web analytics
September 30, 2014 / 6 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Meir Panim with Soldiers 5774 Roundup: Year of Relief and Service for Israel’s Needy

Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

America’s Mideast Involvement Long Preceded ‘Israel Lobby’


In 1844, a biblical scholar and professor of Hebrew at New York University published a pamphlet urging the establishment of a Jewish state in the place then known as Palestine.

The name of this early Zionist who argued for the recreation of Jewish sovereignty over the land of Israel: George Bush.

But the astonishing thing about this manifesto is not just that the author was a forebear of two later U.S. presidents of the same name. It was that his advocacy of a theological/political position known as “restorationism” – support for the “restoration” of the Jewish people to their historic homeland – was common in 19th century America.

This little-known fact is just one among many that can be discovered about attitudes toward the Middle East in what may well be one of the most important books on the subject to be published in this or any other year.

Power, Faith and Fantasy: America in the Middle East 1776 to the Present, by Israeli historian Michael Oren, fills a void that has long existed in the historiography of the Middle East. Until the release of this beautifully written and meticulously researched volume this month, there simply was no comprehensive history of American involvement in the region.

Oren, who is based at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, has written a book overflowing with colorful tales of American travelers, pilgrims, businessmen, missionaries, diplomats, soldiers and sailors who weren’t merely observers of this pivotal area of the globe (the term for which was actually coined by the American naval strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan). Americans have, from the very beginning of our own history as a nation, played a crucial role in shaping the Middle East. And as Oren illustrates, we, in turn, have been influenced by this interaction.

Indeed, the formation of the United States of America as a constitutional republic in 1789 is, in part, a result of our first encounter with the Arab and Muslim world: the long struggle with the semi-independent city states of North Africa known to us as the Barbary Pirates. It was the inability of the independent 13 American states – which had no federal government or navy – to protect shipping and sailors from the depredations of those early terrorists that motivated many to push for the enactment of the Constitution.

If that nearly forgotten war bears a strange resemblance to the contemporary conflict with Islamist terrorists, it is no coincidence. Oren recounts the shock of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams who, while serving as American ambassadors in Europe during the 1780’s, met with the Abd al-Rahman, a representative of the pasha of Tripoli, a major source of anti-American terror on the high seas.

In making exorbitant demands for American tribute, Al-Rahman told Adams and Jefferson that his country was fighting under the authority of the Koran, which authorized them to make wars on all non-believers and to enslave all Western prisoners in terms that Al Qaeda would have appreciated.

“Every Mussulman [sic] who should be slain in battle” with America, he said, “was sure to go to Paradise.”

Oren’s book is filled with a host of such encounters that may be new even to those who have been reading about the subject their entire lives. Such tales are a delight for history lovers. But aside from pleasure for the general as well as the specialized reader, there is a far broader moral to be learned from this volume that speaks directly to contemporary political debate.

Although the content of Power, Faith and Fantasy is far too comprehensive to be neatly summarized in even a lengthy review, there is a concise conclusion that can be drawn from the book. It is that the ideas promulgated by men such as former president Jimmy Carter or professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, authors of the infamous “Israel Lobby” article in the London Review of Books, ignores two centuries of history, as well as smears Jews and other friends of Israel.

Oren illustrates throughout his book just how deep the roots of American support for Zionism run. The George Bush anecdote is but one of numerous incidents in which mainstream American Christians spoke out for the Jewish rights to Zion long before Theodor Herzl did.

Going forward to the 20th century, Oren illustrates that the crucial roles of Presidents Woodrow Wilson in backing the Balfour Declaration and Harry Truman in giving the newborn State of Israel recognition were not the result of political calculation but decisions that were based on the deeply held beliefs of these leaders.

The idea of Israel is something that has always been part of the sensibilities of American religious thinking. No lobby could possibly create the broad support for Israel that has run, and still runs, across the spectrum of mainstream America, powered by both faith and secular democratic values.

Oren shows that the contrary thesis that rejects Zionism also has deep roots in the tradition of Protestant missionaries. Those Americans came to the Middle East seeking converts, but wound up founding institutions, such as the American Universities in Cairo and Beirut, that inculcated the spirit of American democracy and nationalism in generations of Arab intellectuals.

Thus it was, ironically, Americans who founded Arab nationalism. That means the notion of spreading democracy to the region wasn’t invented by George W. Bush or the “neocons” but rather by the intellectual (and in some cases actual) ancestors of the 20th century Arabists in the State Department.

The late Edward Said’s thesis that saw all Western views of the region as inherently racist “Orientalism” dominates the academy these days and helps spread the idea that American power is a force for evil abroad. But Oren’s research stands as a conclusive reproof to this fallacy.

While it will be no surprise if many in the Middle-East studies establishment attack this book, Oren’s achievement is must-reading for policymakers and the general public alike. In an era in which global terror based in the Middle East is the primary challenge to the survival of democracy, Power Faith and Fantasy ought to be read and understood by as many Americans as possible.

About the Author: Jonathan S. Tobin is senior online editor of Commentary magazine and chief political blogger at www.commentarymagazine.com, where this first appeared. He can be reached via e-mail at jtobin@commentarymagazine.com.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “America’s Mideast Involvement Long Preceded ‘Israel Lobby’”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Israeli soldiers and security personnel protect Jews in Silwan Valley.
Jews Enter Six More Buildings in Silwan Secretly Bought from Arabs
Latest Indepth Stories
FE_PR_100112_22Learning_CableTV425x282

Can teenagers seriously be expected to behave properly when they are surrounded by so much suggestive material? Is it fair to expose them (and ourselves) to so much temptation and then tell them, “Just say no”?

Narendra Modi

Washington remains ignorant of the need to dismantle alliances with various Muslim countries.

ISIS terrorist

Defeating IS requires bombing its strongholds and recognizing the violent nature of Islam.

PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas speaking in Ramallah, July 1, 2014.

Abbas again used the UN to attack Israel, distort history, and undermine prospects for peace.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority cannot even agree to move their clocks back on the same day.

Shemita is about relating to each other by temporarily eliminating gaps of wealth power & status

David transcended adversity to become a leader; Who are we to make excuses for a lack of greatness?

sympathy: Feeling sorrow or pity for another’s tribulations; Empathy:sharing an emotional experience

Last week the president announced a four-point plan. Unfortunately, there’s little buy-in from our European and Middle Eastern allies. Here’s my own four-point plan that may be more palatable to our allies.

Rosh Hashanah has an obvious connection to God’s Kingship. We constantly refer to Him during the Asseres Yemei Teshuvah as Melech/King. The nusach of the tefillah, referring to Rosh Hashanah as “a remembrance of the first day” (of Creation), implies a certain dimension of divine kingship operating at the time of Creation and replicated every […]

Yes, God judges, but His judgment is that of a loving father who longs for his child’s quick return.

Anti-Semitism has returned to the mainstream of European society and Israel has become its focus.

Home is Milwaukee where their congregation, Beth Jehudah, and community always await their return.

A murderous uprising is taking place in Israel; On the roads, In the mixed Jewish-Arab cities.

“It’s a lousy column and a dishonest one,” Halberstam wrote. “So close it. Or you will end up just as shabby as Safire.”

More Articles from Jonathan S. Tobin
German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Jerusalem at the President's Residence, February 2014 (archive)

Anti-Semitism has returned to the mainstream of European society and Israel has become its focus.

Bomb Shelter

One of the key talking points by apologists for Hamas in the current conflict is that it isn’t fair that Israelis under fire have bomb shelters while Palestinians in Gaza don’t have any. Among other factors, the lack of shelters accounts in part for the differences in casualty figures between the two peoples. But somehow […]

How will all this end? Hamas seems to think it will be Netanyahu who will blink first.

Nothing short of a stroke that will decapitate the leadership of this group will convince the Arabs that Hamas has made a mistake.

Z STREET will have the ability to compel IRS officials to testify as to their practices and produce all records.

“Death of Klinghoffer” opera frames the issue as Israel’s existence being the real crime.

Palestinian leaders claim the kidnapping is an Israeli hoax or the act of Jewish criminals rather than terrorists.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/americas-mideast-involvement-long-preceded-israel-lobby/2007/01/17/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: