Chosen peoples

 The founding myths of numerous tribes describe them at the center of creation, along with their version of an almighty force which created them and everything else.

Us, too.

But who else has something like the Hebrew Bible, where our ancestors described themselves, and their relations with lesser others.

Some believe that God Himself composed the key books, with people (mostly men) who heard His words and wrote down much of the rest.

With all its problems, that collection of writings has done well.

And it has marked us for constant attention, much praise, and perhaps just as much scorn.

We're still close to the center of things. Maps no longer put Jerusalem in the middle, but we get far more than our share of media attention.

A Palestinian student once told me that his people's good fortune was to be associated with the Jews. Anything else would have caused their disappearance from the world stage after one or another of their demands that were too much for a more powerful neighbor.

Among the correlates of being the Chosen People is being "a light unto the Gentiles." This means being held to a higher standard than others, perhaps all others.

Some of the disproportionate condemnations from the United Nations and other international organizations may reflect expectations of our being that light. Mixed with that, and perhaps more important, is the power and nastiness of the Muslim voting bloc. And one suspects the weight of anti-Semitism, which has been around about as long as we have been the Chosen People, although it only acquired the label of anti-Semitism in recent centuries.

Also involved in the world's attention to the Jews--including those of Israel--is our success. Our disproportionate share of Nobel prizes may match the disproportion of international censure. Jealously may come from the economic and cultural successes of Jews wherever they have been free to express themselves and invest in  enterprises. It is symbolic that Israel's climb out of poverty began at about the same time as the most distinguished American universities dropped  the quotas meant to minimize the number of Jews among their students.

Americans are another of the tribes with founding myths that put them at the center of things.

Yet it was a myth taken from ours.  The Puritans thought of themselves living in a "city on a hill," or the New Jerusalem. Mormons altered things a bit. They claimed to be the true Christians, and located Zion in Missouri, with what became their most prominent of competing Mormon Churches bringing the idea to Utah.

The real base of Americans' sense of superiority may come from its size, large population, natural resources, geographical isolation, and being the only one standing at the end of World War II. Its sense of being the New Promised Land--along with a sizable and successful Jewish population--helps explain its affinity for our Promised Land.

And like those of us in the Old Promised Land, Americans' sense of superiority contributes to political bluster from its politicians, and to the animosity of others

Benjamin Netanyahu reflects much that is associated with Israel's prominence, and the discomfort of numerous overseas Jews. Not a few Israelis are also uncomfortable with him, but he ranks with David ben Gurion and Shimon Peres as among Israel's most successful politicians.

Bibi is a great speaker in two languages.

He expresses a strident view of national needs, in a way that attracts considerable attention overseas. His hyperbolic bombast also puts him in a league with the Jewish nouveau riche who provoked the wedding scene in Goodbye Columbus. Admiration and distaste compete in the feelings about Bibi, with Sara adding to the picture.

Bibi's appearance before Congress was his peak, to date. It wasn't the first time he spoke there, and he wasn't the first head of a foreign state to appear. However, he differed from most other visitors to Congress by dealing with a matter of importance, that was highly controversial in American politics.

He challenged the President, who clearly didn't want him in Washington.

The results are hard to gauge,  but we can say, mixed. The President has had to concede at least a minimum role for Congress in dealing with Iran, and has spoken in ways to suggest that he will not appear as a pushover for the mullahs.

At home, Bibi is behaving like Bibi. He did not give a major appointment to the Likudnik (Gilad Erdan) viewed as positioning himself as Bibi's successor, provided appointments to firm right wingers from Jewish Home and Likud thought by some to be extremists, but has always shied away from implementing any clear move to the right.

France has sought to move forward the peace process with the Palestinians in the UN, but it is far from certain that--if anything passes--it will be more than a symbolic utterance. President Obama often says that he remains committed to a two state solution, but is saying that neither Palestinians nor Israelis are ready for a commitment.

Alan Dershowitz comes down both on Bibi's side and on Barack's side in a recent op-ed. Neither were as elegant as Alan would have preferred, but both scored okay.

In short, we aren't leaving the headlines. We may not have as many as the Americans, but we get a lot of attention despite having a small population and a tiny homeland.

Compared to our long history with imperial powers (Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, Turkey, Britain, and now the US), we now have the capacity to avoid being pushed to where we don't want to go.


Given our history, things aren't all that bad.

Also given our history, we're arguing about all of the above.