But how do most people explain this preoccupation? There is no fully rational explanation for the amount of attention paid to the Jews and the Jewish state. And there is no fully rational explanation for the amount of hatred directed at Jews and the Jewish state.
A lifetime of study of this issue, including writing (with Rabbi Joseph Telushkin) a book on anti-Semitism ("Why the Jews? The Reason for Antisemitism") has convinced me that, along with all the rational explanations, there is one explanation that transcends reason alone.
It is that the Jews are God's chosen people.
Now, believe me, dear reader, I am well aware of the hazards of making such a claim.
It sounds chauvinistic. It sounds racist. And it sounds irrational, if not bizarre.
But it is none of these.
As regards chauvinism, there is not a hint of inherent superiority in the claim of Jewish chosen-ness. In fact, the Jewish Bible, the book that states the Jews are chosen, constantly berates the Jews for their flawed moral behavior. No bible of any other religion is so critical of the religious group affiliated with that bible as the Hebrew Scriptures are of the Jews.
As for racism, Jewish chosen-ness cannot be racist by definition. Here is why: a) The Jews are not a race; there are Jews of every race. And b) any person of any race, ethnicity or nationality can become a member of the Jewish people and thereby be as chosen as Abraham, Moses, Jeremiah or the chief rabbi of Israel.
And with regard to chosen-ness being an irrational or even bizarre claim, it must be so only to atheists. They don't believe in a Chooser, so they cannot believe in a Chosen. But for most believing Jews and Christians (most particularly the Founders who saw America as a Second Israel, a second Chosen People), Jewish Chosen-ness has been a given. And even the atheist must look at the evidence and conclude that the Jews play a role in history that defies reason.
Can reason alone explain how a hodgepodge of ex-slaves was able to change history -- to introduce the moral God-Creator we know as God; to write the world's most influential book, the Bible; to devise ethical monotheism; to be the only civilization to deny the cyclical worldview and give humanity belief in a linear (i.e., purposeful) history; to provide morality-driven prophets and so much more -- without God playing the decisive role in this people's history?
Without the Jews, there would be no Christianity (a fact acknowledged by the great majority of Christians) and no Islam (a fact acknowledged by almost no Muslims). Read Thomas Cahill's "The Gifts of the Jews" or Paul Johnson's "A History of the Jews" to get an idea about how much this people changed history.
What further renders the claim for Jewish chosen-ness worthy of rational consideration is that virtually every other nation has perceived itself as chosen or otherwise divinely special. For example, China means "Middle Kingdom" in Chinese -- meaning that China is at the center of the world; and Japan considers itself the land where the sun originates ("Land of the Rising Sun"). The difference between Jewish chosen-ness and other nations' similar claims is that no one cares about any other group considering itself Chosen, while vast numbers of non-Jews have either believed the Jews' claim or have hated the Jews for it.
Perhaps the greatest evidence for the Jews' chosen-ness has been provided in modern times, during which time evil has consistently targeted the Jews:
-- Nazi Germany was more concerned with exterminating the Jews than with winning World War II.
-- Throughout its 70-year history, the Soviet Union persecuted its Jews and tried to extinguish Judaism. Hatred of Jews was one thing communists and Nazis shared.
-- The United Nations has spent more time discussing and condemning the Jewish state than any other country in the world. Yet, this state is smaller than every Central American country, including El Salvador, Panama and even Belize. Imagine if the amount of attention paid to Israel were paid to Belize -- who would not think there was something extraordinary about that country?
-- Much of the contemporary Muslim world -- and nearly all the Arab world -- is obsessed with annihilating the one Jewish state.
In the words of Catholic scholar Father Edward Flannery, the Jews carry the burden of God in history. Most Jews, being secular, do not believe this. And many Jews dislike talk of chosen-ness because they fear it will increase anti-Semitism; they may be right.
But it doesn't alter the fact that the obsession with one of the smallest countries and smallest peoples on earth, and the unique hatred of the Jews and the Jewish state by the world's most vicious ideologies, can be best explained only in transcendent terms. Namely that God, for whatever reason, chose the Jews.