Israel as tabernacle of the American empire

I wrote the following at least three years ago (probably more like four) as a think-piece on what was appearing then, and now certainly seems indisputable, to be the death of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The intention was to address exactly why Israel had become such a leading object of idolatry in American nationalism, and to a large extent well beyond it. This question is most timely now in the aftermath of the Hebdo massacres, when the question has justly been raised why there are frank hypocrisies regarding taboos around Judaism and Islam, if anything to a more startling degree in France than the U.S. But those who have raised this discussion seem totally focused on what is, and not why it is. Here, then, is a rather brief and concise illustration of the answer.

The now all-but-universally acknowledged death of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has vast implications far beyond that long-suffering small strip of land on the Mediterranean coast. The imminent collapse of the so-called Jewish state represents nothing more or less than a blow to the Achilles’ heel which has held up the entire international system enforced by American power.

Protests about four thousand years of history in eretz yisrael notwithstanding, no other nation on Earth has ever leaned so heavily on international law, and the approval of outsiders generally, for its very existence. Only Israel has premised its existence on a mandate of the long dead League of Nations, that cynical instrument of European imperialism. And when the United Nations emerged out of the horrible war that the League’s very founding made inevitable, it was to them that the Zionists appealed for permission to establish their state. No other nation would feel it necessary to invoke a resolution of the United Nations in its declaration of independence. It is as though some representative of “the world” had to validate the Zionist faith that there did in fact exist a “Jewish nation.”

Of course, this veneer of international justice could not have been operative without a certain leap of faith by the great powers who brought it about. For they, too, had to be made to believe that Hitler was essentially right about the Jews – that is, that they were an alien presence in the lands they called home – and therefore needed to be given a nation-state of their own. Yet it was the pious instinct in the western imagination that led to their eager construction of Jewish statehood. The redemption of the Jews and the end of their alleged exile, in a modern international template, flowed as naturally from the Protestant ethic as the spirit of capitalism. To invoke specific interpretations of the Book of Revelation in this connection, whether of the early 19th or late 20th century, is simply superfluous.

Still, we are left with the vexing question of what can explain the centrality Israel seized, not just in American foreign policy, but in the sacred story of the American empire. In his book America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism, Anatol Lieven made the indispensable argument that the “special relationship” between America and Israel is not history’s first instance of a great power being manipulated by a small client state. His precedent is the relationship of Russia and Serbia a century ago, wherein the Russian Empire’s sacred story of pan-Slavic nationalism and leadership of Orthodox Christianity led it into war against the Habsburg Empire in 1914, thus setting in motion the war that ended European civilization. History is certainly rhyming, if not repeating, as America’s commitment to the State of Israel has in part led it into what has amounted to an unwinnable war against the Islamic world, threatening the whole existing world order with it.

Israel is, to America, the ultimate symbol of itself as a force for good in the world, representing the salvation of the Jews as the heroic outcome of the Second World War, the “good war” myth at the heart of the sacred story of the American empire. America and Israel are bound by the fact that they are the only two countries whose very national identity is dependent upon the vitality of the international system inaugurated by that war. They are bound by their shared constant need for another Hitler to destroy. Consider the history of the Second World War. What began for England and France as the war to liberate Poland from Hitler only succeeded in giving all of Eastern Europe to Stalin. What became for America the war to liberate East Asia from Imperial Japan led to precious little besides the conquest of China by the greatest mass murderer in human history.

Only the salvation of the Jews from Hitler’s mad scheme of extermination was left to justify, ex post facto, the most destructive war in human history and the vast empire America acquired by it. It is no accident that the rise of the so-called “holocaust industry” reached its apogee in the immediate aftermath of the end of the Cold War. As Murray Rothbard pointed out at the time, the release of “Schindler’s List” and the opening of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, occurring within the space of one or two years, was perfectly timed to establish a grand narrative of American righteousness to take on the various dime-store genocides that marked “the end of history.”

Thus in keeping with Woodrow Wilson’s original world-redemptive ambitions, for both America and the international system he envisioned, the American empire was the god that brought about the essential event to usher forth the millennial reign, which the Living God had not – the redemption of Israel.

There are no doubt those who feel that this is nothing more than a retreat into mysticism in order to exculpate responsibility for America’s downfall from the corrupt influence of the Israel lobby. Answering this is the following excerpt from the indispensable essay “The Fall of Modernity” by Michael Vlahos in The American Conservative:

The imperial narrative of the grand nation thus becomes its double-edged sword. In day-to-day politics, it reminds the people of their strength and unity. Even more important for external imperial relations, narrative becomes the badge of legitimacy as lead nation. But the imperial narrative also makes the grand nation vulnerable to symbolic attack, a weak strategic position because the empire must maintain not only its material interests but the perfect integrity of the tabernacle – and as symbolic edifice, the imperial narrative is brittle and relatively easy to attack. Moreover, if it is attacked successfully, regaining lost authority requires disproportionate effort so great as to risk being self-defeating. Even empires that are truly decadent and surely should know better – for whom even the smallest shock might unleash a historical avalanche – have put defense of the narrative above reality.

Without discounting the enormously successful influence-peddling of AIPAC and others, this is precisely why the American political class has been so heavily invested not merely in the survival of Israel as a Jewish state, but in its success at vanquishing the Islamofascist enemy.

Nor can it be denied that the effete European appeasers of neoconservative imagination have just as great an investment at stake. Because Israel’s official rationale for its just existence relies so heavily on specific international legislation, for it to be imperiled represents a uniquely powerful comeuppance to the international system. For ultimately, the creation of Israel is a legacy of those few short years when the United States and the Soviet Union more-or-less sincerely believed that they would be partners in empire through the United Nations, as Britain and France had been through the League of Nations. The European Union has as its own sacred story that it is destined to restore the promise of that moment. Thankfully, the threat to its credibility posed by the fate of Israel is the least of its problems.

Israel’s central place in America’s sacred story can easily explain some of the more puzzling behavior of the latter in recent years. As Tony Judt wrote in diagnosing neoconservatism and its apologists, “for the U.S. to imitate Israel wholesale, to import that tiny country’s self-destructive, intemperate response to any hostility or opposition and to make it the leitmotif of American foreign policy – that is simply bizarre.” Yet what this has meant in practice, such as following the Israeli torture handbook at Abu Ghraib, is simply par for the course. American nationalists have come to take such pride in Israel and its methods because they naturally see this ultimate symbol of themselves as a force for good as worthy of emulation.

Let no one mistake any of this for some fiendish plot by the elders of Zion. On the contrary, the tragedy is that the Jewish people found themselves forced into this role. If modern ideology, most notably Marxism, was ultimately based on a simulacrum of the drama of exodus and redemption, Zionism, and the American sacred story with it, sought to recreate this literally as no alternative could. In other words, a religious narrative of the Holocaust followed by literal redemption in the creation of Israel effectively replaced the historic Jewish religion. There thus emerged the largely subconscious, yet sometimes explicit belief of both the American Jewish establishment and the larger American political class that they were fighting for the survival of the actually existing Kingdom of God. This is precisely why Israel represents the apotheosis, and the downfall, of modernity.

One can only pray that the Jewish religion, mother of western ethics and jurisprudence, will ultimately survive this heresy. Yet the epitaph of the State of Israel shall identify it as having been the principal culprit in fulfilling the prophecy of John Quincy Adams of the American empire: “She might become the dictatress of the world, but she would no longer be the ruler of her own spirit.”

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