Theodore Herzl was a man on a mission to create a Jewish state. He was so dedicated to his pursuit his doctors warned him he was working too hard and his body wouldn’t be able to handle the grueling schedule he was putting himself through. His doctor was unfortunately correct; Herzl died at a young 44 years old. In his diary Herzl predicted his goal of a Jewish state would be achieved within fifty years. He was off by one year. He never got to see his dream of the establishment of a Jewish state.
Over 125 years later, with a successful Jewish State and a thriving Jewish people it’s easy to see the genius of Herzl’s plan. The troubling part of Herzl’s mission was his drive. The Jewish people hadn’t had a state in over 2,000 years. Herzl worked himself to death in a mad spree to get the state established. What was Herzl’s rush in establishing a Jewish State?
Herzl feared the upcoming rise in antisemitism was more than just the usual periodic upticks Jews had seen for hundreds of years. Herzl feared an unprecedented antisemitic event was coming to European Jewry in the coming decades. Herzl could never have imagined something as disastrous as the eventual Holocaust but he was prescient about an upcoming disaster for European Jewry. Herzl knew that the only thing that could save world Jewry would be the establishment of a Jewish state. With its own army the Jewish people can protect themselves.
The Jewish people aimed to gain their independence not only to protect themselves but to actualize their national rights to their historic homeland. As their own people, distinct in values and location from foreign entities for the first time in 2,000 years, the Jewish people would finally be able to exercise their independence from global pressures. They could focus on their own interests without fear of perceptions of dual loyalties.
A facet of national independence would be the Jewish state’s foreign policy. As its own country the Jewish people would deal with other countries based on a number of geopolitical interests, but prioritizing Jewish security and growth. As opposed to life in the ghetto, the Jewish nation wouldn’t make decisions out of fear, but out of ambitious self-interests. As former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin said, “Israel has an important principle: It is only Israel that is responsible for our security.”
The U.S.-Israel relationship is one of the strongest alliances that has ever been formed between two nations. As American President Joe Biden said, “The relationship has never been about individual leaders it’s been about the kinship, the values…The ties between Israel and the United States run deep.” Israel appreciates the support of America and the partnership it has established with the United States.
Countries that form alliances with each other, especially one as strong as the U.S.-Israel partnership must support each other. The nature of a supportive relationship is one of help and not pressure. The two countries can share constructive criticism, offer advice, and urge certain actions and policies of each other. It is crucial that the advice and criticism be offered in the context of support and not pressure. When one side uses it power or leverage over the other to pressure it to change policies it has fundamentally altered the nature of the partnership from one of equality to a heavy-handed bullying relationship.
Henry Kissinger was one of Israel’s biggest supporters in the American government. Israeli President Isaac Herzog said, “Laid the cornerstone of the peace agreement which was later signed with Egypt, and so many other processes around the world… I always felt his love and compassion for Israel and his belief in the Jewish state.” It was Kissinger’s many trips between Israel and her enemies that gave birth to the term “shuttle diplomacy.” His many trips aided Israel in postponing wars and establishing peace with Israel’s enemies.
While Secretary Kissinger supported Israel, he pressured Israel to take on policies it didn’t feel was in its best interests. During the Yom Kippur War he delayed the airlift of supplies that President Nixon ordered to the Israeli military, saying, “Let them bleed.” During that same war, he pressured Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir to open a supply route to Egypt’s Third Army threatening that if she didn’t, the United States would allow the United Nations to impose sanctions on Israel. According to Oded Eran, a former Israeli diplomat and director of the Institute for National Security Studies, “Kissinger was the first person who succeeded in obtaining territorial concessions from Israel with threats and pressure.” Kissinger also recommended to President Ford that the President pressure Israel by threatening to stop the supply of American weapons to Israel.
Secretary Kissinger wasn’t the first American official to pressure Israel, but as the first Jewish American secretary of state, he made it kosher for future American diplomats to use whatever mean possible to pressure Israel into taking steps it felt weren’t in its best interests. Secretary Kissinger was an accomplished American diplomat who supported Israel and did a great deal to help the Jewish state, often at times Israel desperately needed American help. At the same time his use of American aid to pressure Israel was poisonous to the U.S.-Israel relationship and damaged Israel’s independence.
Israel’s independence, the bedrock of the Zionist goal of establishing the Jewish state, is dependent on its ability to set policy and take action based on what it considers to be Israel’s best interests. America pressure of Israel to change policies and take steps Israel feels harms its national security and hampers its growth weakens the U.S.-Israel relationship and Israeli independence. American Presidents, diplomats, and elected officials must temper their desire to pressure Israel and recognize that whatever short term gains such pressure might produce, the long term damage outweighs the gain. It is in American and Israeli interests that the two nations support and not pressure each other.