The Central Role of Israel in the U.S. State Religion

The national secular religion of this country consists of a cluster of rarely questioned premises, usually inculcated in childhood, comparable to the articles of a real religious creed.

The first proposition is the idea that we live in a “free” country, as symbolized by the Statue of Liberty idol that towers over New York City’s harbor. The system absolutely insists on this point, incessantly hammering it in. It’s its basic tenet. Indeed it’s presented as “self-evident.” You’re in this country, ergo, you are FREE.

It’s inflicted by osmosis. Every institution transmits it. Those who doubt it are encouraged to think they must be mentally ill. (Of course you’re free, you’re told. And so fortunate to be so! How can anyone question that?)

“Freedom” is emblazoned on our coinage and many state automobile licenses. It’s proclaimed each school day morning by tens of millions of otherwise innocent children obliged to recite religiously that they live in a nation “with liberty and justice for all.”

This particular component of the national creed is perhaps comparable to the opening article of the Apostles’ Creed, which alludes to belief in “God the Father Almighty.” Because belief in the U.S.A. as the global headquarters of “Freedom” is as central to what some call “Americanism” as monotheism is to Christianity.

The Pledge of Allegiance expresses the belief, not just in the goodness of “freedom” in itself, but in the idea that we actually live in a free country. (How often people protest, when someone criticizes their thoughts or behavior, “Well hey, it’s a free country!” And they usually truly believe this.)

“I’m proud to be an American,” country crooner Lee Greenwood boasts, “where at least I know I’m free.” He knows this, without any religious doubt. “Cause the flag still stands for freedom, and they can’t take that away.” (Whoever they are. Presumably people who “hate our freedoms” and are actively conspiring somewhere to invade and enslave us.)

Actually, I suspect that the people of Sweden or Denmark are freer than Lee Greenwood is, or imagines himself to be. But do they know they’re free, with the confidence he exudes?


The second article of the national creed is that the U.S. military (commonly referred to as “our troops”)–wherever and whenever they fight–fight for us, somehow, to “defend our freedoms.” Whenever you attend a ball game (as I do regularly in Fenway Park) you’re told that everyone in the stadium is proud to honor the “servicemen and servicewomen” present–the “heroes” who are “defending our freedoms” in Afghanistan, Iraq, or wherever. We’re expected to applaud them, even in liberal Boston, and indicate our gratitude for whatever it is they did. And if we read in the morning Boston Globe about these heroes killing civilians we should just put it out of mind.

The ball park MC never considers the possibility that there are Red Sox fans there just for the game, who do not see how U.S. troops’ actions in invaded countries defend their freedoms in any way, and who find this insertion of patriotic content into the program really annoying.

Still the crowd rises to its feet on demand, showing deference, accepting the adulation of the troops as a matter of faith. If you just sit there sullenly, refusing to participate, some drunken patriot might hassle you for your traitorous non-enthusiasm. So in this free country it’s best to just stand up to honor the troops and try to maintain your self-respect by being as nonchalant as possible.


Every cable news viewer has seen that endlessly repeated USAA Military Auto Insurance TV commercial, “Thank you Dad.”

“Thank you, Daddy, for defending our country,” says the cute little Latina girl, in one version.
“Thank you for your sacrifice, and thank you for your bravery,” says an African-American women, to her spouse perhaps.
“Thank you, colonel,” says the young white man to his former superior officer.
“Thank you, Daddy,” says the little black girl.

It’s a movingly multi-ethnic crowd, thanking Daddy for his martial valor. Trace Adkin’s “Till the Last Shot’s Fired” is in the background, urging us to “say a prayer for peace” even as the song glorifies the warrior and places priority on his (as opposed to his victims’) peace.

I’m in the fields of Vietnam,
the mountains of Afghanistan
and I’m still hopin’ waitin’
prayin’ I did not die in vain.

Say a prayer for peace for every fallen son.
Set our spirits free. Let me lay down my gun.
…We can’t come home until the last shot’s fired.

It doesn’t seem to make any difference to Adkins what the cause is, or how many people these soldiers killed. They’re heroes–just for doing the unquestionable right thing and firing that last shot (against whoever) as ordered.

The fact is, those who fought in Vietnam and Afghanistan did “die in vain.” Certainly their deaths produced no good for this world. But as suffering servants who sacrifice their lives as commanded, the U.S. military vets occupy the position of Christ in the secular religion. Just as in Christian theology, Jesus is God in human flesh, “our troops” are our (mythical) Freedom personified.

St. Paul writes in his Epistle to the Galatians, “For freedom Christ has set us free.” In the U.S. civic doctrine, the dead troops are the sacrifice necessary to keep us free.


The third proposition in the official state faith is that we live in a democracy, in which the people decide the nation’s fate through exercising their awesome right to vote. This, in the official civic belief system, is the equivalent of the Holy Spirit in Christianity.

Through the ritual of casting a ballot in the hallowed privacy of a voting booth, citizens fulfill their highest civic duty. One is supposed to stand there in that box, in solitude, but in intimate spiritual communication with the benevolent, all-embracing, fatherly state. One’s supposed to be grateful to the state for the opportunity to enjoy the right to help determine the future, perhaps by choosing Jed Bush over Hillary Clinton. Or Hillary Clinton over Jed Bush.

One’s supposed to leave that sacred space feeling pure and righteous, having performed the highest duty of citizenship. It’s not so important to vote for either one of the two of the viable corporate-sponsored parties (which are really like two factions of a single party, in a one-party dictatorship of the 1%). No. What’s important is to simply vote and, having participated, thereby voted for the system itself.

You’re supposed to leave the ballot box, proud to be an American, because at least you know you voted. You made a difference! You exercised your right. The only downside is that hereafter–whatever happens–you share responsibility. Because you, after all, elected your leaders, didn’t you?

So if you voted for a warmonger who attacks Iran, with hellish consequences, you’ll have to call the inevitable ensuing conflict “our” war, right? Rather than calling it “their” war–the war of the imperialists, from whom you might have appropriately dissociated yourself–just by politely declining the invitation to attend their unpleasant party and play their game.

Voting is fundamentally a statement of faith in the god of Freedom. And in the Christ-like qualities of the divinized warrior who, in this mythology, dies for your precious right to engage in this vapid ritual. Casting a vote in this “democracy” is rather like receiving Holy Communion in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

In the latter rite one reverentially receives and consumes the wine and wafer; in the U.S. civil rite one religiously casts the ballot and swallows the myth.


These three beliefs constitute the Holy Trinity of the national doctrine. They’re indeed all articles of faith, hardly based on reason. After all, how “free” is a country with the world’s highest incarceration rate, with over 700 in jail or prison out of every 100,000?

Almost 7 million adults in this country–nearly 3% of the adult population–are under what’s called “correctional supervision.” With 5% of the world’s population, this free country boasts fully one-quarter of the planetary prison population. 40% of these prisoners are African-American. There are more young black men in prison in this country than in college.

How can anyone speak with a straight face about “freedom” here?

“I wish I knew how it would feel to be free,” sang Nina Simone–quite heretically, in bold opposition to the state faith–in1967, before fleeing the U.S. in 1970 and ultimately settling in France, which she (among other African-American and other exiles) found somewhat freer at that time.

How “free” are we now really–when all citizens are under electronic surveillance (at a level of sophistication that puts East Germany’s fabled Stasi to shame); while young men of color are routinely harassed by police, while police murders have–if only due to cell phone camera video exposure–become almost daily news stories; while government whistle-blowers are jailed for revealing such phenomena as state-sponsored torture?

And how do U.S. soldiers fight “for us” or “defend our freedoms” by invading countries in wars based on lies?

In my own state of Massachusetts there have been what I suppose can be termed some modest advances in freedom in recent times. (Sunday alcohol sales were allowed in 2004, gay marriage was legally recognized in 2004, marijuana possession was decriminalized in 2008). These changes have a meaningful impact on my community. But none of them had anything at all to do with U.S. troops’ actions abroad. And in fact the U.S. war (based on lies) in Iraq set women’s rights far back in that tortured, mutilated country.

The Democrats and Republicans pretend to have real differences with one another. (Rather like pro wrestlers pretend to truly despise one another before the big fight. It’s all for show.) But seriously: how democratic is a country in which two parties sharing a common faith in capitalist imperialism trade the presidency every so often–always vowing to effect change, even while nothing dramatically changes–while the one percent at the top of society (especially the cancerous ten percent of that one percent) relentlessly increases its share of the national wealth?

The recent (2014) empirical study by Princeton professor Martin Gilens and Stanford professor Benjamin Page declares that the U.S. is not in fact a democracy but an oligarchy in which individuals and even mass-based interest groups cannot prevail over the tiny elite that makes decisions. “Average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence” on policy, they conclude. “Democracy” in this country is a joke.


The national secular creed also entails support for a foreign state which has nothing to do with U.S. freedom, and has not been a battlefield of U.S. blood sacrifice, but which does significantly impact the sacrament of voting. Whereas belief in the trinity of Freedom, Our Troops, and Voting is formally non-religious, this support is rooted deeply in religion.

I refer of course to the role of Israel in the national belief system.

Members of Congress have been known to cite Genesis 12:3, in the Old Testament, to explain their votes in favor of Israel under any circumstances whatsoever. This is the passage in which Yahweh (God) tells Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse.” Just the other day Congressman Louis Gohmert (R-TX) declared, “There are many who have been aware of Scripture, and it has been a guide in our relations with Israel.” Enough said!

This sort of ass kissing is politically feasible in a country where, a recent poll showed, 55% of the population believes that God (the Maker of everything) gave what’s now the land of Israel to the Jews in perpetuity. It’s amazing. It would be amusing if the potential ramifications weren’t so horrifying.

President Obama and repeated Congressional resolutions refer to the U.S.’s “eternal support” for Israel. (Notice how such language is never applied to other countries. Despite the “special relationship” U.S. politicians never use such effusive language in referring to ties with the U.K. And recall how France, the U.S.’s oldest ally that gifted it the Statue of Liberty, was vilified as an “enemy” not so long ago–when it refused to support the war on Iraq, based, as that criminal war was, wholly on lies.)

This religious support for Israel in fact produces some amusement in Israel itself, where about a third of the Jewish population considers itself non-religious and takes those Bible fables with a grain of salt. But the support of Christian evangelicals is the key to the U.S.-Israeli relationship. Israeli prime ministers are received like rock stars at Christian events held in support of Israel. Christian Zionist organizations play a major role in the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the powerful lobby group that serves as a virtual agency of the Israel state.

In his May 2011 speech to Congress, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu received 29 standing ovations–including one when he declared, “Israel will not return to the indefensible boundaries of 1967.” Never mind that no country in the world recognizes Israel’s right to any land (on the West Bank, or in Gaza, Syria, or Lebanon) occupied during that “pre-emptive” war of aggression. Never mind that it is official U.S. policy to demand, along with the rest of the world, for Israel to withdraw to the 1967 borders. The bought-and-paid-for Congress rose to applaud Netanyahu’s insistence of the Jewish right to permanently annex more Arab land.

In his March 3, 2015 address to Congress, by invitation of the Republican leaders in the Senate, Netanyahu devoted all of his time to one topic: the G5+1 talks in Switzerland with Iran, and the need for the Congress to oppose any plans for President Obama’s State Department to sign onto any deal on Iran’s nuclear program. Again, incessant standing ovations!

Not surprising. Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina and head of the Senate’s Foreign Appropriations Committee, had already told Netanyahu publicly that on Iran “Congress will follow your lead.” How to make sense of such fawning stupidity?


Netanyahu has direly predicted that Iran is close to the production of nuclear weapons since 1992, since before today’s college sophomores were born. He’s been a Chicken Little crying that the sky is falling–that Israel is in imminent, existential danger from Iranian nukes. He will not of course talk about Israel’s nuclear weapons, which the Jewish state has possessed since 1979, when it conducted a joint test with its close ally, the racist apartheid regime in South Africa. (In Israel it is a crime for anyone with knowledge about this to reveal what they know; the nuclear scientist Mordechai Vanunu spent 18 years in prison for revealing details about it to the British press.)

Israel is the only state in the Middle East with nuclear weapons. Its leaders think they have the right to have them, since (for some reason) Israel faces so much hostility from its refugee-flooded neighbors in this harsh world. And they decline to submit their nuclear facilities to UN inspection, while demanding that the world prevent Iran from developing any sort of nuclear program. Even a program like that which Brazil or Argentina might boast of, quite legally.

There is amazingly little discussion in this country of the actual history of the modern state of Israel. About how 33 of the UN ambassadors in 1947 (59% of the total at the time) voted for a plan to partition the British Mandate of Palestine that favored the Jewish immigrants over the 65% Arab majority, allotting the Zionist settlers over half the land.

They don’t realize how unrepresentative the UN was at that time, when half the world remained under colonial occupation.

They don’t know that in 1948 many prominent Jewish rabbis in the world opposed the formation of a specifically Jewish-Zionist state in Palestine.

They don’t realize how the entire Muslim world opposed the unfair partition; how major countries that were not majority Muslim (India, Greece, Cuba) voted against it; and how many others (China, Argentina, Ethiopia, Mexico, Yugoslavia, even the United Kingdom) abstained, feeling queasy about the deal and its potential blowback.

They don’t necessarily know that Zionists in the Irgun brown shirt paramilitary group along with the Stern Gang implemented a strategy of terror to produce mass panic and flight that produced 750,000 Palestinian Arab refugees between April 1948 and January 1949. They’ve never been told about the Deir Yassin massacre in April 1948.

They certainly don’t realize that many of these Palestinians may be the direct descendents of the Judeans of the Roman province where Jesus lived. It’s not like there was ever really a Diaspora in which the wicked Romans drove out all the Jews. They drove out some, while others remained. Of those who stayed, many became Christians over time and stopped self-identifying as Jewish. Later many converted to Islam. Meanwhile Judeans outside Judea, who numbered in millions even before the birth of Jesus, intermarried with others and for a couple centuries there was actually significant conversion to Judaism by gentiles in both the Roman and Parthian empires.

The Jewish Zionist community in contemporary Israel, which officially represents itself as a people who have “returned” to their ancestral land to which they have some sort of “birthright,” may in fact have less DNA in common with the Judeans of Jesus’ time than with modern European populations. The whole business of Abraham talking with the Supreme Being and being told his direct descendents would possess the Land of Israel forever (and so, who cares what happens to the Arabs?) is mythology. The “call of Abraham” is supposed to have occurred around 1000 years before there even was a written Hebrew language.


Christians in this country, who are prone to be much more literalist in their reading of the Bible than those in Europe, tend to accept (as real historical phenomena) the story of Noah’s Ark, the bondage in Egypt and parting of the Red Sea. They believe that Moses was given the Law by God himself on Mount Sinai, and that during the conquest of Canaan, the walls of Jericho fell miraculously when the Hebrew “chosen people” blew their trumpets. They believe that the sun once remained stationary in the sky to give Joshua the upper hand in a battle for control of Jerusalem (Joshua 10:13).

The Israeli government and Israel Lobby which serves as its unlicensed agent (de facto exempt from U.S. legal oversight) knows that the U.S. public–largely brainwashed by the secular national religion and its own delusions about being itself a Chosen People inhabiting a Promised Land–is extremely receptive to Israel’s incessant religious pitch. They know that politicians competing for votes know they need to show maximum deference to Israel.

In his March 3 address to Congress, as his mesmerized audience sat imbibing his wisdom, Binyamin Netanyahu sermonized:

We’re an ancient people. In our nearly 4,000 years of history, many have tried repeatedly to destroy the Jewish people. Tomorrow night, on the Jewish holiday of Purim, we’ll read the Book of Esther. We’ll read of a powerful Persian viceroy named Haman, who plotted to destroy the Jewish people some 2,500 years ago. But a courageous Jewish woman, Queen Esther, exposed the plot and gave for the Jewish people the right to defend themselves against their enemies.

The plot was foiled. Our people were saved.

The legislators present rose to applaud this allusion to the Bible story, which immediately segued into the claim that “Today the Jewish people face another attempt by yet another Persian potentate to destroy us. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei spews the oldest hatred, the oldest hatred of anti-Semitism with the newest technology…”

The fact is, the story of Queen Esther is a myth. Set in the fifth century BCE but composed around the second century BCE, it describes a situation in which numerous Judeans reside in the city of Babylon in the Persian Empire. The exiles had in fact been permitted to leave by 530 BCE, and to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem, by the Achaemenid founder Cyrus the Great–a Persian (Iranian) who is actually identified in the Old Testament as “the Lord’s anointed one” (Isaiah: 45:1-7).

This validation as an “anointed one” was, by the way, an honor shared by no other non-Jew in the Bible. Not that you’d expect Netanyahu to point out the positive aspects of the very long relationship between Jews and Iran, which (as you know) has the largest Jewish population outside of Israel in the Middle East. The Jewish minority has representation in the Iranian parliament, and maintains synagogues, Hebrew schools and kosher restaurants. (If you don’t know these facts, thank the U.S. mainstream media.)

In the Book of Esther story, the Persian emperor Ahasuerus (commonly identified with Xerxes, a real person who ruled from 486 to 465 BCE and the fifth in the Achaemenid line) becomes dissatisfied with his current wife. He casts her aside unceremoniously and looks for a new spouse, choosing Esther, a Jew, who conceals her background. She finds favor with the ruler. However, her kinsman Mordecai offends Xerxes’ prime minister, Haman (to whom Netanyahu alluded in his speech) by refusing to bow down before him.

Haman learns that both the queen and Mordecai are Jews. Energized by petty pique, he organizes a plot to massacre all the Jews in the land and seize their property. He tells Xerxes there is a “certain unassimilated nation…throughout the provinces of your realm” whose laws so differ from those of other nations that “it is not in the king’s interest to tolerate them” (Esther 3:8-9). He persuades him to agree to an annihilation campaign.

Again, this is pure fantasy. It never happened. But in the story, a huge pogrom is planned, Mordecai heroically organizes mass prayer and resistance, and Queen Esther at the decisive moment reveals her identity as a Jew to the ruler, and defends her people. Xerxes, egged on by his spouse, has Haman hanged and gives the Jews license to exact revenge on their enemies. Indeed, according to this novelette, Jews during the Feast of Purim slaughter 75,000 Persians (Esther 9:15-16). (None of this is supported by contemporary Persian sources.)

Having observed that this is pure fiction, one can ask why Netanyahu wanted to use it last month in his fiction-riddled presentation to Congress. He must have known that anyone present with a little knowledge of Jewish-Iranian history might have asked: “Excuse me, but doesn’t the Esther story actually tell us that Jews have been in Persia (Iran) for 2500 years, and that Persian rulers were regarded favorably by ancient Judeans as allies–even ‘God’s anointed’ rather than foes?”

And couldn’t one ask, “How did the Jewish Queen Esther ‘give the right’ to the Jews ‘to defend themselves against their enemies’?” The Jews were allowed to kill the 75,000 Persians in the story because the Persian ruler had given them the right. Netanyahu might not have read the text carefully. But one must suppose that even if he had, he wasn’t trying to give the U.S. audience a rigorous textual exegesis. He was presenting his Likud Party program of continued confrontation with Iran (as a supporter fro Palestinian and Lebanese resistance movements) in biblical gift-wrap.

Just by citing an Old Testament work familiar to some Christians–such as those who dominate Congress–Netanyahu plugged into that chord of commonality that many adherents of the national civic religion like to reference when the trinity of Freedom, Holy War, and Voting alone doesn’t quite do the job.

When you’re a U.S. leader and need to get the people on board a new campaign for Mideast war, you can’t just say, “We’re free. But we have to fight to stay free. And we have to vote for the strongest, who will fight hardest for our freedom.” You also need to exploit the religious element and add, “We have to side with Israel, because God said, he would bless those who blessed it, and curse those who didn’t.”


Again, the first three articles in the national civic religion are actually irreligious; they don’t require belief in deities, souls, and afterlives. But the belief in Israel as the Promised Land of a certain bloodline, granted to it in perpetuity by a certain deity in conversations four millennia ago, is an explicitly religious conviction.

Unfortunately these four creedal myths–that we really enjoy freedom; that this countries wars are for freedom; that the act of voting really means “democracy;” and that the U.S. must always as a matter of principle back Israel–constitute a doctrinal whole.

You can presumably lose faith in the fourth while maintaining adherence to the first three, since the latter don’t involve specifically religious beliefs. But polls suggest that the majority of people in this country still accept all four points in the Creed. They would, in the event of an Israeli nuclear strike on Iran–while prizing their freedom, heroic military and parliamentary system–also applaud any Israeli actions in putative defense of the Jews’ “God-given” land.

Even if the Israelis were to deploy nuclear weapons, out of their known arsenal (which U.S. politicians, for some reason, never ever mention) against an Iran which has none, these people would bless rather than curse them. They would see in the action affirmations of “freedom,” heroic military action, and “democracy” alongside adherence to the unquestionable Word of God.

How can one possibly challenge the U.S. state religion–this nonsensical mass of concepts in the service of the 1% including an inordinate share of billionaire Iran-baiting Zionists? Six media corporations (GE, News-Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner, and CBS) control the “news” consumed by the great majority of people in this country. They all promote the national belief system.

Freedom. Our troops. The beauty of the ballot box. God and Israel.

They all instruct their reporters, in the event of a Ferguson-style situation, to spin the story away from any radical critique of systemic police brutality victimizing the non-white poor. Of course they all uphold the freedom of the abused people to demonstrate (“peacefully”); they have to confirm the national creed that the people are somehow, basically, “free” under the existing system.

“Journalists” and talking heads from Lou Dobbs to Al Sharpton unite in urging the people to respond properly, responsibly to events that disturb them (whether it’s war, economic injustice, or police brutality) by registering to vote!

Off the streets and into the polling booth! To elect more Obamas, more saviors! (Even though–let me repeat–Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page have concluded empirically that in the U.S. your vote means very little.)

They all resist criticism of war, and investigative journalism before the next war-based-on-lies occurs. They all get critical as the U.S. enters a morass, and belatedly might even question the premises for a particular war. But they will always, culturally, uphold the warrior as the soul of the nation. Even after a war has itself been discredited, clearly exposes as based on lies, the warrior is upheld as a freedom fighter and social role model.

How to disabuse people of those doctrinal premises? How to persuade them to see Israel rationally–free of religious baggage–as a normal, oppressive settler-state surrounded by neighbors who are (most understandably) indignant about its aggressions since 1948?

It may well be impossible. State religions are hard to crack. Still, the petering out of state faiths in Europe and the collapse of State Shinto in Japan after 1945 suggest that the U.S. secular national religion might also eventually (as that old Persian expression goes) “fade from the page of time.”


I’m hopeful there will come a time when our youth–frustrated with job prospects and housing issues, fed up with police brutality, burdened with student debt, disgusted with wars based on lies, nauseated by the Stasi-like NSA surveillance of their private lives, shocked by the raw statistics showing how wealth is apportioned in this “free” country, disillusioned by their own engagement with the “American dream”–will rebel big time.

Understanding through experience that this is NOT a free country, and that humanity can do much, much better, they will observe matter-of-factly that U.S. military personnel deployed in imperialist wars are NOT heroes.

They will recognize that elections in this society are a ritual to legitimate the status quo, an ideological trap, not the best means to effect real change.

And they will realize that the mystical hold of Israel over the U.S. polity, which does not advantage the individual citizen at all, is rooted in a mythological misreading of the past.

In today’s world that interpretation of past reality necessarily dovetails with anti-Arab racism and ignorant Islamophobia. Senators and Congressmen will tell you quite frankly they’d be happy to “give” Israel the whole West Bank because the Bible tells them that “the Jews” should ultimately have it.

These fine Christian Zionists have no problem with Palestinian dislocation and disenfranchisement. But maybe their day is ending. The day of the U.S. state religion may be ending. The day that the Israeli prime minister citing biblical fairy tales can dictate U.S. policy in the Mideast may be ending as Bibi reaps the whirlwind of his Bible-thumping address to Congress.

A tsunami of disillusionment is, if not inevitable, at least very likely. It’s good to be disabused of illusions or delusions, religious, patriotic or both. May our youth shuffle off the Zionist coil, seeing it for what it is: the ideological prop for more war that has nothing to do with freedom.

Gary Leupp is a Professor of History at Tufts University, and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Gary.