This past summer I had the good fortune of studying at the Shalom Hartman Institute. In one of my classes Dr. Jonathan Rynhold talked to us about the Arab-Israeli conflict in American Political culture (which happens to the title of his book.) In his the book he discusses why Americans, both liberal and conservative, have a more positive attitude of Israel than Europeans. In the light of the E.U. demanding that all Israeli imports from the West Bank be labeled that they come from the settlements (illegal in their eyes) instead of Israel, I thought I would share some of his conclusions to help understand why Europe has singled out Israel for this labeling.
Ronald Reagan summed American and Israeli special relationship saying “There is no nation like us, except Israel.” Even before the State of Israel was a reality, Americans were in favor of Jews returning to the Land of Israel thanks to their Protestant milleniailsm and understanding of Biblical prophesy. Jews returning home would signal the advent of the Second Coming of Christ. William Blackstone, a leading American evangelist organized a petition to President Harrison that the United States help restore Palestine to the Jews. This petition was signed by 413 prominent Gentile Americans.1
After World War I, universal national determination was a value held by Woodrow Wilson and the rest of the country. Since Israel is the national home for the Jewish people, America supported our return. Even the liberal theologian Reinhold Niebuhr who rejected a literal reading of the Bible declared: “The Jews have a right to a homeland. They are a nation...They have no place where they are not exposed to the perils of minority status.”2 All candidates from both parties running for the Presidency often speak of American exceptionalism. The exception is Israel as Reagan said. Americans see in the Zionist enterprise the same pioneering spirit that makes America great. Being the only democratic country in the entire Middle East reinforces America's positive identification with Israel.
More over, Americans see Israel as the only and most reliable ally in the region. The Holocaust seared into the consciousness the pernicious outcome of anti-Antisemitism and the commitment to Israel's survival. Conversely, generally speaking, Americans view Muslims and Islam itself in a negative light due to Arab terrorism after 9/11 and the Arab countries do not share the American exceptionalism like Israel does.
Pro-Israel sentiment rises and falls at any given time due to the circumstances on the ground who is more to blame for the failure of any movement towards a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Nevertheless, Rynhold through his analysis shows that support for the Jewish state remains high and runs through all sub groups.
Across the Atlantic, European countries are more sympathetic to the Palestinians than to the Israelis for several reasons. America is far more religious than Europe. For the most part Europeans don't share those Protestant millenialism world view that has shaped Americans. Secondly, Americans are more nationalistic than Europeans. Europeans blame nationalism for all the bloody conflicts on the continent, especially the Two World Wars. “This is important in the Middle East context, because Israel emphasizes its self-determination as the nation-state of the Jewish people, the legitimacy of which the Arabs and Palestinians reject. This leads some federalist in Europe to view Israel's insistence on its national identity in a negative light and as a factor inflaming the Arab-Israeli conflict.”3 America uses its military strength to protect its interests as does Israel. Those Europeans who decry military intervention are more anti-Israel than those who back a strong military presence.
Europeans want to put the Holocaust behind them; consequently, 40% of Europeans think that Jews bring up the Holocaust too much.4 Moreover, because of Europe's class system and authoritarian past, the Old Right and the Far Left are stronger in Europe than America. The Old Right adopts a paternalistic approach to the Palestinians. In order to protect their interests e.g. the flow of oil, the Old Right is more sympathetic to the Arabs.
“According to post colonial theory, all the major problems of the Middle East are the result of malevolent outside forces of imperialism, let by the United States with the assistance of its 'lackeys,' such as Israel. The West and by extension, Israel are viewed as essentially ''reactionary,' while the status of the Third World, including Palestine, as
'victims of colonialism' makes them essentially 'progressive.' There very weakness and their status as victims put them in the right. Zionism has become a code word for the forces of 'reaction' in general, and since the end of the Cold War, virulent anti-Israel sentiment has become a major unifying theme among radicals within social movements and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) The radical left has also been the major force behind the campaign to impose boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) on Israel. The BDS movement as a whole tales 'no position' on Israel's right to exist, but its core activists are anti-Zionists opposed to Israel existence in any borders.”5
Anti-Zionism is just the modern guise of anti-Antisemitism which the Radical left now employs and the liberal press has been influenced. The only national movement for self determination denied of course is Zionism. I wonder who will buy into the clearly anti-Semetic op-ed piece published Sunday in the official Palestinian Authority daily al-Hayat al-Jadida. The paper blamed Israel's Mossad intelligence agency for terror attacks in Paris, suggesting they were orchestrated in order to undermine new European moves to label produce from Israeli West Bank settlements. Will the tragedy in Paris change Europe's view in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Only time will tell.
This book, The Arab-Israeli Conflict in American Political Culture is a must read for all those who want to understand the lenses how politicians, the media, and the world view Israel and understand why the E.U. 's most recent ruling on the importation of goods from the West Bank. We now can begin to understand why Israel is singled out and not China in Tibet, Turkey in Cyprus, and nor Spain in the Basque region even though those countries export goods in occupied territory without any stigma.
1The Arab-Israeli Conflict in American Culture, page 13 All further quotes come from this book