvement with Britain as with Israel, that might be because Britain isn’t at immediate peril from its neighbors. During WWII, the U.S. actually sent its armed forces to help protect Britain, after all. The Evangelical “support” for Israel is rooted in an anti-Semitic philosophy, i.e. that Jesus will “return” somewhere around “the Holy Land” and definitively “save” the Evangelicals while the Jews if they don’t convert will go to hell. Why does Israel accept support from such loonies? Because it has no choice. Certainly, non-Evangelical Americans should not be evaluating the diplomatic relations between the two countries only on the basis of Palin keeping an Israeli flag in her office. Israel could or could not halt all West Bank settlements and it ultimately wouldn’t make any difference to its defense. Certain of its rabid neighbors are intent on wiping it out, to an extent that there is no reasonable expectation of an enduring peace, ever. The best that can be hoped for is successful containment of each crisis as it arises. The Palestinian Authority uses textbooks for children that teach them to hate Jews. How is that aiding the cause of peace? The Palestinian Authority also functions as a theocracy, i.e. if anybody under its control “insults” the prophet (gasp), they get thrown in jail. Those tactics extend to the expression of political thoughts, meaning, there isn’t liberty for individuals to ferment strong ideas for peace with Israel. Hezbollah is heavily rearming in southern Lebanon despite the U.N. peace treaty that calls for southern Lebanon to be a non-military zone. Why is it doing that? Why is the U.N. not enforcing the peace treaty? The situation is intractable. The U.S. has relations with, for example, Australia that are just as important as those with Israel, but the relationship with Australia is not in the news as much because nobody is threatening Australia.

  2. I agree, Scott. But I suspect you missed the point of my piece, or perhaps we are talking past each other a bit: The U.S. does have strategic interests in the region, but those do not necessitate alliance with say, Israel, over alliance with Islamic nations. Our problems with Islamic nations are in part a product of our longstanding support of Israel. So in part, we created the conditions that today seem to require support for Israel.

    I am, however, not arguing that the U.S. should not support Israel, or that it is not in our interest to protect Israel. For most of my life I have supported the U.S. alliance with Israel. I am arguing that support for Israel must be on the same basis as support for any other nation in any other region. It could be argued, for example, that Turkey is at least as important to us as Israel. It is difficult to believe we could not have achieved the same level of stability in the region over the long term by supporting Egypt, perhaps, instead of Israel.

    Support for Israel in this country is based on the Jewish Lobby, and it is as unreasoning as American Exceptionalism, based entirely on religion, not on any strategic interest, and it requires far more than any “normal” alliance in that it demands utter, unreasoning devotion to Israel – my “Israel right or wrong”. I am an American citizen. The only place that has any demands on my loyalties is my own country. Israel is no more to me than say, Turkey – nor should it be.

    Support for Israel must not demand patriotism to Israel from an American citizen. the idea of “Israel right or wrong” is an absurd one in an American context, or in any non-Israeli context.

  3. “Support for Israel in this country is based on the Jewish Lobby, and it is as unreasoning as American Exceptionalism, based entirely on religion, not on any strategic interest”

    That is incorrect. The U.S. does have a strategic interest in maintaining Israel as an ally.

    “It is difficult to believe we could not have achieved the same level of stability in the region over the long term by supporting Egypt, perhaps, instead of Israel.”

    There isn’t an either/or choice there. The United States does have relations with Egypt that are supportive of Egypt. For that matter, Israel has constructive relations with Egypt.

  4. I agree that as a U.S. citizen I am often afraid to utter any criticism of Israeli policy for fear of being labeled an anti-semite. We have allowed this to happen in our own country and it’s a bad policy. Stifling critical review of a country’s policies doesn’t help their cause.

  5. If you’re not Jewish, then why would you have a Magan David in your office? You wouldn’t, but for those of us who are Jews, Israel is a very important country–it is our homeland, and it is the only Jewish state in the world. Why Palin has one, I haven’t a clue, but it doesn’t take away my American-ness one bit to love Israel, send money to Israel, and own a Magan David flag. Being Americans, we all are from somewhere else (except the Native Americans) so it seems to me we all have an attachment to some other country. I am patriotic for Israel, and am not one bit apologetic for that. I am also patriotic for the US, and I choose to live here when I could live in Israel.
    By the way, you mention the Jewish Lobby like it’s some kind of unusual creature–what about the Arab Lobby? The Chinese Lobby? Both of these are at least as powerful as the Israeli Lobby, but why is everyone always throwing stink Israel’s way? Like other countries don’t lobby our government for preferential treatment. I do agree with Scott Rose when he mentions that the US has strategic interests in the Middle East, and since Israel is a democracy and Turkey isn’t, maybe it’s not so hard to see why we may prefer Israel over Turkey: with the Wikileaks cables showing that there has been a covert war going on with the US funding the Kurdish insurgency in Eastern Turkey and Turkey has been secretly funding the Al-Qaeda militants in Iraq, maybe Turkey’s not such a close buddy after all. We needed their help to keep the Soviets out of the Mediterranean, but since Ukraine is independent and Russia has it’s world conquest plans on hold for now, maybe Israel’s a safer bet.

  6. like most people I grew up haphazardly supporting Israel simply because everyone else did and I never gave a thought. In the past 10 or 15 years as I have become more aware of the political arena I have seen that my support is sometimes not justified. To somewhat justify what I’m about to say I will say this, Israel never should’ve gave back one drop of land that it took in the Six-Day War’s etc. It is plainly obvious to me that Israel has no intentions of having peace in the Middle East with the Palestinians. However I will say the same for the Palestinians. The leaders of Israel and the leaders of the Palestinians will keep their people in harms way over silliness.

    That said I do not agree that Israel is a strategic alliance. We could sail anywhere is in the Mediterranean that we want to and we don’t require Israel to be there to do so. I also disagree with Rmuse that we are paying taxes to Israel and we are killing our own people in the Middle East to protect them without even so much as a nod and a wink from Israel. If we are going to attack countries like Iraq just to protect Israel than they should’ve been involved. We do the work, provide the money, and provide the dead bodies while they set there and browbeat us. and in the meantime they are absolutely no safer and probably less safer. The people of the Middle East know that Muslims are dying for Israel. Sooner or later Israel will drag us into a war.

    with that said the notion that Christianity is bound to serve Israel in the manner that some of our leaders do, I won’t mention the Israeli ambassador to the American Congress Joe Lieberman, is utterly absurd. The Christian religion certainly springs out of Israel but there the resemblance stops. They live in the Old Testament and supposedly we live in the New Testament unless you’re a Baptist in which case you live in both when it’s convenient. As long as Israel treats people in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank the way that they have been treating them I am all for cutting off all aid until they straighten up and prove they are ready for peace. Of course the same goes for the Palestinians.

    I am sick of my money going to both of these countries year after year after year. It’s like me starting to get an allowance when I’m 10 and still expecting that allowance when I’m 60. if Israel was swallowed up today it would make no difference to anyone( except the Israelis of course). Nothing in the United States would change. As long as we are cutting off money to our senior citizens as far as I’m concerned any money being sent to other nations( please note other nations et al) needs to be sharply curtailed and spent our senior citizens.

    Don’t be afraid to criticize Israel, they certainly aren’t afraid of criticizing us and sometimes even laughing at us like with these settlements. The money we send them and many many other countries are not worth it when we have our own financial crisis

  7. I’m not writing about the “Arab” Lobby (an inaccurate term in any event) because I’m not writing about them – I’m addressing the Jewish Lobby and for the same reason Mr. Cohen is at the New York Times. It’s odd that you should say I treat them as an “unusual creature” when I do no such thing.

    One of the points of my article is that whether you are Jewish, Christian, or like me, Pagan, your homeland is America if you’re an American – not Israel. And anyone who is an American who is Jewish and considers Israel to be his homeland has no right to an expectation that others would share this rather unusual viewpoint. I’m Scandinavian – I consider no other country but the U.S. to be my homeland, attachments born of sentiment or ethnicity (or any other) notwithstanding.

  8. Thank you for your thoughtful response, Shiva. I’m with you there, Shiva – Israel never should have given up any land it won by way of wars it has fought to protect itself. We should never have pressured them to do so.

    Israel’s policies I don’t approve of. I don’t think our tax dollars should have to go to support policies that threaten our own safety by riling up Islamic extremists and alienating us from potential friends and allies in the Islamic world. Again, as I said in my article, I think our ties to Israel should be measured in the same coin as our ties with any other nation.

    Far too much of this debate is tied up in religious – not diplomatic or strategic terms and people may feel free to talk about the strategic implications of our alliance if they wish but it is not that aspect I was addressing in my piece. My concern is with the idea (born mostly of religion from what I can tell) that the U.S. (and Americans) must treat Israel as they treat America, which is absurd.

    And I don’t like the idea of being drawn into World War III because Christians and Muslims hate each other, or Jews and Muslims. That is the threat we face from people like Palin (and faced from Bush as well).

    It’s interesting that I so often find myself attacked for exactly what I wrote my article about – that if you criticize Israel you are against Israel. That’s not the case at all, which was Mr. Cohen’s point as well. I’ve defended Israel’s right to exist many times in arguments both face to face and online. My article is not an attack on Israel in any sense – it is an attack on the mistaken belief that I owe Israel even a drop of patriotism. I don’t.

    Apologies, Shiva, for ranting on your time :)

  9. I disagree, Scott. Yes, the U.S. has strategic interests in the area but none of those dictate that Israel must be the focus for those interests. You are concluding that if B is true than A must also be true, which is not the case.

    Your point is misplaced: I was not making an either/or comparison. I was offering an example.

  10. Exactly, smartdoc. We are expected as good American citizens to somehow also be good Israeli citizens. Nothing could be more absurd.

  11. You’ve done an excellent job. This is a sensitive issue, but what I find so odd is that the Right will attack anyone who dares to even question the Israeli alliance (for obvious reasons) and yet they think nothing of attacking African Americans in their own country and denying their history as slaves in our own country.

    “The real poison is not the willingness to criticize, but ideology that suppresses all questioning, the poison of nationalism –” so well said. That is when the alarm bells go off. The suppression of questioning.

  12. Thank you, Sarah! You clearly grasped the point of my piece. I had begun to suspect I needed to add a thesis statement to my article’s beginning in order to be better understood.

  13. It seems to me that the US has taken on Israel as though the Americans committed the Holocaust – and we MUST NEVER say anything against Israel, which seems just plain wrong-headed.

  14. Ironically, the same thinking is used by any totalitarian regime (don’t question). Is that what the Right is now?

    During 2008 I had long discussions with a Jewish friend of mine whose rabbi was telling him to vote Republican because of Israel, and yet he questioned the Republicans support, based as much of it is upon the notion of end days and converting Jews to Christianity. He pointed out that supporting Israel isn’t the same thing as supporting Jews or the Jewish faith. I was struck by his ability to have this important dialogue with his rabbi – but saddened by the rabbi telling folks how to vote (either way, I find this offensive for it disempowers the citizen). And that takes us right back to your point – if someone tries to suppress your questions, an alarm should go off. Talk about “freedoms”.

  15. That is sad, Sarah. And yes, disturbing that a rabbi (or a minister) should be telling a member of his congregation how to vote (and we know they do this all the time in violation of their tax exempt status).

    And the whole “all the Jews will die or convert” thing at the end times should alert Jews as much as it alerts big old Heathens like me. If someone says, “I’ve got plans for (fill in blink)” alarm bells should go off. Well, that’s what the Fundies are saying about the Jews.

    Some love!

  16. I would like to see aid reduced, we pay over seven million a day and pay interest on the money borrowed to do it. Why do we give them a rich, tiny the size of New Jersey, country as much as we give all other countries combined. What do we get out of it, hate because they use our weapons and equipment to murder, which makes us even more hated and unsafe. Bin Laden made many references to this. We let our people go without health care, homes, jobs, and education, just think what we could do for our own people with the billions of dollars going there. Palin and her kind only alliance to Israel has to do with end time prophesy. She loves them, convert to Christianity or burn in hell. Like Helen Thomas said “a Palin presidency would be a tragedy a national tragedy, she is very conservative, reactionary, unbelievable”.

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