Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

America's Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

America's Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood

Article excerpt

America's Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood, by Lawrence Davidson. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2001. 222 pages. Notes to p. 252. Bibl. to p. 257. Index to p. 264. $55.

Explaining United States policy toward the Middle East has always been difficult. Neither ideology nor strategic interest offers a compelling way to comprehend its obvious peculiarities, and analyses rooted in the hybrid concept of "perceived interest" generally end up being circular. It is, therefore, with some apprehension that one sits down to read yet another account of the "popular and official perceptions" that shaped US thinking about Palestine during the first half of the 201 century.

Lawrence Davidson's treatment starts off by recounting the religious, and specifically missionary Protestant, tenets that lay the foundation for US dealings with the region in the late 1800s. Such notions produced what Davidson somewhat idiosyncratically calls a "bipolar worldview paradigm" (p. 2), in which the international arena is divided into two distinct spheres: "the civilized West, possessed of technological know-how and representing progress, efficiency, and good government; and the backward East, in need of 'development' and guidance" (p. 1). This modernist Manichean mindset not only reinforced a fundamentally Biblical approach to Palestine, but also predisposed the US to support various forms of "altruistic imperialism" (p. 27), most notably the British Mandate, the Open Door, and Zionism. And it led successive US administrations to interpret the realities generated by these overlapping, yet contradictory forms of imperialism, in ways that were broadly congruent with American political culture, most notably by "projecting American values and traditions into Zionism" (p. 52).

What is most eye-catching about Davidson's book is the extensive presentation of empirical material showing how pervasive derogatory images of the Arab population of Palestine have been. In June 1922, the New York Times observed that Zionist settlers represented "`Jewish Pilgrim fathers ... building the new Judea even as the Puritans built New England' while `facing the dangers of Indian warfare"' (p. …

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