As a kid, I was a big admirer of Israel.* I kept a scrapbook on the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Back then, Israel was America’s plucky ally, David against Goliath, helping to keep the Soviet bear at bay, or so it seemed to me.
Through a kid’s eyes, Israel in 1973 was an island seemingly surrounded by a sea of well-armed enemies: Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia. Outnumbered and outgunned. And now look at today’s reality: Egypt and Iraq have been neutralized. Syria is devastated. Jordan is wisely (sort of) neutral. The Saudis are a quasi-ally. Outside of the more-or-less manageable threat of terrorism (Hamas and Hezbollah), Israel’s chief enemy today appears to be itself.
What I mean by that is this: Israel, which over the last 70 years has fought several wars for its survival, is now a regional superpower. Yet the mindset of David versus Goliath persists, even though Goliath is hobbled and defeated. Meanwhile, as Israel combats terrorism and the legacies of West Bank occupation and isolation of the Gaza Strip, the government prosecutes policies that are considered illiberal and dangerous by many Jewish critics within Israel itself.
A similar David-Goliath mindset exists in the USA, but with far less cause. Bizarrely, the world’s military superpower envisions itself as being surrounded by enemies. Its response is something like Israel’s, as if the USA is Israel writ large. Both countries seek total military dominance over their perceived enemies and rivals; both are led by strong men dogged by claims of corruption; both glorify their militaries; both appear to be spoiling for war with Iran.
Interestingly, both are also obsessed with demographic “enemies within”: many Israelis fear growing Arab/Muslim influence within; many Americans fear minorities will soon constitute the majority (estimates say non-whites will outnumber whites in the year 2045, but some Americans – like Laura Ingraham on Fox News – feel it’s already happened). The result: the ruling administrations of both countries have doubled down on security and identity politics. Israel has made Arabs second-class citizens, a form of apartheid; Trump & Co. has vilified immigrants (especially Mexicans) as rapists and murderers. Both are building walls to keep the “enemy” without. Both see massive military spending (and nuclear weapons) as the ultimate guarantors of peace.
Israel is little Prussia; the USA is big Prussia. And like Prussia (and Germany) of the past, they pose as the aggrieved party, surrounded by enemies, hemmed in and oppressed. It’s never wrong to be strong – that’s their guiding motto. And by strength they mean hardness: military strength, police strength, the strength of superior weapons technology, embraced by leaders willing to kill or torture or imprison others in the name of preserving a “democratic” way of life.
It’s a mindset conducive to authoritarianism, to militarism, to nationalism, even to kleptocracy disguised as essential spending on national security. At its root is fear, which generates a “no compromise” attitude toward the Other (whether Palestinian “terrorists” or immigrant “killers” and “animals”). As the Palestinian activist Bassam Aramin put it in an interview in The Sun (October 2016):
“I think our main enemy is the Israelis’ fear. It’s part of their consciousness. When they talk about security, the Holocaust is always in the background. If I throw a stone at an armored tank, they interpret it as the beginning of a new Holocaust.”
Fear is the mind-killer. It enables perpetual warfare and a police state – and lots of profit and power to those who facilitate the same.
The original Prussia became consumed by militarism and nationalism and collapsed after two devastating world wars. What will happen to today’s Big and Little Prussia? Perhaps a war against Iran, timed to coincide with the 2020 presidential campaign season in the USA? Such an unnecessary and likely disastrous war can’t be ruled out.
Consider the dynamic between the current leaders of the USA and Israel, each egging the other one on to be tougher, less compromising, more Prussian. A pacific future is not in the cards for these military “superpowers.” Not when they’re so busy emulating Prussia.
*Why are Americans, generally speaking, supporters and admirers of Israel? So much so that politicians ostentatiously wear co-joined US/Israel flag lapel pins? For several reasons:
1. The US media is generally pro-Israel. Meanwhile, the Arab world is often synonymous with terrorism in our media.
2. Israelis seem more like Americans. What I mean is this: Israeli spokespeople wear western dress and speak English with a faint accent. Until recently, Arab spokespeople on TV looked and dressed “foreign” and spoke English with a heavier accent.
3. The power of pro-Israeli political lobbies such as AIPAC and fear among politicians that criticism of Israel will be construed (and demonized) as anti-Semitism.
4. The Holocaust.
5. The Evangelical Context: I remember listening to a talk show on the radio, soon after the Yom Kippur War, in the mid-1970s. The speaker predicted the Second Coming was near. That got my attention! Why was that? Because, this person said, Israel had gained control over Jerusalem in apparent fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. Fast forward forty years to today and you hear basically the same evangelical predictions about the Second Coming of Christ being imminent as Israel expands its hegemony over the “holy land” in Palestine.
One cannot underrate the importance of (selective) Biblical prophecy as advanced by fundamentalist Christians nestled within today’s Republican Party. These evangelicals couldn’t care less about Trump’s sins and transgressions. Their eyes are on the prize: Armageddon and Christ’s return, which they link to Israel’s domination of the region – which will lead to more wars, a brutal future seen as inevitable, even desirable.
9 thoughts on “The USA and Israel as Big and Little Prussia”
My wife worked for an airline, and we would have opportunities to travel on discounted tours. One of those trips was to Israel. Our tour guide was an Israeli. He mentioned before we started one of our outings we would have to avoid a neighborhood that was inhabited by a very conservative Jewish Community since it was the sabbath. He said if our bus drove there it would be stoned as we were violating the sabbath.
The guide constantly mentioned on our trips the connection between ancient Israeli-Jewish sites and today. The message was clear if subtle, this was the Jewish Homeland.
It was not difficult to pick up on the sullen attitude of the Palestinian Arabs, especially when we went to the Temple Mount.
One of the members of our tour group took her bible everywhere. She shocked our tour guide at one point when she said America would be blessed only as long as America was a friend of Israel. She then proceeded to quote chapter and verse from her bible.
At least at that time the secular state of Israel seemed very concerned with keeping a lid on the religious fanatics of all sects, for the society to function toleration had to be imposed. The evangelicals, were 100% in support of Israel, but the end of times required an enormous destructive battle there.
Thomas Paine would be poison to the religious fanatics there.
“Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon, than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness, that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for my part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel.”
― Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason
My feeling was Israel was a modern day offshoot of the Crusader States. American politicians will roundly condemn Russia as being a dictatorship even though Russia has elections, something the Gulf Oil States would never permit.
Raised as a Catholic, I like to think that true religion generates compassion and love for others. But religion is also very dangerous as people are susceptible to worshiping false idols, including their own narrow vision of what religion is. Religious history is replete with episodes of people being tortured and killed over minor differences in dogma. To me, there’s nothing “religious” about that.
The creation of Israel was a mistake, as was the creation of many of the nations in the middle east. I used to believe that the collapse of the Ottoman Empire was responsible for the entire area being a disaster, but I now know that British interference from long before then was ultimately responsible. I have always maintained that organised religion is more dangerous to nations than even banking institutions (drawing from Thomas Jefferson’s quote about banking institutions posing a greater danger than standing armies). Israel was founded as a Jewish state, which I find highly disturbing for a nation born in the 20th century. I am well aware that many evangelicals believe that the U.S. itself was founded as a Christian nation, but while the majority of Americans, even in 1787, may have been Christian, to quote George Washington, “the United States is in no way founded upon the Christian doctrine.”
Going off on a brief tangent, I find it interesting that most Christians believe that we are STILL living in the end times. Apparently, none of them have ever actually READ that book that they love to hold up when they scream at gay people. The “end times” actually prophesised the collapse of the ROMAN EMPIRE, which anyone who was paying attention could have predicted by the 3rd century AD (side note, I use BC and AD simply because they are far less likely confuse than BCE and CE when spoken aloud; furthermore, BC can stand for “backwards chronology,” while AD can stand for “ascending dates,” thus removing any religious connotation).
Throughout history, Jews have been expelled from every country they have inhabited, contrary to the biblical (still refuse to capitalise) portrayal of the Israelites slaughtering their enemies wherever they encountered them. I never understood why, until I met a self-proclaimed ex-Jew (my good friend Roy Solomon, may he rest in peace). He told me that some Jews are taught to keep a low profile, not cause trouble, and make lots of friends who might shelter them in the event that another Hitler should rise to power. Others, meanwhile, are taught that they are “God’s chosen,” and that it is their divine right to exploit the gentiles. And they wonder why people hate them. Honestly, no-one hates the latter more than the former, not even Nazis. Jews are the worst anti-semites because other Jews simply don’t learn from history, hence the somewhat popular notion that Hitler himself was a Jew, even though no evidence exists to support that. Israel acts as if it owns the middle east, and then it comes crying to the U.S. when countries like Iran threaten to wipe it off the map with a handful of nukes. When Trump decided to acknowledge Jerusalem as the legitimate capital of Israel, I had to laugh. At the time, I thought he was trying to provoke the surrounding countries into attacking, a sort of “I dare you,” that he is known for. I laughed even harder when I found out that he was actually tweaking the United Nations, useless, bloviating busybodies that they are. However, while I found this extremely entertaining, I simply can’t support any continued alliance with a parasitic country that may have been founded for a good reason, but has since corrupted its purpose, and whose leaders have actively helped to exacerbate the hellish conditions of the middle east.
I’m another of those who grew up with a reflexive pro-Israel stance, but Israel’s behavior the past couple decades has simply been atrocious. The old excuses about having to aggressively defend Israeli citizens because Israel is alone amidst a sea of hostiles wear thin after you start sniping protesters who are ‘attacking’ a border fence with…what, molotov cocktails and RC planes?
Then there’s the episodic bouts of bombing in Gaza and Lebanon, which serve little purpose and achieve nothing except to embolden hardliners.
Israel’s conservatives used to say they had to be tough in order to negotiate favorable peace terms, but they’ve apparently locked themselves into conflict as its own self-justification. Little Prussia indeed.
There is actually a very strong left-wing in Israeli politics, that has firm support among 1/4-1/3 of the population, but Likud has been able to work out one-party rule for so long that the left is left out in the cold. Kind of like what the GOP wants to try in the US, and using similar apartheid tactics.
And there’s the ultimate irony in all of it – there are more and more rumblings among the US Jewish population (probably as numerous and influential as Israeli Jews) about how bad Israel is behaving. While the idea of a safe, stable Jewish homeland obviously has strong appeal for a people historically treated worse than dirt by European Christians, most aren’t willing to support apartheid in order to make it happen.
In the end, I suspect Israel’s current hostility to… well, everyone in their region, will end up destroying both the two-state solution and Israel’s identity as a Jewish nation-state. Likud may itself prove to be Israel’s greatest enemy, and it would be a great irony if peace in Israel-Palestine ended up taking the form of a united, federal state.
Good analysis. Thanks for your comment.
A tricky subject, for the wrong reasons.
I too initially was fully pro-Israel. Being European, with our – justified – post-WWII guilt complex and growing up in the Netherlands with its self-congratulatory ‘we-saved-Anne Frank’ image (which tends to gloss over the fact that the whole Frank family eventually was sold to the nazis by some Dutch person), my sympathy was 100% with all that was Jewish and Israeli. When in high school I learned about the Balfour declaration, I put all the blame on the British/Europe and during the two wars in the 1960’s I still was an unconditional supporter of Israel, the eternal David.
The first crack appeared when I started getting tired of ‘the rest of the world’ eternally being reminded of what by then had been termed the Holocaust, as if that tragedy granted some sort of exclusive and eternal right to being acknowledged as the world’s sole true victim nation and as if being a victim was something to be proud of. Having been a victim should never grant immunity for persecuting others. The Holocaust must indeed be remembered, not, however, to justify Israel’s current apartheid policies, but as a bitter lesson of what fascism and our ‘looking the other way’ has lead to. Any form of fascism can still lead to similar tragedies, anywhere in the world, with any national, ethnic, religious or otherwise singled out human beings as its victims, not just Jews.
As I learned more about how Israel came to be, including its terrorist groups which among others murdered UN peace envoy Folke Bernadotte, the way it expelled (with support from western countries) local Palestinians, not to mention the criminal blockade of Gaza or the strategically located illegal settlements as living-space for-Jews-only which precludes any viable two-state solution – that inevitably changed my opinion about Israel. Israel, not Jews.
Accusing anyone who criticizes Israel and/or applies BDS of being an anti-semite (not to mention accusing Jews critical of Israel of being self-hating …) is ludicrous and if one is not allowed to distinguish between the two, it only becomes harder to remain objective. The UK’s Jeremy Corbyn’s present predicament is a sad example of what such criminalisation of relevant criticism can lead to. Netanyahu’s conflating of all the world’s Jews with Israel in fact fuels anti-semitism.
Israel of course is not the only racist country by far, but it is the only one to my knowledge where criticism of its policies is considered to be proof of hating all of its nationals.
Did criticism of the criminal Soviet government mean that one therefore hated all Russians?
Does criticising Trump’s cesspool mean that one hates each and every American?
Another red line was crossed when recently an Israeli minister smugly declared that there’s no way Palestinians will ever be allowed to return to their villages – after 70 years!, while at the same time his government and its illegal settlers claim a territory which their ancestors inhabited some 2000 years ago.
But ‘Big Prussia’ is already supporting this by excluding the – stateless – children and grandchildren of those chased in 1948, from the number of recognised refugees …
And yes, fear is a terrible weapon.
A good and timely article, for the most part, and some very good comments. Still, I take issue with the euphemistically loaded language– specifically “manageable,” “threat,” and “terrorism” (not to mention the biblical/mythological “I”-word misnomer) — on display in the following sentence:
“Outside of the more-or-less manageable threat of terrorism (Hamas and Hezbollah), Israel’s chief enemy today appears to be itself.”
Following the time-honored principle that “one man’s ‘terrorist’ is another man’s freedom-fighter,” I suggest a more historically accurate paraphrase:
“Outside of the increasingly effective asymmetric resistance (Hamas and Hezbollah) to crusading Zionist colonialism, the Tenth Crusade’s chief enemy today, as with its Nine medieval Christian predecessors, appears to be itself.”
There. Fixed it.
Or, as I wrote nine years ago:
With apologies to the shade of Percy Bysshe Shelley and his immortal poem “Ozymandias,” I offer here a brief meditation on the current, continuing, and contemplated depredations of the Apartheid Zionist Entity upon those captive Palestinian Arabs who had absolutely nothing to do with the German/Christian persecution of Jews in Europe before and during World War II.
I met a refugee from Gaza Strip,
Who spoke to me with empty, staring eyes
Dumb words whose depth of pain I could not grip
With all the helping hands the world denies
While lapping up the lurid lies that slip
And roll so greasy off the practiced tongue
Of Zionists whose caged and wounded prey
Are told to flee and leave their dying young
To weep beside the corpses of their old
In darkened shattered former homes where they
Cannot refute the garbage we’ve been told
By glib Israeli liars trained to spread
A veil of darkness over crimes they’ve sold
As “Peaceful Co-Existence” — with the dead.
Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2009
Mistaking ancient mythological literature for cosmological history or — even worse, natural science — has had, continues to have, and will have dreadful consequences.
From Joseph Campbell’s magisterial treatise, Primitive Mythology – the Masks of God (1959):
“The two learned disciplines from which the lineaments of a sound comparative science [of Mythology] might first have emerged were those of the classics and the Bible. However, a fundamental tenet of the Christian tradition made it appear to be an act of blasphemy to compare the two on the same plane of thought; for while the myths of the Greeks were recognized to be of the natural order, those of the Bible were supposed to be supernatural. Hence, while the prodigies of the classical heroes (Herakles Theseus, Perseus, etc.) were studied as literature, those of the Hebrews (Noah, Moses, Joshua, Jesus, Peter, etc.) had to be argued as objective history; whereas, actually, the fabulous elements common to the two precisely contemporary, Eastern Mediterranean traditions were derived equally from the preceding, bronze-age civilization of Mesopotamia [emphasis added] – as no one before the development of the modern science of archaeology could have guessed.”
… and …
“Clearly, mythology is no toy for children [emphasis added]. Nor is it a matter of archaic, merely scholarly concern, of no moment to modern men of action. For its symbols (whether in the tangible form of images or in the abstract form of ideas) touch and release the deepest centers of motivation, moving literate and illiterate alike, moving mobs, moving civilizations. [emphasis added] … For surely it is folly to preach to children who will be riding rockets to the moon a morality and cosmology based on concepts of the Good Society and man’s place in nature that were coined before the harnessing of the horse! And the world is now far too small, and men’s stake in sanity too great, for any more of those old games of Chosen Folk (whether of Jehovah, Allah, Wotan, Manu, or the Devil) by which tribesmen were sustained against their enemies in the days when the serpent still could talk.”
As Alfred Korzybski noted in Science and Sanity (1933): “We are a symbol-using class of life, and those who rule the symbols rule us.” Therefore, we, as individual persons, either get busy ruling our symbols ourselves — i.e., determine what they actually mean to us in real life — or someone else will get busy ruling those symbols for us, for their purposes, not ours.
The idea of symbols ruling us — or powerfully influencing us — is fascinating. Think of the power of the cross, or the Star of David, or even the simple J (for Jude or Jew) the Nazis used on official papers. One wrong symbol could and can cost a person his or her life.
And then the power of symbols for branding — for ownership of animals, but also symbols like the Nike swoosh (and now Nike shoes are being burned by those who don’t like the new ad campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick).
We have to be very careful with symbols, considering the power and meaning we invest in them.
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