Among those who understood the depth of former U.S. President Barack Obama’s hostility to Israel, there’s understandable anxiety about the Obama retreads and acolytes among the foreign policy and security nominees being chosen by the prospective president-elect, Joe Biden.
Obama’s hostility is assumed to derive from his left-wing mindset which regards Israel, falsely and ahistorically, as a colonialist occupying power. He demonstrates this in his new memoir, A Promised Land, in his profoundly distorted account of the origins of the modern State of Israel.
There is, however, a deeper reason why both Obama and the left find Israel so intensely problematic, and why a Biden presidency will once again have Israel in its cross-hairs. This isn’t about foreign policy. It’s about the program for America itself.
The core of the left’s agenda is to remake the Western world; and the agenda of Obama and the American left is to remake America.
Their target is the Western nation-state and its culture. The core precepts of that culture are articulated and enshrined within the different histories, laws, religions, institutions and traditions of individual Western nations.
The left, however, deems the Western nation-state to be evil because it declares itself superior to cultures that don’t share its values while excluding those who don’t belong to it.
Hence the left’s constant undermining of immigration laws in their attempt to erase national borders; their refusal to grasp that citizenship is a bargain between the citizen and the state to which he or she belongs; and their savage denunciations of those who uphold such notions as racists or xenophobes, in order to erase their voices altogether from the cultural conversation.
The nation, its specific attributes and the borders that define its territory must instead give way to a Kumbaya vision of the brotherhood of man expressed through transnational institutions and laws.
Much of this erosion of Western values has already been achieved, in schools and universities, through the culture wars. Obama’s strategy in his eight years in the White House was to weaponize this agenda through the presidency.
The four-year interlude under President Donald Trump is clearly viewed as an irritating setback that must now be reversed. In his memoir, Obama writes that he is “not yet ready to abandon the possibility of America.”
This should chill the blood of all who care about defending America and the Western culture that it leads. For what Obama means is that his project in remaking America is unfinished, and he now sees the chance to complete that transformation.
He writes: “I’m convinced that the pandemic we’re currently living through is both a manifestation of and a mere interruption in the relentless march toward an inter-connected world, one in which peoples and cultures can’t help but collide.
“In that world—of global supply chains, instantaneous capital transfers, social media, transnational terrorist networks, climate change, mass migration and ever-increasing complexity—we will learn to live together, co-operate with one another and recognize the dignity of others, or we will perish.”
Alliances and co-operation between nations committed to the same values of freedom, democracy and innate respect for life are indeed all to the good.
What Obama is eulogizing, however, is a world in which the boundaries between nations are blurred, transnational corporations and institutions rule America, and representative democracy—as the political vehicle for a nation’s identity and culture—is evacuated of power and meaning.
Beneath his honeyed euphemisms, his agenda raises the “possibility” of an America whose historic self-image as the “exceptional nation” is condemned as racist, whose desire to defend itself is dismissed as xenophobic aggression, and which is all too eager to “recognize the dignity” of those who pose a mortal threat to America and the West.
This agenda brings the left into a headlong confrontation with both Israel and Judaism itself.
Judaism is the ultimate particularist culture. As was noted by the former British Chief Rabbi, the late Jonathan Sacks, the people who are always in the way of any universalizing agenda are the Jews. This is something that progressively minded Jews, who form the majority of the American Jewish community and who have effectively made a religion out of liberal universalism, simply cannot understand.
The principal target of liberal universalism is the Western nation-state, which was supposedly brought into being in 17th-century Europe. The belief, however, that the nation was essential to safeguard life and liberty was pioneered thousands of years ago by the Jews.
The template for the nation-state was the ancient kingdom of Israel, composed of a particular people in their own land bound by their own laws, which expressed the history, traditions and principles that formed their shared identity and purpose.
As Yoram Hazony observes in his book The Virtue of Nationalism, ancient Israel, which formed a nation out of the unification of tribes, laid down a formula for national unity that created England in the ninth century, the Dutch Republic in the 16th century and, in the 18th century, the United States of America.
The profound influence of the Hebrew Bible on America has been dwelt upon at length by the New York Rabbi Meir Soloveichik. In his preface to the book he helped edit, Proclaim Liberty Throughout the Land, he records how the founders of the United States constantly turned to the Hebrew Bible as their shared heritage and foundational text.
Soloveichik writes: “From the Puritan fathers to the American Framers, from slavery to abolition, from the Liberty Bell to America’s celebration of national Thanksgiving, the Hebrew Bible is one of America’s formative books, reflecting in the new continent, in the new nation, in America’s rebirth of freedom, the moral and narrative inspiration of ancient Israel.”
A nation, however, ceases to exist as such if it cannot defend itself within its own borders. One reason why Israel falls foul of the Western left is that it is single-mindedly determined to defend itself as a nation.
By contrast, if Biden becomes the 46th president, he will undermine his country’s defenses. He has said that he will undo policies introduced by Trump to deter illegal immigrants and which aimed to restore the integrity of the notion of citizenship.
He has pledged to revoke Trump’s restrictions on immigration from eight countries—six of them Muslim—which are viewed by the Department of Homeland Security as presenting a terrorist threat to America.
He is also reportedly rethinking the role of the military in the way America deals with the world, and is looking for a defense secretary who will share his aim to “de-emphasise the military as an instrument of national power.”
Instead of promoting his nation’s strength, he will therefore advertise its weakness—and he will call this virtue.
He will not just be undermining the security of his country. He will also be taking an ax to the Jewish roots of America’s idea of itself as a nation.
That’s the context in which to frame his anticipated coolness towards Israel—the nation-state of the people who, whenever a society succumbs to any universalizing ideology, are always to be found in the way.
Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, broadcaster and author, writes a weekly column for JNS. Currently a columnist for “The Times of London,” her personal and political memoir, “Guardian Angel,” has been published by Bombardier, which also published her first novel, “The Legacy,” in 2018. Go to melaniephillips.substack.com to access her work.