Culturally, It is hard to analyze the impact that Leon Uris’s 1958 novel Exodus had on North American perceptions. On the best seller list for nineteen weeks, this sanitized history of the founding of Israel went on to sell over 20 million copies. ”Not worth much as literature,”David Ben- Gurion commented,”but but as a piece of propaganda, it’s the best thing ever written about Israel.”
North American Jews always had an idealized portrait of Israel . Steven Rosenthal wrote that “the vast majority of American Jews have remained astonishingly ignorant of the object of their devotion, Israel. Popular culture and fiction like Uris’s Exodus sufficed to give many jews a deeper attachment to Israel particularly after the i967 war.
The late Palestinian exile and public intellectual Edward Said spoke for many when he stated that the novel “still dominates American thinking.” While this is less true today, there is no doubt that Uris’s novel had a powerful validating effect on American Jewry thirteen years after the smoke dissipated over the death camps of Europe and Jews were still barred from country clubs.
Two years later the movie followed starring Paul Newman as Ari Ben Canaan, the new “tough” Jew. What chance had swarthy Palestinians next to Newman’s blue eyes?
The scale began dropping from these same eyes after the 1982 invasion of Lebanon when they watched the cruel handiwork of the anti-Arab Ariel Sharon who preside over the massacre at Sabra and Shatila camps.
As things grew worse and as the 1988 Intifada deepened the well known Reform Jew Albert Vorspan in the New York Time Magazine (May 8,1988) wrote:
Beyond any issue in recent years, American Jews are traumatized by events in Israel. This is the downside of the euphoric mood after the Six Day War, when we felt 10 feet tall. Now, suffering under the shame and stress of pictures of Israeli brutality televised nightly, we want to crawl into a hole. This is the price we pay for having made of Israel an icon – a surrogate faith, surrogate synagogue, surrogate God. Israel could not withstand our romantic idealization.