Eretz Israel is our unforgettable historic homeland...The Jews who will it shall achieve their State...And whatever we attempt there for our own benefit will redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind. (Theodor Herzl, DerJudenstaat, 1896)

We offer peace and amity to all the neighbouring states and their peoples, and invite them to cooperate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all. The State of Israel is ready to contribute its full share to the peaceful progress and development of the Middle East.
(From Proclamation of the State of Israel, 5 Iyar 5708; 14 May 1948)

With a liberal democratic political system operating under the rule of law, a flourishing market economy producing technological innovation to the benefit of the wider world, and a population as educated and cultured as anywhere in Europe or North America, Israel is a normal Western country with a right to be treated as such in the community of nations.... For the global jihad, Israel may be the first objective. But it will not be the last. (Friends of Israel Initiative)

Monday 30 May 2011

Factors in Netanyahu's Warm Reception in America

This is a guest post by Wales-based historian Professor William Rubinstein:

Netanyahu's amazingly enthusiastic reception before the American Congress was one of the most remarkable demonstrations of support for anyone I have ever seen.  I doubt if George Washington, if he came back to life, would have received stormier applause or more standing ovations.

The question is why.

Surely no other foreign head of state would have received the same treatment.

Of course, one  might be cynical.  Congressmen court the Jewish vote.  But it seems unlikely that the Irish, Italian or Polish prime ministers would have received 25 or more standing ovations, although their communities' votes also count.

Netanyahu is obviously a charismatic speaker, and one who speaks English with an American accent.  Nevertheless, there appears to be something unique about contemporary Israel and today's United States.

Let me briefly suggest some factors.

First, the Holocaust sweeps everything before it, like some giant, irresistible tsunami.  For many Jews, this seems counter-intuitive, since they fear that the Holocaust will be forgotten.  During the past thirty years the exact opposite has happened.  The Holocaust has become universally internalised as the supreme example of evil in modern history, with the State of Israel widely seen as the pheonix which has risen on its ashes.  The loudest applause Netanyahu received, I believe, was when he emphasised that there would be no second Holocaust.  It is also important to realise that the Palestinians and Arabs have nothing to set against it, which is why they are so keen to depict the Palestinian nakba of 1948 as its equivalent, although this was simply a population transfer, similar to many others at the time, not an act of genocide.

Secondly, Americans, like Jews, often and regularly regard themselves as somehow chosen by God, with America seen by many of its citizens as "God's own country".  A kind of theology has arisen in recent decades among many conservative Protestants that God chose two peoples, the Jews in ancient times and the Americans in modern times, and (unlike conversionist Christianity) one built upon the other rather than displacing it.  The strength of Christian Zionism, explicit or implicit, in the United States should not be underestimated, and it is an important factor in the warmth of Netanyahu's Congressional reception.  It is probably particularly important, rightly or wrongly, in backing the Israeli claim to all of Jerusalem.

Thirdly, of course, there is militant Islam and the threat of terrorism.  There seems to be no doubt that many, perhaps most, Americans perceive Middle Eastern Muslims as primitive, violent, and above all very dangerous barbarians, and see Israel as America's proxy in the region, engaged in a common struggle.  The spontaneous demonstrations of American patriotism, in large part by young people and college students in many American cities when the announcement came through that Bin Laden had been killed, is evidence of this.

As things stand, then, Israel appears to have nothing to fear from the American government.  Whether this can last indefinitely is, of course, another matter.


  1. "Christian Zionism" is a thin reed and I'd beware.
    Israel needs more long-term allies.

  2. David, if you haven't already seen the JP re Israeli attitudes to Obama in a recent poll, have a look at:

  3. If this is true for America why isn't it true for the United Kingdom?

  4. deegee, you asked why, if this is true fir the United States, it's not true also for the UK.

    An excellent question - and I apologise for seeming to have sent your comment into the ether.

    The question is probably worth a post all to itself.

    Thanks, also, deegee, for what you sent me about Gilad Shalit - I have not forgotten about it.

  5. Oh, great - your comment turned up after all!


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