External Americanization, Internal Americanization

Two things made me write this piece. The first is Tally Gotliv’s reaction to the report which promised United States sanctions against the IDF’s Netzah Yehuda. In her reaction she wrote: “Who do you think you are, US, that dares to sanction IDF’s Haredi battalion Netzah Yehuda? Modern-day Antisemite! I’ve had enough of the US’ control over us and these open threats”.

The second is a YouTube video by German creator Lucas Bender. In it, he analyzes 35 distinct German “political tribes”, not ideologically, but culturally. His is a German version of a YouTube video by J.J. McCullough. This made me think of a different video by McCullough, exploring the differences between Canadian and American cultures. In it, the differences presented are situated in general culture, language quirks, holidays, education, and work ethic.

These two things made me think of Americanization. In Israel, but also elsewhere, Americanization is divided into two. The more notable external Americanization, and the less obvious internal Americanization.

More than the US’ status as a massive economic power, and the unipolar hegemon, the United States is a political and cultural juggernaut. The US’ cultural artifacts – cultural standards, films, television, music, and economic domination through brands and investment – are dominating every single place on earth. In most countries, this is the most prominent aspect of Americanization, the external one. We can see it with Starbucks in Warsaw, Oppenheimer in Japan, or the proliferation of the word sorry instead of Sliḥa in Israel. This also includes American cultural slang, cultural conceptions, and American history perceived as global slang, culture, and history.

Another variant of Americanization is the internal variant. Internal Americanization is when US’ policy is heavily considered or prioritized over the “host” country’s one. An extreme case of internal Americanization is the internalization of US policy and culture into the fabric of the host’s politics.

To exemplify the milder version, we can look at Japan. Following World War II, Japan’s military, economic and political policies were determined in large part by the US. These were decided on by, generally, one-sided treaties. Most notable is the American-Japanese security treaty of 1951. The treaty’s renewal in 1960 was met with massive public protests. This included giant demonstrations in front of the Japanese Parliament (the Diet) led by Japanese student, socialist, and communist organizations. The treaty was renewed nonetheless, with a certain change in terms. In practice, the US kept permanent military presence in Japan, and was not obligated to inform or consult Japan’s government regarding troop movement, except “from time to time”.

On the other hand, we can look at France. Its external Americanization is much weaker than Japan’s or Israel’s. Yes, there are many American brands all-over France, including the omnipresent McDonalds. However, American cultural cliques and slang did not take root in France. In its internal aspect, France is different than Japan. A year ago, Emmanuel Macron distanced France from the US-China trade war. Just this past week Macron has warned of Europe’s “death” if it would not adopt “sovereignty”, or strategic autonomy from the US.

And yet, the United States’ existence within Japanese and French political sphere makes the United States an active political actor within them. This develops a certain transnational absurdity. Internally Americanized nations, in deciding on political policy, are expected to consider the interests of a country a hemisphere away. And yet, in Israel, these two aspects of Americanization are absolutely in-force.

In the external sense, Israel is the first country in the Middle East to host a McDonalds, in 1993. American cultural impact is also obvious. In television, such as the dozens of entertainment shows directly translated from English (Survival, Big Brother, Singer in the Mask, Master Chef); in conceptualization of the effect of American politics on Israel, and its reaction (see, e.g., “Trump Heights”); and in general, the Israeli concept of “the Uncle from America”, as a cultural omnipresence of the American bigger sibling. This is of course externalized as well, with Israel being the “little Satan”.

The internal sense is much more convoluted. Israel has stood, several times, against a firm and direct American request for action or inaction. Among them are the Sinai war, operation Defensive Shield, and Israeli actions against the Iranian nuclear program. On the other hand, justly or unjustly, Israel is perceived to be an American branch in the Middle East. This is exemplified through American funding to Israeli air defense systems, as well as US foreign aid to Israel (with overall aid sent to Israel being the largest).

Almost every military action taken by Israel in the current war was coordinated with the United States. All the options for “the day after” were privately or publically discussed with American officials. Some have also said that the force of Israel’s retaliation to Iran’s direct attack was calculated to meet American demands for their support of IDF operations in Rafah.

However, a much more noticeable internalization of American politics is contrarian political culture. Referring back to Lucas Bender’s and J.J. McCullough’s videos, I tried to think of 35 political tribes in Israel. I came up with little, especially following the 2023 judicial overhaul protests, and the Iron Swords war. I could think of two main factions: Pro-government, and anti-government. There are other, smaller ones like Pardes Hanna spiritualists, Ale Yarok voters, centrists, post-Zionist intelligentsia, etc. But they are a tiny minority. The majority of political discourse revolves, for the past eight years or so, around one person, Benajmin Netanyahu. This hasn’t changed in the war or following it. There is no middle way. Perhaps there can’t be in the current political playground.

This becomes even more absurd when the alleged political ideology of a group is directly contradicted by the actions of the faction’s leader. Yet, still presented as a true anti-“other camp” action. Or, on the other hand, any negative issue becomes an issue caused by the other faction. This makes American policy and political culture an active and living partner in Israeli cultural zeitgeist and political consciousness.

Therefore, Gotliv is expressing, in the beginning of her comment, a dialogue with an equal political counterpart: “Who do you think you are, US?”. According to Gotliv, and according to the history of the experience of Americanization in Israel and abroad, the US is a relevant (though not legitimate, according to Gotliv) political player in the public sphere of criticism.

There’s a question directly stemming from this situation. If the US is an institution that influences public representatives, should that institution be publically accountable? Different people would give different answers. Some could say that if we’re already Americanized, then we’re all-in – make us the 51st. Others would say that there shouldn’t be any influences without representation.

This, of course, does not negate the centrality of the US and Israel strategic alliance for Israel’s safety. This also doesn’t mean that Israel should look for a replacement for the US, or call for a multipolar world. Not at all. It could simply suggest that when discussing Israeli policy, politics, and culture, we perhaps need to consider closely what is us and what is US.

About the Author
Law student and social commentator with research background in international law, jurisprudence, and political theory. Maj. (res.) in the IDF. Born in Homesh, lives in Haifa.
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