I suppose a lot of midnight oil is being burned, in various European and American newspaper editorial offices, at the UN and other various transnational entities, the various offices of CAIR, and departments of Middle East Studies at universities everywhere, as the denizens thereof are trying to figure out and explain just why the general run of Americans— despite every inducement; intellectual, political and economic— continue in their stubborn, sentimental and persistent attachment to the State of Israel, and ensuring it’s continuing, if perilous existence. (Hey, wow! Totally complicated sentence— do I get any prize for this from the 19th Century literary appreciation wonks? No? OK, then, on with the explanation.).
I think there are a great many reasons for this; chief among them being that Jews have been part of the American scene, and more or less integrated into the great nation-building adventure since Colonial times. There has always been— depending on the time, place and social caste— a certain degree of social anti-Semitism, but generally achieving nothing like the degree of virulence it takes to achieve a pogrom, a Dreyfus Affair or a Holocaust. Congress making no law respecting a particular religion left us in the habit of seeing ones’ particular religious beliefs as a personal one, however outre they might be. Frankly, more political outrage and general suspicion was expended on Catholics— Popery! The Bishop of Rome! The Whore of Babylon! — at the time of the great Irish migrations in the mid-19th century. It was pretty difficult to work up much alarm about off-standard religious beliefs when Jews were compared against groups like the Shakers (no sex, communal living, workshops and free enterprise!) and the Mormons (plural marriages, communal living, free enterprise and separation!) and a whole other range of non-standard and extremely creative social and religious communes.
All our base impulses leading towards rioting, lynching and intermittent attempts at genocide were pretty much focused during the 19th century on parties other than those of the Jewish persuasion; towards blacks, Hispanics, Mormons, and Native Americans, mostly. From reading various 19th century American writers, one gets the general impression that they knew of anti-Semitism, but didn’t quite grasp what all the fuss was about and relegated it to the intellectual back burner. Some time ago I had read of a famous American literary personality — I believe it was General Lew Wallace (the author of Ben Hur) who was asked what he felt about Jews, and he replied in all seriousness (IIRC) that Jesus had been born a Jew, and for him that pretty much settled the matter.
As nearly as I can remember, the Holocaust made any overt display of anti-Semitism in post WWII America just not the done and socially approved of thing. I remember being deeply puzzled, at the age of 12, when a boy in Mr. Terrenova’s 6th grade class at Sunland Elementary School called my good friend Robin a ‘dirty Jew’; first, by the very fact that it should be any sort of insult at all— why not a dirty Presbyterian, or a dirty Lutheran?— and by the fact that Mr. Terrenova sent him to the principal’s office so fast that the unfortunate lad probably sustained whiplash injuries. I went to catechism class one afternoon a week after school, Robin went to Hebrew school. We often spent Friday or Saturday night sleepovers at each others houses, and at her house, her mother often fixed bacon for us the next morning. They were, like my parents’good friend, Unca Ralphie and his Auntie Vera from Moscow, not observant Jews. My parents were godparents to Unca Ralphie’s twin daughters when they were baptized as Lutherans, that’s how non-observant Unca Ralphie was. Robin attempted to teach me the Hebrew alphabet, and I reciprocated by enlightening her regarding the theological intricacies of Luther’s Small Catechism. She was a third generation descendent of Russian Jews, as I was the third generation of English Protestants. Russia and England were alike the “old country’ from whence our grandparents had departed with some degree of alacrity, only Robin had the new ‘old country’ of Israel as additional fall-back. It was another place to feel a connection towards, and take an interest in, the way my other friends, who were descendents of immigrants, took a kindly and proprietary interest in, say, Sweden, or Ireland, or Germany.
Another reason for American’s natural sympathy with Israel is that pioneer thing— building a whole new place from scratch, out of desert and waste. Sorry, we love all that. Especially if it is being done by people like us and to quote Bill Murray in Stripes, who have been thrown out of every other decent country imaginable. That just resonates with us. We also look at what a place like what South Korea has made of what history dealt them, over the same time-span as the Palestinians: third-world poor, war-ravaged, exiled from half of their places of birth, in the gentle care of the UN.
Seoul. Gaza. Deal.
That Jacksonian respect, towards truth, honor, and integrity? A man’s word being his bond? Sorry, we’re rather freakingly medieval about that, in our blunt and honest peasant fashion. Our initial assumption is that is someone is telling the truth, when he pledges his word and if he is later proven to have spoken falsely? We do not take well at being lied to. Upon once being lied to by a source, we will assume that source is speaking to us with an increasingly longer nose ever after. There are reasons (Jenin, Mohammed Dura, the Karin A affair, etc.) that I personally think of the Palestinian representative in front of the TV cameras as a “spokes-liar” and assume that every word out of their lips is a lie, including “and” and “the”. Imagine Sab Erekat trying to sell you a used car– when you have finished twitching, vomiting and having spasms all over the floor, I will move on.
I would like to note that the blog-reported speculation that the reason our former president suddenly soured on the late and indifferently shaved President Arafat of the Palestinian Authority and proprietor of the least convincing beard in recent history, was the fact that President A lied to President B as regards the Karin A, the ship full of arms for the poor, poor Palestinians. We are incessantly being lectured as well, on the fact that we should feel instant and abundant sympathy for the Palestinians. Really, NPR is non-stop hectoring us about that, along the lines of They have been historically wronged! Wronged, I tell you! They have been unsupportively and uniquely wronged, and we demand that attention be paid! Over, and over again! Umm. Yeah. Right. Uniquely and historically wronged. Like the Armenians. And the Tibetans. And the Ukrainians. And the Kurds - the list goes on and on. But it’s the Palestinians who field suicide bombers, who reward, honor and glorify them, dress up small children in bomb belts… and then get pissy because they are stereotyped as terrorists. Well, the Chechens and the Uighers have that same problem, but NPR doesn’t seem to give a damn.
Hey, life is rife with these little unfairnesses and inconsistencies.
Here’s another Jacksonian response; we favor competency in our soldiering, and despise braggarts, show-offs and incompetents. Every couple of decades since 1948, it seems like the militaries of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, etc. are swept by delusions of adequacy and have a go at demolishing their Public Enemy #1. And every time they get their asses handed back to them on a silver platter. Jacksonians are amused by this and also kind of like seeing the outnumbered little guys clean the floor with them. Over and over.
Then there are those Hamas and Hisbollah showboats who strut around before the admiring throng, waving their weapons in a gloriously martial fashion, boasting of how they will drive the Jews into the sea, et cetera, et cetera. Funny thing, they haven’t managed it yet; I guess because they keep running into real soldiers, which is why they have to hide behind their own women and children, behind the cover of an assortment of well-meaning tools, and in the Church of the Nativity. There’s a certain sort of passive-aggression about that; it’s the tactic of the sneaky, evil-minded little kid who picks and provokes and snipes, and when someone snaps and thumps him one, goes wailing to the authority figure, sniveling that someone is hitting him. And then, of course, the little git smiles maliciously, as his target is punished by the authority figure. Jacksonians hated that sort of thing when we were kids, and don’t much like it any better when practiced by adults.
Finally, there’s 9-11. Hard to feel completely neutral about suicide bombers on public transport, after that. So for those reasons, and any others that commenters may articulate, our sympathies tend towards Israel, as much as the rest of the world seems to wish it otherwise. And keep in mind, there a lot of American mothers, who when their children pleaded with them by saying “But everyone else is doing it!” cautioned us against going along with the crowd by saying,“Well, would you jump off a cliff, if everyone else is doing it?"