Fascinating article by Joel Schalit on the role of a fantasized Israeli identity for certain American right-wingers. Schalit talks about the importance of online commenters who claim to be Israelis bringing the truths of Israel’s unstable situation to an ignorant US left audience, who on examination turn out in fact not to be Israelis or indeed Jews, but traditional American Christian Zionists. A fantasy about Israel as a hard-headed reality serves a particular function in explaining American foreign policy.
Maybe the most sophisticated instance of this is the character of Ziva David on NCIS. Ziva, a former Mossad agent turned NCIS investigator, is an interesting character. She’s able, elegant, and humorous, as well as being somewhat psychologically damaged in the sort of way that makes for appealing TV characters.
But she also functions as an odd metonym for Israel. Her Mossad background is, mainly in her early appearances, brought up through references to her abilities as a murderer and torturer, that is, through her extra-legal callousness. The show is both shocked by and charmed with this ruthlessness – Ziva is frequently reminded by other characters that her methods are not satisfactory in America, with a blend of pride, awe, and regret. Ziva, and thus Israel, is presented here as sublime in Burke’s sense, as inspiring a kind of fear that leads to respect.
Israel, in the person of Ziva, functions as a kind of screen onto which Americans can plan the terrible things America actually does abroad, but which it is ideologically committed to claiming not to do. I wonder if the consent of the assassination of bin Laden is an evident sign that US ideology has changed such that this disavowal is no longer necessary.