In the middle of a very long diatribe against Obama, Walter Russell Mead trots out one of his overused arguments and takes it to new extremes:
As the stunning and overwhelming response to Prime Minister Netanyahu in Congress showed, Israel matters in American politics like almost no other country on earth. Well beyond the American Jewish and the Protestant fundamentalist communities, the people and the story of Israel stir some of the deepest and most mysterious reaches of the American soul. The idea of Jewish and Israeli exceptionalism is profoundly tied to the idea of American exceptionalism. The belief that God favors and protects Israel is connected to the idea that God favors and protects America.
It means more. The existence of Israel means that the God of the Bible is still watching out for the well-being of the human race. For many American Christians who are nothing like fundamentalists, the restoration of the Jews to the Holy Land and their creation of a successful, democratic state after two thousand years of oppression and exile is a clear sign that the religion of the Bible can be trusted [bold mine-DL].
Being pro-Israel matters in American mass politics because the public mind believes at a deep level that to be pro-Israel is to be pro-America and pro-faith. Substantial numbers of voters believe that politicians who don’t ‘get’ Israel also don’t ‘get’ America and don’t ‘get’ God.
This is littered with a number of falsehoods and half-truths. First, let’s consider the half-truths. Israel matters in American politics as much as it does because well-organized, dedicated activists have worked hard over the last four decades to make it so. There are some religious Americans who see support for Israel in religious terms and in terms of shared “values.” Then there is the vast majority of Americans that doesn’t see the relationship in these terms.
It is a ridiculous exaggeration to say that “the public mind believes that to be pro-Israel is to be pro-America and pro-faith.” For a large part of the public, the issues are and should be unrelated. This is fortunate, since remarkably few Americans actually see Israel as an ally of the United States. Being “pro-Israel” matters because there are strong disincentives to being anything else, and these don’t typically come from the voters. It is true that there are many Christian Zionists in America who roughly fit the description Mead presents here, but their understanding of the relationship between America and the State of Israel and of the relationship of God to the two states is very unrepresentative of most Americans. I am on fairly safe ground saying that most Americans, including most Christians, do not see the establishment in the Holy Land of a secular democratic republic by socialists as vindication of the “religion of the Bible.”
Now let’s look at the falsehoods. Israel does not matter as much it does in American politics because of mystical connections in the American soul, nor is it because of similarities between our nationalist ideologies. When American nationalists appropriate the idea of being a chosen people, this sets up America as a parallel or replacement of Israel, and it openly denies the uniqueness of the covenant made with Israel.
Obama’s political isolation on this issue, and the haste with which liberal Democrats like Nancy Pelosi left the embattled President to take the heat alone, testify to the pervasive sense in American politics that Israel is an American value.
No, it stems from awareness on the part of members of Congress that there is no incentive in being seen taking a position strongly opposed by “pro-Israel” groups and the Israeli government. This isn’t because of “the pervasive sense that Israel is an American value” (whatever that could mean). It is because “pro-Israel” activists will withdraw support from critical politicians and direct support to their rivals. In that respect, there is nothing mystical or deep to be found. It is simple interest-group politics.
Matt Yglesias offers a useful corrective to this pseudo-spiritual hogwash:
Protecting Israel is a special project taken on by the United States. The reasons may be good and bad, but it’s a burden we undertake. Israel does us no favors and is no use to us. Recognizing that fact hardly solves the decades-long Arab-Israeli conflict, but it ought to be the starting point for what Americans should debate–not Israel’s policy toward its Palestinian subjects but America’s policy toward Israel.