You may not be old enough to remember a world without Israel or a world unable to prevent the Nazis from murdering most of European Jewry. You may not know that in 1943 a delegation of 400 rabbis, unable to secure an appointment with President Roosevelt, traveled to Washington. They hoped that if they simply showed up at his door, he might be willing to see some of them and hear their pleas on behalf of European Jews whose situation was increasingly desperate. History records that “[on] the advice of his aides, FDR…intentionally avoided the rabbis by leaving the White House through a rear exit while they marched silently in front.”
Here were the most distinguished rabbis representing the most successfully integrated Jewish community in history, a community that had arrived in America before its Declaration of Independence, one that had made significant contributions to American life, and one that now was powerless to help its brethren. This metaphor of Jewish impotence would only be more dramatic if the president had literally slammed the door in the rabbis’ faces.
Such impotence was a primal characteristic of Jewish life for thousands of years prior to the existence of Israel, the powerful modern Jewish state of Israel.
Some of us are old enough to remember the little blue and white “pushka” (box) into which we put our coins for the Jewish National Fund. Some of us who saved those coins, which were ultimately used to purchase land in Israel and to plant the forests that wrested it from the desert, may still view Israel as American Jewry’s little sister. But the modern relationship between Jews and Israel and between America and Israel is no longer one of supplicant and benefactor; it is now not only a reciprocal relationship but one that is vital to American as well as Jewish interests.
The Israeli-American relationship began to change as a result of the Six Day War in 1967. Facing Egyptian and Syrian armies that were well equipped and backed by the Soviet Union (as well as a Jordanian army supported by America), Israel was threatened with extinction. Once again, an American president, this time Lyndon Johnson, turned his back. Mired in the Viet Nam conflict, Johnson didn’t want to risk a proxy war with the Soviets in the Middle East. He asked Israel to refrain from military action, which would have been suicidal, and made it clear that no aid would be forthcoming. Israel had no choice but to defeat her enemies herself.
Israel prevailed. But, as Bret Stephens says, “For the crime of self-preservation, Israel remains a nation unforgiven.” Facts too often present feeble armor against powerful myths, such as the inversion of Israel from David to Goliath. One fact-forgotten-is that nine days after the war, Israel offered to return all territories in exchange for peace, an offer refused by the Arab League meeting in Khartoum where they issued their famous “Three No’s”: “no peace, no negotiations, and no recognition of Israel.” Another forgotten fact is that despite their victory, Israel placed Jerusalem’s Islamic holy sites and the Temple Mount itself, the most sacred Jewish site, under the jurisdiction of the Muslim Waqf. To this day, the Waqf has refused to allow Jews to pray there but Israel willingly made this sacrifice in hope of peace.
The Six Day War’s lesson to Israel was unequivocal: Israeli survival depended on Israeli power. But the war was also the beginning of an important lesson for the United States. Although it had initially failed to support Israel during the Six Day War, the United States recognized the Soviet threat in the region and the value of a “strategic relationship with Israel.”
Despite this recognition, in 1973, when Israel was again thrust into battle by powerful Arab armies seeking her destruction, her pleas for assistance from the United States were initially met with delays at a cost of many Israeli lives. This was due, in part, to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s fear of disrupting detente with the Soviet Union. President Nixon, on the other hand, was appalled by the possibility of an Israeli defeat and furious when he learned of Kissinger’s delays. Nixon was concerned that the Soviets were strengthening their influence in the Middle East by re-supplying weapons to Egypt and Syria. He ordered supplies be sent to Israel. To everyone’s astonishment, Israel, who had been clearly losing the war, once again prevailed beating back the Arab forces and gaining territory in the Sinai and the Golan.
This war also had important consequences for the American-Israeli relationship. First it reinforced the fact that America and Israel shared a common enemy, the Soviet Union. Second, Israel’s victory using American weapons against Soviet weaponry provided the Americans with important information about those weapons in actual combat situations. Third, Israel’s capture of a Soviet tank was “an intelligence coup for the U.S military…” American general, Secretary of State and NATO Supreme Commander Alexander Haig would refer to Israel as “…the largest American aircraft carrier in the world that cannot be sunk, does not carry even one American soldier, and is located in a critical region for American national security.” Israel’s role as a strategic asset was firmly established.
Since that time, the United States has continued to nurture its alliance with Israel. Yet Jews comprise only 2% of the population in America. If support for Israel depended only on advocacy from this small community, it would hardly be sufficient. Although Israel is the only Middle Eastern ally that fully shares our democratic values, this too is not sufficient reason for American to allocate foreign assistance to her.
There are more powerful and compelling reasons for this aid. These include Israel’s formidable contributions to American intelligence, military and cyber security, counterterrorism, science and technology, medicine and robotics. In addition, as our 23rd largest trading partner (2014), exports to Israel create jobs in America. Taken together, these contributions are one of America’s finest returns on foreign investment. America realizes, “The strategic logic that first brought the two countries together to fight Soviet influence and counter radical Arab nationalism during the Cold War endures amid the current challenges of political Islam and violent extremism.”
If anything, violent extremism is more of a threat than ever with Islamic extremists among the relentless and innovative forces dedicated specifically to anti-Semitism. They wreak terror against Jews in Europe and throughout the world. They incite aggression toward pro-Israeli college students on American campuses. Palestinians make good on their daily televised threats to annihilate Israel and kill Israelis by engaging in assaults against innocent citizens. Iran threatens to destroy both Israel and America.
Once a year, Israelis commemorate Yom HaShoah, a memorial day for all those killed in the Holocaust. It is not uncommon to hear Israelis say, “If only we had our air force then…,” referring to the War years. No less a figure than Pope Francis posed the question, “The great powers had photographs of the railway routes that the trains took to… Auschwitz…why didn’t they bomb them?” Roosevelt had various excuses for refusing to do this but the fact is that although Allied planes flew over the camp, “they knowingly failed to bomb [it].”
In 2003, three Israeli pilots, sons of Holocaust survivors, flew Israeli Air Force F-15 jets over Auschwitz. “We are sending a message…It’s true that we’re 60 years late, but the State of Israel will ensure that there will never be another Auschwitz.”
Since power is so frequently abused, idealists may see it as inherently ugly. They need to be reminded that without it, good deeds cannot make the journey from intention to reality. With a powerful Israeli state, the door will never again be slammed in the faces of Jewish representatives. With a powerful Israeli state, America has a true partner-an equal, not a supplicant-an asset to American interests.
[References upon request]