- Covenant Brothers: Evangelicals, Jews, and U.S.–Israeli Relations by Daniel G. Hummel, and: Israel in the American Mind: The Cultural Politics of U.S.–Israeli Relations, 1958–1988 by Shaul Mitelpunkt
While the academic study of US—Israel relations has a long history and a very long bibliography, most books on this topic are skewed to the study of one side of the relationship. And within that one-sided emphasis, these histories focus on its diplomatic, military, or religious aspects. Mitelpunkt's book focuses on what he terms the "cultural politics" of U.S.—Israel ties and the ways in which both Americans and Israelis "turned to the sphere of ideas and imagination in order to make sense of the relationship between their countries, influence one another, and constitute their countries place in the wider world" (19–20).
Israel in the American Mind describes itself as "a truly transnational history of US—Israeli relations," a history that contextualizes those relations "within the changing domestic concerns in both countries." The scope of this valuable study is further defined by the historical period covered, 1958 to 1988. According to the author, it was in those three decades that "influential American commentators saw Israel first and foremost as a society of citizen-soldiers" (3). Israel thus functioned as an inspirational model for American policy makers and members of the cultural elite. What these Americans saw as Israel's "fighting spirit" was precisely what they saw was missing in the post-World War II US. From the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, the era of the Vietnam War, the marked contrast between American dissension about that war and Israeli unity and enthusiasm for fighting its own wars troubled many influential Americans. Why couldn't the US be more like Israel, they asked.
Mitelpunkt could have illustrated such "Israel envy" on the part of Americans by quoting any number of policy makers or pundits. Instead he artfully, opens his book with the story of novelist John Steinbeck's mid-1960s engagement with Israel. In 1966, Steinbeck and his wife [End Page 631] Elaine spent a few months in Israel, and in 1967 Steinbeck reported on the Six Day War for the New York newspaper Newsday. Early in his Israeli sojourn, Steinbeck wrote a letter to his friend Jack Valenti, a White House advisor in the Johnson administration, that "the Israelis are the toughest and most vital people I have seen in a long time … their army is superb" (1). Steinbeck, one of the few American literary figures who supported the Vietnam War, wondered aloud why the US couldn't be more Israeli. In his view anarchy reigned on US campuses and streets, while Israel was orderly and disciplined. The I.D.F. was not the only Israeli institution that attracted American attention and approval. Other Israeli institutions, chief among them the kibbutz, were widely admired by liberals. But, as Mitelpunkt notes, "the Kibbutz way of life contradicted a chief tenet of American modernization theories: the proscription of free market capitalism in developing countries" (89).
Life Magazine's May 7, 1973 issue was dedicated to coverage of the twenty-fifth anniversary of Israel's independence. In his incisive analysis of the magazine's reporting Mitelpunkt notes that "Even as the Vietnam War wrecked the post-World War II American citizen-soldier model, the piece suggested … that the Israelis managed to maintain that model and execute it in full harmony" (119). In that same period, the early 1970s, the Israeli Army attracted American readers' attention for more primal reasons. In the American press Israel's female soldiers were admired for their "ever more shapely uniforms" and their "feminine charm" (156–7). Mitelpunkt also gives us the Israeli reactions to this American envy and admiration. He notes that American dissent and dissension about the Vietnam War had an effect on Israelis. "An image of...