Netanyahu on American History

I stumbled on Sean Hannity interviewing Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu in the immediate aftermath of his triumphal speech to both houses of of our slavish Congress. (Around 30 standing ovations.) As expected, it was the softest of softball interviews, Hannity doubtless gloating at the possibility of Republican gain by fawning over the Israelis while the Obama administration has to deal with the rest of the world and therefore must at least give a show of impartiality.

Hannity, who has my vote for being the biggest jackass in “conservative” talkdom, basically sets Netanyahu up so that he can run through his familiar set pieces on Hamas, Iran, Israeli democracy, freedom, etc. But what really amazed me was his statement, at around 3:50 of the interview, that the reason he identifies with the Enlightenment slogans of the equality of all humans, inalienable rights, and government for the people that decorate the monuments in Washington is because these are “basically Jewish concepts.” Israel therefore has a natural affinity with the US. The implication of course is that in supporting Israel, the U.S. is supporting its own values.

All of this may come as a big surprise to those who are aware of the second class status of Arabs in Israel, not to mention the status of the Arabs on the West  Bank where ethnic cleansing and apartheid are the norm. But the idea that Judaism somehow embodies Enlightenment ideas at any stage of its history is ridiculous. Enlightenment thinkers like Voltaire scorned Judaism for its tribal backwardness. Judaism is the exact opposite of Enlightenment values: moral particularism (what’s good for the Jews) rather than moral universalism,  and non-Jews having few rights and lower status.   Jewish Diaspora communities were anything but democratic. Rather, they were ruled by rabbinical and economic elites, so much so that disaffected lower-status Jews broke off and established  the Hasidic movement, which also gravitated to undemocratic cults of personality centered around powerful rabbis.

Netanyahu also says that some of the Founding Fathers wanted Hebrew to be the official language of America. This was news to me, but appears to be a staple of Jewish self-conceptions in America (see here; see also here and here).

It is certainly true that the Old Testament was an important source of inspiration during the period, as we still see today. Much of this is quite harmless–for example, seeing the struggle against the Pharaoh in Exodus as an analogy to the struggle against the British in the American Revolution. It becomes a problem when such views color perceptions of Jews and Israel, as with the Christian Zionists who are strongly encouraged by the Israel Lobby.

The obvious intent is to advance specifically Jewish issues, such as support for Israel, and to make non-Jewish Americans think that Jews are “just like us” even when the Jewish tradition departs radically from our own. Then it becomes little more than propaganda that blinds non-Jews to their real interests.

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