Michele Bachmann Loves Israel

I’m sure there are some good things to be said about Michele Bachmann of the “at least she is better than X” variety. However, it’s very worrying that she seems determined to break all the records for fealty to the Israel Lobby. In a talk before the Republican Jewish Coalition in Los Angeles she said:

I am convinced in my heart and in my mind that if the United States fails to stand with Israel, that is the end of the United States . . . [W]e have to show that we are inextricably entwined, that as a nation we have been blessed because of our relationship with Israel, and if we reject Israel, then there is a curse that comes into play. And my husband and I are both Christians, and we believe very strongly the verse from Genesis [Genesis 12:3], we believe very strongly that nations also receive blessings as they bless Israel. It is a strong and beautiful principle.

There is simply no other civilized country in the world where a member of the political elite would claim–proudly and in public–to base her policy on an ancient religious text. She continues:

Right now in my own private Bible time, I am working through Isaiah . . . and there is continually a coming back to what God gave to Israel initially, which was the Torah and the Ten Commandments

It’s probably always a bad idea to base your actions on other people’s holy books. Isaiah also has quotes like these: “And the peoples shall take them, and bring them to their place; and the house of Israel shall possess them in the land of the Lord for servants and for handmaids; and they shall take them captive, whose captives they were; and they shall rule over their oppressors” (Isa. 14:2).” “They shall go after thee, in chains they shall come over; And they shall fall down unto thee, They shall make supplication unto thee” (Isa. 45:14); “They shall bow down to thee with their face to the earth, And lick the dust of thy feet” (49:23).

Here’s a video where she develops her views on Christianity and its “deep roots” in Judaism. She claims that because of these connections she worked on a Kibbutz in Israel as a teenager.


A JTA article (“A provocateur to some, Michelle Bachmann also offers Jewish voters common cause“) indicates that her Kibbutz trip was the result of a selection process. It’s not clear how these young people were selected, but Bachmann’s experience is reminiscent of Sonia Sotomayor who went to Israel as a young adult:

In 1986 Sotomayor was invited to participate in Project Interchange, an undertaking of the American Jewish Committee aimed at providing “current and emerging United States and international leaders with an enhanced understanding of, and perspective on, Israel and the pursuit of Middle East peace through introductory educational seminars in Israel” (links in original). The people invited on these junkets are quite diverse — including members of the US military, editors of student newspapers in American universities, presidents and chancellors of American universities, French Muslim civic leaders, Pentacostal Latino clergy, and Indian-Americans.

The only thing they have in common is that at some point they may be able to influence policy toward issues important to the organized Jewish community, even if that time is a long way in the future. …

Such courting of future leaders is doubtless an important aspect of Jewish activism. Whenever someone is mentioned for high office, Jewish newspapers report on his or her Jewish connections. In effect, there is a vetting process based on issues of importance to the Jewish community.  (See here.)

Of course there are a lot of reasons for a politician like Bachmann to be so devoted to the cause of Israel—all that campaign money and good media coverage for starters. But I suspect that free junkets given to impressionable young people are quite effective. But it’s also effective with the legions of congressmen, journalists, and military officers who have been treated in this way. Here’s some comments on the psychology involved, occasioned by the guilt feelings of a self-conscious journalist (Elaine McArdle) who was the beneficiary of this largess.

Giving someone a gift taps into a reciprocity norm that is doubtless a remnant of our evolved psychology. People who don’t reciprocate did not make good allies or friends, and this happened over a sufficiently long period to result in specialized brain mechanisms designed to detect reciprocators and cheaters. …This is true the world over. For the non-sociopaths among us, when we receive something from someone else, we feel a need to reciprocate or at least have positive feelings toward that person.

…  Of course, none of these processes are unique to Jewish influence. It’s just that Jews are a very good at the influence game. The Israel Lobby and its influence on US foreign policy are Exhibit A for this perspective. So it’s reasonable to suppose that one aspect of their success is being better than most at tuning in to people’s psychological tendencies and to use them to further their perceived interests.

At a basic level, going on a trip in a group makes the person a member of an ingroup. Psychologists have found that being a member of an ingroup results in positive attitudes toward other members of the ingroup. Even though there is no explicit quid pro quo going on, the norms of the ingroup are molded by the tour guides and even by the itinerary itself. In effect, the people on the tour are being inculcated into a Jewish world view—one in which Jews are the quintessential victims. McArdle’s group was shepherded to an Israeli family that had been in the area hit by Hezbollah rockets last summer. There is a palpable sense of fear “Children today, we were told, still wet their beds in fear. … I wondered how long I … could tolerate the omnipresence of danger.” [Bachmann got the same treatment. The JTA article quotes her:  “We were always accompanied by soldiers with machine guns” … “While we were working, the soldiers were walking around looking for land mines.”] ….

There is also a sense of psychological bonding with Israelis at a person-to-person level. McArdle refers to her experience as “an unforgettable and emotionally charged week with warm, likable people — generous hosts and tour guides whom I worried about after returning to the safety of life in Massachusetts.”

She experiences empathy for these Israelis as fellow ingroup members who are living in danger, and she worries about their safety. But she never gets to experience empathy with the Palestinians on the other side of the wall—the ones living in Bantustan-like concentration camps in the apartheid West Bank.

McArdle also mentions that the experience was “emotionally charged.” A great deal of psychological research shows that experiences that have intense emotional overtones are much more likely to be remembered and to have a long term influence.  As McArdle is well aware, people need not be consciously aware of these memories to be influenced by them.

So I’m not surprised by Bachmann’s pledge of fealty to the Lobby. Her emotions are doubtless genuine—a complex result of a number of processes, only some of which are conscious: her Christian faith, effective socialization by the  Israel Lobby, and sheer self-interest in getting  on the good side of a very powerful group. (The same might be said of Geert Wilders, another very pro-Israel politician who worked on a Kibbutz as a teenager. Would that Bachmann had views on immigration and multiculturalism similar to Wilders, although, as noted by Washington Watcher at VDARE [“Could Michele Bachmann Be The Patriotic Immigration Reform Candidate? Maybe!]), she is the best Republican candidate on immigration and shows quite a bit of promise .)

The problem with Bachmann’s attitude about Israel is that it leads to a wildly unbalanced view of Israel and the Middle East that may have deadly consequences for the United States and the rest of the world if she becomes president.

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