Michael Oren’s new book, “Power, Faith, and Fantasy:
GLENN FRANKEL: Your book suggests that
Israel has been an important factor in America’s involvement in the Middle East. What are the roots of that relationship?
MICHAEL OREN: The idea of
America and the idea of a Jewish state are very closely interwoven. It goes back to the time of the Puritans who conceived themselves as the new Jews and the New World as the New Canaan. That immediately established a sense of kinship between them and the old Jews and the old Promised Land. Since then, many Protestants in the United States have seen it as their religious and national duty to help fulfill God’s promises to rescue the Jews from exile and repatriate them to their ancestral homeland. Take, for example, a book published in 1844, The Valley of Visions, that became a bestseller and which called on the United States to lead the way in recreating a Jewish state in Palestine. The book was written by the head of New York University’s bible department, George Bush, a direct ancestor of two American presidents of the same name.
In his book, Oren gives a fuller description of the “restoration” movement and in which the 19th Century George Bush played an important role:
The proposition that the
United States should actively assist the Jews in returning to Palestine was neither new nor, in the antebellum period, considered especially radical. The restorationist ideas once prevalent among the evangelical churches of colonial America had deeply penetrated the mainstream. . . .
Restorationism found its broadest antebellum exposition in an 1844 treatise, The
Valley of Vision; or, The Dry Bones of Israel Revived, by the biblical scholar and distinguished professor of Hebrew at New York University, George Bush. Denouncing “the thralldom and oppression which has so long ground them to the dust,” Bush called for “elevating” the Jews “to a rank of honorable repute among the nations of the earth” by re-creating their state in Palestine. Such restitution would benefit not only the Jews but all of mankind, forming a “link of communication” between humanity and God. “It will blaze in notoriety,” Bush foretold. “It will flash a splendid demonstration upon all kindreds and tongues of the truth.”
(Power, Faith, and Fantasy, pp. 141-142). Oren writes near the end of his book that George W. Bush is “the spiritual heir and not merely the genetic descendant of Professor George Bush” -- combined with a Wilsonian merging of sacred and civic missions that embraces redemption through democracy. He reflects a fundamental American tradition that long precedes the modern state of