An essential account of America’s most controversial alliance that reveals how the United States came to see Israel as an extension of itself, and how that strong and divisive partnership plays out in our own time.
Our American Israel tells the story of how a Jewish state in the Middle East came to resonate profoundly with a broad range of Americans in the twentieth century. Beginning with debates about Zionism after World War II, Israel’s identity has been entangled with America’s belief in its own exceptional nature. Now, in the twenty-first century, Amy Kaplan challenges the associations underlying this special alliance.
Through popular narratives expressed in news media, fiction, and film, a shared sense of identity emerged from the two nations’ histories as settler societies. Americans projected their own origin myths onto Israel: the biblical promised land, the open frontier, the refuge for immigrants, the revolt against colonialism. Israel assumed a mantle of moral authority, based on its image as an “invincible victim,” a nation of intrepid warriors and concentration camp survivors. This paradox persisted long after the Six-Day War, when the United States rallied behind a story of the Israeli David subduing the Arab Goliath. The image of the underdog shattered when Israel invaded Lebanon and Palestinians rose up against the occupation. Israel’s military was strongly censured around the world, including notes of dissent in the United States. Rather than a symbol of justice, Israel became a model of military strength and technological ingenuity.
In America today, Israel’s political realities pose difficult challenges. Turning a critical eye on the turbulent history that bound the two nations together, Kaplan unearths the roots of present controversies that may well divide them in the future.
Fascinating…could hardly be more timely.
Our American Israel is a tour de force, examining the profound ties that bind America and Israel together. No other book goes so deeply into American culture and intellectual life to explain the strength of the bond between the two countries. This book will be welcomed by those searching for a deeper and more intelligent analysis of the American-Israeli-Palestinian conundrum than is currently available.
Keen analysis…Kaplan’s approach is so fresh, her command of the sources so solid, and her prose so engaging that both casual readers and experts will find new insights in the book.
Our American Israel is an incisive, urgently necessary excavation of the cultural meanings of the U.S.-Israeli relationship by one of the most perceptive cultural historians of the United States. It sheds powerful light on a troubled past and disturbing present, revealing the ways that narratives of similarity and connection were wielded against the demands of human rights and social justice.
Kaplan’s tour of literature and film shows how common understandings of Israel and the U.S. have been shaped—and distorted, as with the Trump administration’s relocation of the American embassy to Jerusalem. A useful reading of history and politics in the light of mythmaking and media.
Kaplan often confronts us with facts of history that are sometimes awkward and uncomfortable…But no American who loves and supports Israel can afford to ignore the arguments that she makes.
Shows how the special relationship between Israel and the US (or even its Jewish population) was never preordained or inevitable. Rather, like any international relationship, it has been molded by a series of cultural and political mediations. In the tradition of critical scholarship Kaplan uncovers the constructedness of US approaches to the State of Israel and so contributes much to our understanding of it…Kaplan’s study is of immense importance to anyone who wishes to study Israel in American culture in the past, present, or future.
- 368 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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