WASHINGTON (JTA) — It may or may not have been a conscious rejoinder to “The Israel Lobby,” the academic screed that revived accusations that Jews are torn by dual loyalties to Israel and the United States, but AIPAC’s annual policy conference this week aimed to show that ties between the two nations are both deep and organic.Unlike the army of academics and journalists who have busied themselves wading through the distortions and misrepresentations of the paper by the University of Chicago’s John Mearsheimer and Harvard’s Stephen Walt, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee ended 10 months of virtual silence on the topic by offering something simpler — a story.The theme, flashed across huge screens hanging from the rafters of the Washington Convention Center on March 11, was “Israel: An American Past.”First, Israeli-American historian Michael Oren outlined a history of the United States that made the founding of the republic seem as much about moving Jews to the Holy Land as it was about dumping tea into the harbor.Then Pastor John Hagee, pledging eternal evangelical love for Israel, stirred the crowd to its feet in a delirium, shouting together, “Israel lives!” The launching point for Oren’s entertaining potted history was the Walt-Mearsheimer work. He said the professors, who earned a high six-figure advance to turn their paper into a book, just don’t get it.”Upwards of 70 percent of Americans admire Israel and support the alliance,” Oren said.He also noted, to wild applause from the 6,000 activists at the conference, that his own recent work, “Power, Faith and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present,” had superseded another Israel policy critique, Jimmy Carter’s “Palestine: Peace not Apartheid,” on The New York Times’ bestseller list.Oren’s main point was that identification with Israel is not simply an alliance of two democracies against terrorism, but has been an integral part of American history and thought.According to Oren, the depth of American affection for Israel predates both states — in fact, it stems from the font of Americanness, Plymouth Rock. He quoted William Bradford as saying as he alighted on the rock, “Come let us declare the word of the lord in Zion.”Oren drew a line from the identification early Pilgrims felt with the Israelites to “restorationism,” a stream of 19th-century Protestant thinking that advocated the Jews’ return to the Holy Land.Paralleling the rise of modern Zionism, the movement inspired young Americans to move to the Holy Land to help the indigenous Jewish population learn to farm it.It was described in the writings of Herman Melville and Mark Twain, and manifested in the actions of presidents including Woodrow Wilson — who helped persuade the British to recognize a Jewish claim to the land in 1917 — and Harry Truman, the first world leader to recognize Israel in 1948.Next to speak was Hagee, who last year founded Christians United for Israel, a culmination of 25 years of hosting “Nights for Israel” at his independent charismatic church in San Antonio.The popular TV preacher went straight for the heart, and if there were doubts that an evangelical could cast aside concerns about proselytizing and make his case based simply on love of Israel, they were quickly dispersed.”What we have in common is far greater than the things that have separated us over the years,” Hagee said to applause.”We must stop Iran’s nuclear threat, and stop it now, and stand boldly with Israel!” he said to even greater applause.”Ahmadinejad is the new Hitler!”Even greater applause. Directly addressing the Iranian president and his wishes for Israel to disappear, Hagee said, “You may well be speaking of your own demise when you talk of passing with a sudden storm!” That brought hoots, cheers and the sound of chairs scratching cement as they were pushed back so listeners could get to their feet. “There will never be another Holocaust, not on our watch and never again!” Hagee continued.Hagee counted the perceived enemies of Zion, from Ahmadinejad on down, with allusions to Carter, Walt and Mearsheimer.Thousands of Jews from Miami to Marin County, from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Ore., shouted as one, “Israel lives! Israel lives! Israel lives!”
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Ron Kampeas is JTA's Washington bureau chief, responsible for coordinating coverage in the U.S. capital and analyzing political developments that affect the Jewish world. He comes to JTA from The Associated Press, where he worked for more than a decade in its bureaus in Jerusalem, New York, London and, most recently, Washington. He has reported from Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, Bosnia and West Africa. While living in Israel, he also worked for the Jerusalem Post and several Jewish organizations.
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