Reviewing Walter Russell Mead’s The Arc of a Covenant: The United States, Israel, and the Fate of the Jewish People, Matti Friedman describes the book as taking the reader “on a tour not of Israel but of the manifestations of Israel in the American mind,” which, Friedman concludes, is “an even weirder place than the actual country where I live and report.”
One of the recurring observations [Mead makes] is that non-Jewish Americans have often been far more fervent Zionists than Jews, giving the lie to the idea that Jews are twisting American policy in their own interests. . . . That American enthusiasm is . . . in fact older than America. In 1666, we learn, the American clergyman Increase Mather was preaching to Puritans in Boston that “the body of the twelve Tribes of Israel shall be brought out of their present condition of bondage and misery, into a glorious and wonderful state of salvation, not only spiritual but temporal,” and that the Jews would “recover the Possession of their Promised Land.”
The fascination with Jews always has a dark side: the same Increase Mather who longed for a Jewish return to Zion, Mead reminds us, also wrote that the same people “have been wont once a year to steal Christian children and to put them to death by crucifying.” If Jews are symbols and not real people, they can be a symbol for all kinds of things, and this, too, remains a part of American intellectual life. The shooter who murdered ten Black Americans in a Buffalo, New York supermarket in May left a manifesto identifying Jews as villains engineering the erasure of white America. . . . On the left, meanwhile, the American international-relations scholar David Rothkopf suggested in a tweet and an op-ed that the shooter’s motivations actually had something to do with “the same kind of racism and closely linked political forces” present in Israel.
None of this is rational, but neither [were] the sermons of Increase Mather. This kind of thing will only grow as the sanity of the American body politic continues to erode, and as many on the right and the left abandon the grubby field of reality for a simplistic battle between good and evil.