In the sacred story of American empire, Israel is the ultimate symbol, dammit

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Jewish Ideas Daily has run a critical review, by Lawrence Grossman, of Jack Ross’s important new book, Rabbi Outcast. Ross responds:

The review itself begins with a very intellectually dishonest premise. In the context of negotiations with Palestinian Arabs at a minimum, the demand that Israel be recognized as a “Jewish state” is entirely new to Netanyahu’s current administration, and if it is in fact now American policy – and it is not clear that it is – it can not have been for more than three or four months. 

The author goes on to make the ad hominem insistence that it is “factually inaccurate” that “the Conference of Presidents functions as the mythical elders of Zion” and that “AIPAC was implicated in the genesis of the Iraq War”. The point is that Rabbi Elmer Berger and the American Council for Judaism foresaw that Zionism, particularly with its insistence on the emergence of an “official governing body” of American Jewry obsessed with enforcing “the communal consensus” would bring to life the anti-Semitic myths typified by the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

The sole commenter on the review poses the following question:

Whether the book’s author, Jack Ross, is capable of making the distinction between the anxieties of, say, pre- and post-1989 Zionism. From the birth of Zionism, through both World Wars and after, US (and British, etc.) anti-Zionism (non-Communist anti-Zionism, at least) asserted that Zionism was a threat to the perceived and actual loyalty and Americanism (Britishness, etc.) of the national Jewish community. Whereas the anti-Zionism of Tony Judt, Phil Weiss and Max Blumenthal (to name exemplars of 3 generations) is anxious to identify itself not with patriotism toward one’s own nationality, but patriotism to something larger and better – “progressive politics,” “good Europeanism and anti-nationalism, anti-xenophobia and anti-racism.

That there could be some embarrassing manifestations of ACJ “Americanism” I do not deny. The key to understanding it, however, and where I see continuity today, is that the America they loved and was inseparable from their Jewish identity was a very different America – the America that was still a republic, not an empire, before World War II resulted in the American empire whose founding myth is that they were the saviors and redeemers of Israel. 

Speaking only for myself, I would be perfectly happy to care as little about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as I do about the war in the Congo, with the fact that one of the two sides is Jewish making as little difference as that one of the sides in the Congo is Catholic does to the average American Catholic. The problem is that in the sacred story of the American empire, Israel is the ultimate symbol of itself as force for good in the world. Therefore, as a Jew and as one who as a small-r republican patriot would like to see America dismantle its empire, I can only regard the tabernacle of American nationalism that is the State of Israel and its official ideology of transnational Jewish “peoplehood” as an idol that must be smashed.

As for the question with which the review concludes – “One wonders which Jews Ross has been spending time with” – three words: ask Daniel Gordis.

Read Jack Ross’s explanation of his book’s mission here.

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