The Hub of the Wheel

How Israel became a tool of America's empire

This is a preview of a premium edition of The Racket. To get access and — more importantly! — support my work, upgrade to a premium subscription today:

I’m in the lead of a piece in the New York Times today, featuring me, Joe Brandon, and everyone’s favorite Chinese dance app. There’s also a nice photo by the great Eze Amos. You can read it here: [gift link]

One of the most confusing things about Israel is why it gets so much attention. How does such a young, tiny country — smaller than 47 of the 50 U.S. states, with fewer people than greater Toronto, which debuted on the world stage the same year as Cheetos — command so much devotion on one hand and vitriol on the other, seemingly across the entire Western world?

It’s a question that provokes jealousy, anger, and whataboutism. Why, people fairly ask, don’t the genocides in Tigray, Congo, or Sudan, attract even a fraction of the U.S. media’s attention, or protests and crackdowns on college campuses? Why is Congress, with everything that should be on its plate, going out of its way to try to sanction the International Criminal Court on behalf of a foreign prime minister in Benjamin Netanyahu, while inviting him to make yet another joint address?

Not a few people turn to conspiracy theories for answers. This all must be the work of a sinister cabal, perhaps of the “wokes” or the Muslim world from the Zionist side, or of The Jews from the other. Let’s just throw both of those theories in the trash where they belong. Far less sinister forms of hidden persuasion, such as lobbying, do play a role. But there are real, more material reasons for the hyperfocus, one of the major ones I’ll detail here.

First though, let’s rattle off some of the more obvious reasons. A big one is that Israel and Palestine are the lands of the Bible, the book upon which millions of American voters base their entire worldviews. It’s possible to make too much of this: The fact that for a millennium or so Europeans considered Jerusalem to be the literal center of the universe, or that millions of American evangelicals believe the fate of its government and people are directly tied to that of their own and everyone else’s immortal souls, does not make current U.S. policy or the deeply apologetic tenor of major media coverage inevitable. But it sure doesn’t hurt.

There is also the way Israel factors into the Western self-story of World War II, the formative event of the American Century — the end of a redemptive arc that begins with the West’s failure to confront (and, in many cases, helped carry out) the Holocaust and ends with the return of the Jews to the Holy Land, itself a knowing echo of the Hebrew Bible. It is not for nothing that Germany has proven Israel’s most steadfast ally in Europe during the slaughter in Gaza, cracking down on speech and dissent in bitterly ironic ways.

But the thing I want to focus on is Israel’s less-appreciated roles in the world, and specifically the U.S.-dominated system. It isn’t surprising that these aspects aren’t given a place of prominence in regular media coverage or casual conversation, because seeing them requires a set of assumptions that Americans, in particular, have been trained not to have. Among them: that the U.S. is an empire, that our power and wealth have been derived and are constantly protected through acts and threats of violence, etc. But understanding them makes everything a lot clearer.

The State of Israel was midwifed by both emerging superpowers in the aftermath of the just-completed world war: U.S. President Harry Truman was the first to give

Subscribe to The Racket to read the rest.

Become a paying subscriber of The Racket to get access to this post and other subscriber-only content.

Already a paying subscriber? Sign In

A subscription gets you:
Get exclusive posts available only to premium subscribers
Access the full Racket archive going back to 2019
Special access and behind-the-scenes insights
Keep independent journalism alive. Don't let the bastards get us down.

Join the conversation

or to participate.