By Alfred Warkentin
When ‘W’ walked into the Oval Office he was a theocracy. He had received his orders; he understood them. From the moment he sat down he knew he was about God’s work.
Whether or not a president throws the full weight of the divinity into the heat of verbal battle, the American head of state will always insist he is on God’s side before venturing on a policy that may invoke the eternal. This is particularly true when the subject is the Holy Land. No president will allow himself to disrespect “things divine”, to put Francis Bacon’s phrase to work.
Henry Luce of Time and Ludwig Lewisohn were godly men. By accident I’ve come across an old cover Time cover story on Jordan’s King Hussein. The date of the cover story is July 14, 1967, days after the Six-Day War, June 5-10. Earlier I’d come across ISRAEL by Ludwig Lewisohn, published in 1925.
Mr. Lewisohn was a well known author and writer for The Nation. In his book ISRAEL he wrote: “Jews despise force”, that they face a Gentile “lust for war.” War was something he saw as “hideous and unnatural to the soul of Israel.” By Israel, of course, he meant the people, not the state that came to be.
Mr. Lewisohn was a Zionist. He argued Jews should not be giving to “the building of Anglican cathedrals while there is not money enough for the oppressed of Poland to get to Palestine.” He wanted to build in Eretz Israel “the state of the future, the state of co-operation and peace…The salvation of Israel and the salvation of mankind are one…to be as a Jew always on the side of the oppressed and disinherited.” He wanted a return to the “original and completely Jewish teachings of Jesus…The world must be Christianized, the world must be Judaized. The two are one…” The Aryan asks, “is it quite cricket”? The Jew asks: “Is it righteous?”
He wanted to build an Israel in Palestine — “it is, thank God, no longer Turk” — that was perfect in every way. For him, “It was inevitable that modern socialism should be largely the creation of Jews.”
And yet, Mr. Lewisohn was a Zionist. One gets the impression that this good man felt himself at sea when dealing with the native population. His conclusion seemed to be that his Palestine, or Israel, faced an insurmountable problem with the Arabs that had better be left alone, or, if possible, to be solved by the righteous in the land. To Mr. Lewisohn the Arabs were “squatters in the sun,” no doubt waiting for the European Jews who would show the road to enlightenment, Europeans with “faces full of intelligence and energy,” people with the “foreheads of thinkers. Chaluzim. These are our people.”
Forty years later Time published its cover story on King Hussein. Much had changed and much hadn’t. Hitler had launched his war against the Jews and in the act of launching that war was instrumental in creating Israel. Time spelled it out: “The West is baffled by this people” who refused to see the inexorable logic of history. To Time, the Arab world hadn’t wakened to the reality that was Europe in the Middle East, that through King Hussein the time had “come for the Arabs to make their peace with Israel.”
In 1967 America was hardly the presence in the Middle East that it soon became under the Kissinger doctrine: make Israel so strong that the Arab states will be afraid to go to war; the aid might be expensive, but it is cheaper than another Israeli-Arab war.
In the article, Time says the Arabs “have shown time and time again a total inability to swallow their pride.” Time was so certain of Israel as the just cause of the West that it suggested that, “At heart, most of the Arab masses may really be indifferent to Israel” and the need was for “one courageous Arab leader to call reality by its name.” This even though King Hussein himself wanted all the lands taken in the war just over to be returned: “Jerusalem itself is not negotiable. If they do not give it up, we will have to take it away from them.”
The world has turned over many times 1967. While opinions in the Middle East have not changed dramatically, it is a fact that in many ways Israel, thanks to America, is much more powerful than it was. Israel, as Paul Johnson says, is a new colony created from Europe and sustained by America. On the surface, Israel has never been as commanding. Egypt has been in chaos for years; Saddam is no more; Iran is, at the moment, a mess. As for Israel itself, there is hardly a nay-saying voice in the Congress. The President has spoken powerfully of his support for the Jewish state. Support from American evangelicals is high, as is support from nearly all of the official Jewish community.
The situation seems black and white. Israel is strong, the Arabs week.
There may have been a major mainstream media voice frequently sympathetic to the Palestinians in 1967, though that is doubtful. A pro-Palestinian activist told me recently that all of the American mainstream media was anti-Arab. That, I told him, is not so, that from time to time “moderate” Arab voices are heard, such as senior Saudi officials and so on. It remains true that if a major crisis erupts most vigorous American opinion will favor the Israeli position, but there will be “pro-Zionist voices” who will also urge caution.
There is hope, though, for the Arabs. The American media has changed a little. With the exception of conservative talk radio, no major American media outlet would today publish or broadcast as transparent a pro-Israel article as Time published in 1967. Despite the massive failures of Arab PR, the Palestinian case is much better known than it was. South Africa has happened and while the Israelis have never been as blatantly racist as the Afrikaner, there are similarities. Jimmy Carter, a Zionist not in the Likud mode, more in the Ludwig Lewisohn mode, has helped highlight the situation. In addition there are thousands of Palestinian sympathizers in the universities, in the synagogues and churches — especially among younger people. Nor are all these people on the left. And that’s a good thing.
At one time the Democratic Party (Israel, after all, began as a socialist experiment) was the great supporter of Israel. Today it’s Republicans who tend to support Israel right or wrong. And it may well be that Israel’s greatest danger in the future comes from radical Republicans who seek automatic American hegemony in the Middle East through their battleship Israel, and their plans for American exceptionalism and eventual American empire. The far-reaching threat for Israel is that radical Republicans and Christian Zionists may push Israel one step too far.
In 1925 few Americans knew about Zionists in Palestine. In 1967 nearly all Americans, remembering the Holocaust, supported the idea of an Israeli state. That support is not as pronounced now. Change has come to America.
An Arab friend told me God will decide the fate of Jerusalem. There is no doubt President Bush would have agreed. Probably President Obama also. Is this the 16th century all over again? Is it the battle of the Gods?
– Alfred Warkentin was raised on the American media, worked in it for a time and is working on a book called IT SEEMED SUCH A GOOD IDEA AT THE TIME. It’s about Israel and the Middle East. He’s also polishing a novel called THE ARABIAN KNIGHTS. He says he’s about as conservative in his part of the world as one is allowed to be and still retain citizenship. On most issues he’s with George Will, more likely to George’s right. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.