Print | Email  

New chosen people?

by: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach - Last updated: 2004-09-20

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

Americans have become the new Jews of the world. They are not liked much. The United States is experiencing what the Jews have experienced throughout their history: an irrational hatred, unwarranted animosity.

The pundits will tell you that this is all due to America-envy. We're the biggest, strongest kid on the block. So everyone hates us. To be sure, we ought never underestimate the role that simple jealousy and envy plays in fuelling America-hatred, and how it leads to accusations of American arrogance and aloofness.

But as a general approach to understanding the growing anti-Americanism abroad, this is a simplistic and superficial explanation, and it's dead wrong. The Soviet Union was just as strong as the United States for a solid four decades. It was also far more intimidating. Yet, it had apologists all over the world.

In truth, the causes of anti-Americanism are much more profound than simple envy. In short, America is hated principally because under George W. Bush it has come to embrace a moral foreign policy aimed at fighting despots and deposing dictators, and these gallant efforts have made the rest of the world look selfish, self-absorbed, morally blind, and cowardly. We Americans are not hated because of our strength, but rather for the good purposes to which we have devoted that strength. Ironic, isn't it? To be hated because you're good. But welcome to the club. The Jews have been members for a long time.

The rise of global America-hatred is, of course, a study in hypocrisy. Countries that couldn't give two hoots about the slaughter in Rwanda, the genocide in Sudan, or what Saddam did to the Kurds, have the gall to criticize America as a global bully. I lecture and appear on television and radio around the world and thus have firsthand exposure to the rampant America-hatred and the snarling hypocrisy which is at its core.

I have been put on the defensive constantly on all my travels. "You Americans are arrogant and ignorant," is a refrain that I hear regularly. Amazingly, the things for which the United States is criticized is something that its critics are almost always more guilty of. France, for example, accuses the United States of indiscriminately and irresponsibly throwing its weight around, this while threatening smaller European nations with exclusion from the European Union if they don't kowtow to Paris.

France, of course, awarded the Palm d'Ore of the Cannes Film Festival to Michael Moore. The most powerful moment in his film is where he accuses George W. Bush of sitting around twiddling his thumbs for seven minutes while the Twin Towers were burning. Oh my. The French loved that scene, which is curious since Jacques Chirac in the summer of 2003 allowed 10,000 French men and women to die of heatstroke while he sat enjoying a vacation. He did not even return to Paris while the elderly of his country sat baking in their apartments.

Europe occupies a special place among the haters, which is not surprising, given that America represented a break from the European past and an establishment of a new world order. Like the Jews who broke off from the world with the establishment of monotheism and the promulgation of the Ten Commandments, the United States broke off from the European aristocracy and caste system by affirming in its Declaration of Independence that all humanity – not just the rich and privileged – were born with God-given rights.

Europe has always regarded the United States as a cheap upstart and has sought to defame American democracy as being a canard that favors the rich and seeks to create an aristocracy of the wealthy. Europe's essential response to American democratic virtue is that it is not virtuous.

They concede that they have always had an aristocracy of blood. But they allege America has simply replaced it with one of cash. How crass these greedy Americans are, and unrefined to boot. In addition, European socialism is in large measure fuelled by an antipathy for American capitalism and a desire to distinguish themselves from "American selfishness" even to their own detriment.

Of course, Europe's hostility to the United States is built on a philosophy of forgetfulness, forgotten alliances and ingratitude. The United States twice saved the European democracies from extinction. How bizarre that America's safeguarding of freedom has actually encouraged America-hatred among our "friends."

When it was France and Germany that we were liberating, they did not seem to mind that we fielded armies of hundreds of thousands far away from our borders. When it happened in Iraq, however, they rose in a chorus of protest. Could that be because they could care less about someone else's freedom? I wonder.

Here the United States stands to learn something from the Jews. For the better part of half a century, America has been the guardian of liberty around the world. But those Americans who expect gratitude should remember that no good deed goes unpunished. Jews gave the world their God, only to get slaughtered in His name. Imagine, being killed for a concept you created and others cherish.

But that didn't minimize the Jewish commitment or attachment to God, nor should it minimize the American commitment to the liberation of others. Especially in light of the principal reason for European antipathy. America's expenditure of treasure and blood on behalf of other nations have made those nations feel dependent and exposed their weakness. Rather than feel grateful, they are resentful.

But all of this only points to the deeper parallels between America-hatred and anti-Semitism. The connection, in essence, is this: Those nations that stand up for what's right become reviled because they spoil everyone else's party.

The underlying cause of all anti-Semitism is the Jews having emerged as the conscience of the world. Being the progenitors of the Ten Commandments, a moral code that was adopted by the world with near universality, automatically made the Jews the arbiters of right and wrong. America today has likewise emerged as the moral conscience of an increasingly amoral world, a world deeply indifferent to human suffering, prepared to stomach people like Saddam Hussein and turn their eyes away from Janjaweed militias in Sudan.

Furthermore, just as the Jews taught the world about God, America today is the only Western country that proudly proclaims its allegiance to God. America's strong emphasis on God and religion is anathema to Old Europe, which lives in the post-Christian era. Indeed, Europeans often point to evangelical, conservative-minded American Christians as an example of American yobbery and buffoonery, people unsophisticated and dumb enough to believe in a stark world of good and evil, black and white.

Anyone who has lived in Western Europe, as I did for 11 years, or Canada, can attest to how God is essentially dead in those regions, replaced by a soulless state-run Christianity which attracts less than 5 percent of the population to church on any given Sunday. When I lived in England, I even remember a Newsweek magazine cover story in the late '90s, which asserted that God had been killed off in Western Europe. In short, Western Europe pays lips service to their own macerated form of Christianity, and wonders what could possibly have gripped these simple-minded Americans who are actually dumb enough to be excited by faith.

And just as the Jews were hated for having spoiled the party for everyone else by imparting to the world the idea of religious morality, America is likewise hated for reminding the world of its moral responsibilities to protect human life and fight tyranny.

The response to both Americans and Jews has been typical: Kill the messenger. The Jewish and American roles as moral guardians of the Earth has lead to orchestrated attempts at the character assassination of their respective leaders. Jewish leaders and Israeli prime ministers have long been accused of attempting to take over the Middle East and the world.

"The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," an infamous forgery, was identified as the blueprint for Jewish attempts to control the universe. We now see the same accusation being made against the United States. America is not interested in bringing democracy to the Arabs, the Europeans maintain, but rather it craves its oil. It wants hegemony in the Middle East.

Just as Jews were reviled as little devils, George W. Bush is hated as the big devil, the anti-Christ who dares to challenge the indifference of Jacques Chirac and the other self-appointed guardians of world complacency. Rather than join Bush's vision of ridding the world of evil tyrants and terrorists, the world has chosen the much easier path of declaring that Bush himself is evil, a charlatan whose real purpose is to enrich his friends at Enron and Halliburton.

The parallels between the accusation that the Jews are trying to take over the world, and America as the global bully are striking. Both groups are accused of seeking global dominion. The Jewish cry for morality in the ancient world was quickly misrepresented by Judaism's opponents as a cynical attempt to master the planet. Likewise, America's honest efforts to bring democracy to the world's most troubled regions is being interpreted as an attempt to assert American hegemony over the Earth.

For the Jews, the accusation is of course ludicrous because they, if anything, are the most persecuted – rather than powerful – nation in all history. For the United States the charge is equally ludicrous because if they wanted hegemony, they would not have withdrawn their troops from Germany and Japan after conquering them with the loss of many heroic soldiers.

For all its claims to enlightenment, much of the America-hatred found in Europe, I believe, also has a lot to do with America being a country of immigrants. The Europeans, who accuse America of arrogance, don't like us because they consider us riffraff. In this respect, Europe, or should I say old Europe, has returned to its old prejudices.

And here you have yet another parallel between America and the Jews. Judaism was, of course, a rejection of a corrupt world order, as was the founding of the United States. America was a new and democratic idea that rejected the mores of old, class-ridden Europe. And that old order has never forgiven either nation for exposing their backwardness.

But none of this animosity dare dissuade the United States from its vital and just role of global policeman. Morality and decency dictate that the blessings of treasure and power obligate that the strongest protect the weakest. Using our great might to impose a moral order on the world is the responsibility of a great society.

When Britain was the world's superpower, it used its great might to colonize other nations and plunder their resources. When the Soviet Union was a superpower, it swallowed other countries whole and spat them out in broken pieces. We Americans use our great might to liberate oppressed nations. I believe that this demonstration of American goodness is what accounts for unmatched American patriotism. For we Americans are proud of our country in a way that Europeans can only marvel at. (Indeed, I remember reading a poll in the International Herald Tribune, when I was living in England, that claimed that half of all British subjects claim they would leave the country if they had the money).

The United States must do all in its power not to be influenced by the current global criticism and shirk its responsibilities to use its God-given blessings to make the world more just, democratic and free. While humility is a virtue and we must always safeguard against arrogance, we dare not internalize misdirected and agenda-driven criticism.

Central to this idea of global responsibility is recognizing the United Nations for what it has tragically become: a forum for America-hatred on American soil. It's time we leveled with ourselves. The United Nations is a staunchly anti-American forum that now sees its primary purpose as restraining American power. It is a deeply amoral body which invariably finds itself on the side of tyrants and dictators. I no longer believe that the United States can significantly influence the United Nations and bring about positive reform. Rather, it is time for our great country to launch an alternative to the United Nations and consider banishing the U.N. from our soil.

The United States, under Franklin Roosevelt, founded the United Nations. But it has gone seriously wrong and is a fatally flawed project. Now, just as the United States established NATO to offset the Soviet menace, it should now establish the UDN, United Democratic Nations, to which only countries that are democracies and are devoted to advancing democracy may join.

In the meantime, the United Nations should be moved to Paris where France can claim its trophy of a lifeless international body that spends its time blocking sanctions against countries like the Sudan, even when those countries are perpetrating genocide.

And I single out France on purpose for it has earned a special ignominy among the America-haters. This was the country that quickly collaborated with Hitler after they were conquered in World War II. One would think that they would be at the forefront of demanding that Hitler's ideological children, like Saddam, be deposed from power. But rather than washing away their past, France has decided to embrace it and become one of the world's leading protectors of tyrants.

But Europe is not only an entity that exists across the Atlantic. In Canada, we increasingly have a European neighbor to the north. Many Canadians are sadly becoming bigoted America-critics. Indeed, over the past few years Canada's defining national characteristic is that they are not Americans.

This should not surprise us since Canada never rebelled against the British, but remained a colony well into the 19th century. The Canadians never fought for their independence against European colonialism, and feel far more attune with Europe than the United States.

Finally, there is no escaping destiny. Americans once believed in a manifest destiny that would have the country expand from sea to shining sea. But as Abraham Lincoln declared so masterfully in the "Gettysburg Address," America is not merely a geographic location, it is a proposition, a country dedicated to the divine ideal that "all men are created equal." The true manifest destiny of the United States is its providential role, as the world's first democratic republic, to lead the world in liberty.

On the world political scene, Americans are the new chosen people. God has favored the American cause to the point where it has now become the wealthiest and most prosperous nation in all history. As the Jews – God's eternally chosen people, chosen to spread the message of His laws – have learned, chosen-ness invites hatred, even suffering. Americans, too, now suffer, especially our valiant soldiers in Iraq who are on the front lines in the battle against tyranny.

But it remains a privilege to be chosen. Virtually no Jew I know would seek to be a member of another people, and almost no Americans I know would trade in their citizenship to join another nation. The American future lies in being bold and courageous, ignoring the ignorant haters and charting a uniquely American future that is true to our history and is anchored in the bedrock of our founding values.