Israel and the American Left: A History

Here is a new book from Stanford University Press that explores the history of the American Left’s relationship to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As everyone knows, that conflict has created real tensions in progressive politics in the US and the UK as well. The book is The Movement and the Middle East: How the Arab-Israeli Conflict Divided the American Left, by historian Michael Fischbach (Randolph-Macon College). The publisher’s description follows:

The Arab-Israeli conflict constituted a serious problem for the American Left in the 1960s: pro-Palestinian activists hailed the Palestinian struggle against Israel as part of a fundamental restructuring of the global imperialist order, while pro-Israeli leftists held a less revolutionary worldview that understood Israel as a paragon of democratic socialist virtue. This intra-left debate was in part doctrinal, in part generational. But further woven into this split were sometimes agonizing questions of identity. Jews were disproportionately well-represented in the Movement, and their personal and communal lives could deeply affect their stances vis-à-vis the Middle East.

The Movement and the Middle East offers the first assessment of the controversial and ultimately debilitating role of the Arab-Israeli conflict among left-wing activists during a turbulent period of American history. Michael R. Fischbach draws on a deep well of original sources—from personal interviews to declassified FBI and CIA documents—to present a story of the left-wing responses to the question of Palestine and Israel. He shows how, as the 1970s wore on, the cleavages emerging within the American Left widened, weakening the Movement and leaving a lasting impact that still affects progressive American politics today.

Around the Web

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

On Christian Zionism

15966A forthcoming book from the University of Pennsylvania Press, Covenant Brothers: Evangelicals, Jews, and U.S.-Israel Relations, argues that Christian Zionism should not be seen primarily as an apocalyptic, Evangelical movement–the way it is often portrayed by its detractors, especially on the left. The author, Daniel Hummel (University of Wisconsin-Madison) argues that Christian Zionism is more an institutional and interreligious phenomenon. (Of course, it could be all these things simultaneously). Here’s the description from the Penn website:

Weaving together the stories of activists, American Jewish leaders, and Israeli officials in the wake of the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, Covenant Brothers portrays the dramatic rise of evangelical Christian Zionism as it gained prominence in American politics, Israeli diplomacy, and international relations after World War II. According to Daniel G. Hummel, conventional depictions of the Christian Zionist movement—the organized political and religious effort by conservative Protestants to support the state of Israel—focus too much on American evangelical apocalyptic fascination with the Jewish people. Hummel emphasizes instead the institutional, international, interreligious, and intergenerational efforts on the part of Christians and Jews to mobilize evangelical support for Israel.

From missionary churches in Israel to Holy Land tourism, from the Israeli government to the American Jewish Committee, and from Billy Graham’s influence on Richard Nixon to John Hagee’s courting of Donald Trump, Hummel reveals modern Christian Zionism to be an evolving and deepening collaboration between Christians and the state of Israel. He shows how influential officials in the Israeli Ministry of Religious Affairs and Foreign Ministry, tasked with pursuing a religious diplomacy that would enhance Israel’s standing in the Christian world, combined forces with evangelical Christians to create and organize the vast global network of Christian Zionism that exists today. He also explores evangelicalism’s embrace of Jewish concepts, motifs, and practices and its profound consequences on worshippers’ political priorities and their relationship to Israel.

Drawing on religious and government archives in the United States and Israel, Covenant Brothers reveals how an unlikely mix of Christian and Jewish leaders, state support, and transnational networks of institutions combined religion, politics, and international relations to influence U.S. foreign policy and, eventually, global geopolitics.

Kaplan, “Our American Israel”

9780674737624-lgA forthcoming book from Harvard University Press discusses America’s identification with Israel: Our American Israel: The Story of an Entangled Alliance, by University of Pennsylvania English professor Amy Kaplan. The author identifies several elements in post-war America that have led to the strong identification most Americans feel with the Jewish state, including the sense of biblical destiny. But Americans’ identification with Israel goes way back. American Protestantism has strongly identified with the Jews ever since the Puritans–just think of all those Old Testament names in New England. Even Thomas Jefferson wanted to make the story of the Exodus part of our national seal. Now that Israel is a nation state, the sense of common identity takes a somewhat different form, but it has been with us from the beginning. Here is the book’s description from the Harvard website:

An essential account of America’s most controversial alliance that reveals how the United States came to see Israel as an extension of itself, and how that strong and divisive partnership plays out in our own time.

Our American Israel tells the story of how a Jewish state in the Middle East came to resonate profoundly with a broad range of Americans in the twentieth century. Beginning with debates about Zionism after World War II, Israel’s identity has been entangled with America’s belief in its own exceptional nature. Now, in the twenty-first century, Amy Kaplan challenges the associations underlying this special alliance.

Through popular narratives expressed in news media, fiction, and film, a shared sense of identity emerged from the two nations’ histories as settler societies. Americans projected their own origin myths onto Israel: the biblical promised land, the open frontier, the refuge for immigrants, the revolt against colonialism. Israel assumed a mantle of moral authority, based on its image as an “invincible victim,” a nation of intrepid warriors and concentration camp survivors. This paradox persisted long after the Six-Day War, when the United States rallied behind a story of the Israeli David subduing the Arab Goliath. The image of the underdog shattered when Israel invaded Lebanon and Palestinians rose up against the occupation. Israel’s military was strongly censured around the world, including notes of dissent in the United States. Rather than a symbol of justice, Israel became a model of military strength and technological ingenuity.

In America today, Israel’s political realities pose difficult challenges. Turning a critical eye on the turbulent history that bound the two nations together, Kaplan unearths the roots of present controversies that may well divide them in the future.

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

Goldman, “God’s Country”

15764Here is an interesting-looking book arguing that the contemporary US-Israel alliance has less to do with recent phenomena and more to do with the historical identification Americans have had with Biblical Israel. The identification dates to the English Reformation. The Puritans brought with them a strong sense of commonality with the Israel of the Old Testament–consider all those Old-Testament names they gave their children–and that sense of identity has continued in American Protestantism, and therefore American culture more generally, ever since. In this way, contemporary Evangelicals really are the heirs of Cotton Mather.

The book is God’s Country: Christian Zionism in America (University of Pennylvania Press), by Samuel Goldman, a political scientist at George Washington University. The publisher’s description follows:

The United States is Israel’s closest ally in the world. The fact is undeniable, and undeniably controversial, not least because it so often inspires conspiracy theorizing among those who refuse to believe that the special relationship serves America’s strategic interests or places the United States on the morally correct side of Israel’s enduring conflict with the Palestinians. Some point to the nefarious influence of a powerful “Israel lobby” within the halls of Congress. Others detect the hand of evangelical Protestants who fervently support Israel for their own theological reasons. The underlying assumption of all such accounts is that America’s support for Israel must flow from a mixture of collusion, manipulation, and ideologically driven foolishness.

Samuel Goldman proposes another explanation. The political culture of the United States, he argues, has been marked from the very beginning by a Christian theology that views the American nation as deeply implicated in the historical fate of biblical Israel. God’s Country is the first book to tell the complete story of Christian Zionism in American political and religious thought from the Puritans to 9/11. It identifies three sources of American Christian support for a Jewish state: covenant, or the idea of an ongoing relationship between God and the Jewish people; prophecy, or biblical predictions of return to The Promised Land; and cultural affinity, based on shared values and similar institutions. Combining original research with insights from the work of historians of American religion, Goldman crafts a provocative narrative that chronicles Americans’ attachment to the State of Israel.

Jacobs, “Jews and Leftist Politics”

Last month, the Cambridge University Press released “Jews and Leftist Politics: Judaism, Israel, Antisemitism, and Gender,” by Jack Jacobs (John Jay College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York).  The publisher’s description follows: 

The relationships, past and present, between Jews and the political left remain of abiding interest to both the academic community and the public. Jews and Leftist 9781107047860Politics contains new and insightful chapters from world-renowned scholars and considers such matters as the political implications of Judaism; the relationships of leftists and Jews; the histories of Jews on the left in Europe, the United States, and Israel; contemporary anti-Zionism; the associations between specific Jews and Communist parties; and the importance of gendered perspectives. It also contains fresh studies of canonical figures, including Gershom Scholem, Gustav Landauer, and Martin Buber, and examines the affiliations of Jews to prominent institutions, calling into question previous widely held assumptions. The volume is characterized by judicious appraisals made by respected authorities, and sheds considerable light on contentious themes.

Reiter, “Contested Holy Places in Israel–Palestine”

Next month, Routledge will release “Contested Holy Places in Israel-Palestine: Sharing and Conflict Resolution,” by Yitzhak Reiter (Ashkelon Academic College).  The publisher’s description follows:

Over the last twenty years, there has been a growing understanding that conflicts in or over holy places differ from other territorial conflicts. A holy site has a profound 9781138243514meaning, involving human beliefs, strong emotions, “sacred” values, and core identity self-perceptions; therefore a dispute over such land differs from a “regular” dispute over land. In order to resolve conflicts over holy sites, one must be equipped with an understanding of the cultural, religious, social, and political meaning of the holy place to each of the contesting groups.

This book seeks to understand the many facets of disputes and the triggers for the outbreak of violence in and around holy sites. It analyses fourteen case studies of conflicts over holy sites in Palestine/Israel, including major holy sites such as Al-Haram al-Sharif/the Temple Mount, the Western Wall and the Cave of the Patriarchs/Al-Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, in addition to disputes over more minor sites. It then compares these conflicts to similar cases from other regions and provides an analysis of effective and ineffective conflict mitigation and resolution tools used for dealing with such disputes. Furthermore, the book sheds light on the role of sacred sites in exacerbating local and regional ethnic conflicts.

By providing a thorough and systematic analysis of the social, economic, and political conditions that fuel conflicts over holy sites and the conditions that create tolerance or conflict, this book will be a key resource for students and scholars of conflict resolution, political science, and religious studies.

Hirschhorn, “City on a Hilltop”

In April, Harvard University Press will release City on a Hilltop: American Jews and the Israeli Settler Movement by Sara Yael Hirschhorn (University of Oxford). The publisher’s description follows:

american-jews-and-the-israeli-settler-movementSince 1967, more than 60,000 Jewish-Americans have settled in the territories captured by the State of Israel during the Six Day War. Comprising 15 percent of the settler population today, these immigrants have established major communities, transformed domestic politics and international relations, and committed shocking acts of terrorism. They demand attention in both Israel and the United States, but little is known about who they are and why they chose to leave America to live at the center of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.

In this deeply researched, engaging work, Sara Yael Hirschhorn unsettles stereotypes, showing that the 1960s generation who moved to the occupied territories were not messianic zealots or right-wing extremists but idealists engaged in liberal causes. They did not abandon their progressive heritage when they crossed the Green Line. Rather, they saw a historic opportunity to create new communities to serve as a beacon—a “city on a hilltop”—to Jews across the globe. This pioneering vision was realized in their ventures at Yamit in the Sinai and Efrat and Tekoa in the West Bank. Later, the movement mobilized the rhetoric of civil rights to rebrand itself, especially in the wake of the 1994 Hebron massacre perpetrated by Baruch Goldstein, one of their own.

On the fiftieth anniversary of the 1967 war, Hirschhorn illuminates the changing face of the settlements and the clash between liberal values and political realities at the heart of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.

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