New Article: Mitelpunkt, US Visions of Israeli Soldiers and the Cold War Liberal Consensus

Mitelpunkt, Shaul. “The Tank Driver who Ran with Poodles: US Visions of Israeli Soldiers and the Cold War Liberal Consensus, 1958–79.” Gender & History 26.3 (2014): 620-641.

 

URL: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1468-0424.12091/abstract

 

Excerpt

The liberal re-evaluations of Israeli society and of US responsibility towards Israel depended on the changing fortunes of Israel’s wars, as well as on the sharp shift in values and social order triggered by the increasingly wrenching Vietnam War. The depreciation in liberal understandings of warfare as a potentially constructive social endeavour fed a liberal wish to see the United States as the champion of negotiation and civility, and to purge still vexing memories of the Vietnam War. Perceptions and geostrategic developments fed one another in unpredictable ways. Supporting Israel, whether that support was expressed in enthusiasm for the Israeli citizen-soldier in the late 1960s, or in negotiating peace between Israel and Egypt in the late 1970s, was not purely a matter of geostrategic calculation, nor one of domestic politics. It was also a way for Cold War liberals and later post-Vietnam liberals to fashion themselves as forces for good in the world.

In many ways, the US commitment to mediating peaceful agreements between Israel and its neighbours was more performance than policy: the United States reinforced its military support to Israel in the 1980s and came to see it as an ally within the ‘War on Terror’. Yet even as neoconservative ascendency and explicit military alliance came to define the ideological basis of US-Israeli relations through the 1980s and beyond, the ambition to conceive of the US as a tireless and responsible mediator, as originally envisioned by post-Vietnam liberals, remained a key part of the way Americans saw their patronage of Israel in the decades that followed.

By making, watching and identifying with the story of Ari Ben Canaan in Exodus, Cold War liberals were invited to see themselves as the benevolent patrons to emerging young states in the postcolonial world; by describing Israeli soldiers such as Yossi Israeli as colourful figures who managed to combine the uniformity of national military service and the liberties of individual choice, writers such as Mauldin and Friendly eulogised the Second World War citizen-soldier model in the United States during the midst of the Vietnam War. Finally, in the mid-1970s, by identifying Israel as ‘Spartan’ and assuming the authority of ‘marriage councilors’ to Arabs and Israelis, post-Vietnam liberals branded the United States as a civilian superpower wielding the pen and not the napalm. Each construction was informed both by changing American experiences and by events in the Middle East.