Fred Shahrabani

Shared Values and Benjamin Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu and the ministers of his coalition should listen to the former Benjamin Netanyahu

Many ministers in Israel’s present government have a contentious relationship with democracy as a sacred national value.  They realize the paramount importance of Israel’s ties with America, however they harbor a misconception that underneath the rhetoric of “shared values” and “democracy” that relationship has always really been one of “shared interests.” Such a deep misconception of how America and Americans view Israel holds tremendous risks for Israel.

In these moments, so fraught with danger, they should take time to contemplate the vast gulf between “shared interests” and “shared values.”

Shared values do not change with circumstance. Shared interests, however, do. It behooves them to recall that moment when the common interests of Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump diverged: the last time Trump referred to Netanyahu in public was to exclaim: “Fuck him!” when told that Netanyahu had congratulated President Biden for winning the 2020 US elections.

Betting on “shared interests” to supplant “shared values” is a hazardous gamble for Israel.

It behooves all those who care for the future of Israel to recall that special relationship between Israel and America.  One person who was always keenly aware of the importance of that relationship was Benjamin Netanyahu.

If certain Israeli ministers do not comprehend the danger in routinely, rudely, and ignorantly demanding that America butt out of Israel’s internal affairs when American leaders remind Israel of their “shared values,” then there might be no more effective way to understand the enormous benefits for a small nation in having the world’s most powerful country view it as a sister nation, than by studying the speeches and statements of Benjamin Netanyahu that celebrate these “shared values” and “common bonds.”

It is a great tragedy that Netanyahu in his final act as Israel’s leader has placed his personal interests above that of his nation.  However, we would do well to allow his words, hypocritical as they sound now, to remind us of the shared values that buttress that great alliance between America and Israel.

Here follow excerpts of Netanyahu’s speeches before American audiences followed by remarks by American presidents and other Israeli leaders:

First Speech to a Joint Session of Congress                                                              Washington, D.C., July 10 1996

I recognize, Mr. Speaker, that the great honor you have bestowed on me is not personal. It is a tribute to the unshakable fact that the unique relationship between Israel and the United States… It is a relationship between two peoples who share a total commitment to the spirit of democracy, and infinite dedication to freedom
You, the people of America, offered the fledgling Jewish state succor and support…I know that I speak for every Israeli and every Jew throughout the world when I say to you today: Thank you, people of America…

We are confident that America, once again, will not fail to take the lead in protecting our free civilization…And I believe there is no greater, more noble, more responsible force than the united front of democracy, led by the world’s greatest democracy, the United States.


Second Speech to a Joint Session of Congress, delivered 24 May 2011, Washington, D.C

Israel has no better friend than America. And America has no better friend than Israel.

We stand together to defend democracy…In an unstable Middle East, Israel is the one anchor of stability. In a region of shifting alliances, Israel is America’s unwavering ally.

Israel has always been pro-American. Israel will always be pro-American.

My friends, you don’t have to — you don’t need to do nation building in Israel. We’re already built. You don’t need to export democracy to Israel.

We’ve already got it.  … liberty, is not paved by elections alone. It’s paved when governments permit protests in town squares, when limits are placed on the powers of rulers, when judges are beholden to laws and not men, and when human rights cannot be crushed by tribal loyalties or mob rule.


Third Speech to a Joint Session of Congress

delivered 3 March 2015, Washington, D.C.

I want to thank you, Democrats and Republicans, for your common support for Israel, year after year, decade after decade. I know that no matter on which side of the aisle you sit, you stand with Israel. The remarkable alliance between Israel and the United States has always been above politics. It must always remain above politics. Because America and Israel, we share a common destiny, the destiny of promised lands that cherish freedom and offer hope. Israel is grateful for the support of American — of America’s people and of America’s presidents, from Harry Truman to Barack Obama.


Speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Conference, delivered 22 March 2010, Washington, D.C.

Israel, like any democracy, has its imperfections; but we strive to correct them through open debate and through scrutiny. Israel has independent courts, the rule of law, a free press and a vigorous parliamentary debate… My friends, as the world faces monumental challenges, I know that America and Israel will face them together. We stand together because we’re fired by the same ideals and inspired by the same dreams…


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s Conference delivered on March 6, 2018, Washington DC

Ladies and Gentlemen, I’ve spoken about the good and the bad – there’s plenty of both. But I want to end with a few words about the beautiful – the beautiful alliance between Israel and the United States of America, the beautiful alliance that has brought all of you here to Washington, the beautiful alliance that you work day in and day out to make stronger and to make better…

What is this beautiful alliance made of? It’s made of our shared values. That’s the well-spring of the great alliance between our two countries…

And all you have to do is leave this room, leave this hall, and you walk around a few blocks from here, and you see these majestic monuments, you can learn from them all about our common values. You know, they come from a certain book, a great book, a good book. It’s called the Bible. It said that all of us are created in the image of God. And those words inspired Jefferson when he declared in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal. All women too, by the way…

These values are an inseparable part of America’s story. They’re an inseparable part of Israel’s story. And today, together, we are writing a new chapter in our common story, a story of freedom, of justice, of peace, of hope. And it is because we are inspired by the same ideas, because we are animated by the same values that America and Israel have forged an eternal bond that can never ever be broken.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s Conference delivered 2011, Washington DC

Yesterday I had a great day. They let me out. Sara and I could actually go for a walk. And I have to congratulate the American security services. They’re a little more generous than ours. So we walked along the Potomac and we got to visit Washington’s majestic memorials.

I read Jefferson’s timeless words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” I read Lincoln’s immortal address, “government of the people, for the people, by the people.”

Now, let me tell you why these words resonate so powerfully with me and with all Israelis – because they’re rooted in ideas first championed by our people, the Jewish people, the idea that all men are created in God’s image, that no ruler is above the law, that everyone is entitled to justice.

These are revolutionary Jewish ideas, and they were spoken thousands of years ago – when vast empires ruled the earth, vast slave empires ruled the world. And the Jews spoke these truths. Israel is the cradle of our common civilization. It’s the crucible of our common values. And the modern state of Israel was founded precisely on these eternal values

My friends, Israel and America have drawn from these deep well springs of our common values. We forged an enduring friendship not merely between our governments, but between our peoples. Support for Israel doesn’t divide America. It unites America. It unites the old and the young, liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans…

Democracy – real, genuine democracy. And by democracy, I don’t just mean elections. I mean freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of assembly, the rights for women, for gays, for minorities, for everyone. What the people of Israel want is for the people of the Middle East to have what you have in America, what we have in Israel — democracy. So it’s time to recognize this basic truth. Israel is not what’s wrong with the Middle East. Israel is what’s right about the Middle East…

…tonight I want to express Israel’s gratitude for all you are doing to help strengthen Israel and the great alliance that Israel has with America. You helped maintain our qualitative military edge… Thank you for the American-Israel alliance.


Should Israel’s present ministers remain unconvinced that Netanyahu truly understood the American psyche, it would behoove them to recall how American presidents have described their allegiance to Israel, and how other Israeli Prime Ministers and Presidents addressed America. This is a very short review of the exchanges between the leaders of Israel and America regarding shared values, common destiny, and friendship.  

John Kennedy

Remarks by Senator John F. Kennedy, Zionists of America Convention, Statler Hilton Hotel, New York, NY, August 26, 1960

Three weeks ago I said in a public statement: “Israel is here to stay.” The next day I was attacked by Cairo radio, rebuking me for my faith in Israel, and quoting this criticism from the Arabic newspaper Al-Gomhouria:

“As for the question of the existence and the nonexistence of Israel, Mr. Kennedy says that Israel has been created in order to exist. Time will judge between us, Mr. Kennedy.”

I agree. Time will judge whether Israel will continue to exist. But I wish I could be as sure of all my prophecies as I am of my flat prediction that Israel is here to stay.

For Israel was not created in order to disappear – Israel will endure and flourish. It is the child of hope and the home of the brave. It can neither be broken by adversity nor demoralized by success. It carries the shield of democracy and it honors the sword of freedom; and no area of the world has ever had an overabundance of democracy and freedom.


Jimmy Carter:

Remarks at the Democratic National Committee, October 22, 1977

A few days ago in a conversation with about 30 members of the House of Representatives. I said that I would rather commit suicide than hurt Israel…there is a common bond of commitment to the same principles of openness and freedom and democracy and strength and courage that ties us together in an irrevocable way.

Ronald Reagan

Remarks at the Welcoming Ceremony for Prime Minister Menahem Begin of Israel , September, 9 1981

“I welcome this chance to further strengthen the unbreakable ties between the United States and Israel and to assure you of our commitment to Israel’s security and well-being. Israel and America may be thousands of miles apart, but we are philosophical neighbors sharing a strong commitment to democracy and the rule of law. What we hold in common are the bonds of trust and friendship, qualities that in our eyes make Israel a great nation. No people have fought longer, struggled harder, or sacrificed more than yours in order to survive, to grow, and to live in freedom.”


George H. W. Bush

Remarks at a Dinner Honoring Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir of Israel, April 6, 1989

“… the friendship, the alliance between the United States and Israel is strong and solid — built upon a foundation of shared democratic values, of shared history and heritage that sustain the moral life of our two countries. The emotional bond of our peoples goes — it transcends politics. Our strategic cooperation — and I renewed today our determination that that go forward — is a source of mutual security. And the United States’ commitment to the security of Israel remains unshakable. We may differ over some policies from time to time, individual policies, but never over this principle.”


Bill Clinton                                                                                                                              The President’s News Conference With Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel, March 15, 1993

Israel’s democracy is the bedrock on which our relationship stands. It’s a shining example for people around the world who are on the frontline of the struggle for democracy in their own lands. Our relationship is also based on our common interest in a more stable and peaceful Middle East, a Middle East that will finally accord Israel the recognition and acceptance that its people have yearned for so long and have been too long denied, a Middle East that will know greater democracy for all its peoples.”


 George W Bush

Remarks to Forward, September 3, 2004

For more than a generation, the United States and Israel have been steadfast allies. Our nations are bound by our shared values and a strong commitment to freedom. These ties that have made us natural allies will never be broken. Israel and the United States share a common history: We are both nations born of struggle and sacrifice. We are both founded by immigrants escaping religious persecution in other lands. Through the labors and strides of generations, we have both built vibrant democracies, founded in the rule of law and market economies. And we are both countries established with certain basic beliefs: that God watches over the affairs of men and values every human life.”


Barack Obama                                                               

Remarks at the Jerusalem International Convention Center
Jerusalem, March 21, 2013

Israel has established a thriving democracy…And Israel has achieved all this even as it’s overcome relentless threats to its security — through the courage of the Israel Defense Forces, and the citizenry that is so resilient in the face of terror.

This is the story of Israel.  This is the work that has brought the dreams of so many generations to life.  And every step of the way, Israel has built unbreakable bonds of friendship with my country, the United States of America.

Those ties began only 11 minutes after Israeli independence, when the United States was the first nation to recognize the State of Israel.   As President Truman said in explaining his decision to recognize Israel, he said, “I believe it has a glorious future before it not just as another sovereign nation, but as an embodiment of the great ideals of our civilization.”

And since then, we’ve built a friendship that advances our shared interests…Together we share a stake in the success of democracy…the source of our friendship extends beyond mere interests, just as it has transcended political parties and individual leaders…We are governed not simply by men and women, but by laws.  We’re fueled by entrepreneurship and innovation, and we are defined by a democratic discourse that allows each generation to reimagine and renew our union once more.  So in Israel, we see values that we share, even as we recognize what makes us different.  That is an essential part of our bond


Statements by Israeli Prime Ministers and Presidents

Menachem Begin
Address to President Carter at the Knesset, Jerusalem, March 13, 1979

Mr. President, blessed be your arrival in the land of Israel. Of this visit we may say, following the psalmist: “Now we stand within your gates, O Jerusalem, that is built to be a city where people come together in unity.”

Mr. President, before you is the Israeli Knesset. It contains various parties and various views. As you see, our democracy is beautiful

[In English:] How beautiful is our democracy, Mr. President!

Mr. President, our two peoples are bound by deep friendship — your great nation and our nation. There is no written alliance between us. It is inscribed, in our hearts. The great majority in this house see your nation and admire it, because they are a free people. And I have heard you say that your nation is fond of Israel because it — our people — is a free people.

…We are an integral part of the free world. For this reason it is with concern that we view developments in the region and in other parts of the world. There are today 151 nations in the United Nations. Only 35 are countries practicing democracy, with an independent judiciary, a free press which may criticize and even attack the elected government, a parliamentary opposition which has the full right to criticize and also to attack those whom the people have entrusted with the task of forming a government, and more. In the past two years six states have come under totalitarian rule. The free world must ask itself: Whither are we bound?…

When you return home. Mr President, tell your nation: We have an ally in the Middle East. It practises liberty, loves peace, wants it with all its heart, Its elected representatives have made sacrifices and assumed risks for it, and they will be faithful to any signature to any document. And tell your great nation also, Mr. President. Indeed, yes, you of the American people have an ally in the Middle East — free but loyal, and stable as only a democracy can be.

Tell your nation, Mr. President, that the people of Israel and the American people, as we believe, you and I, will always stand together, in all the tests and trials, for peace, justice and liberty.


President Ephraim Katzir

Remarks welcoming President Nixon at Ben Gurion Airport, June 16, 1974

Mr. President, Mrs. Nixon, distinguished guests from the United States, ladies and gentlemen, blessed are you who come in the name of peace:

You are the first President of the United States to visit the State of Israel, and we welcome you and Mrs. Nixon and the distinguished members of your party with a very warm shalom. Your visit to our country is an occasion of joy as well as of great significance for us.

The United States has stood by the side of Israel from the day of her rebirth as a sovereign state. Throughout the years, the great American people have demonstrated their friendship. In hours of trial, we have enjoyed your sympathy and support just as we always have benefited from your Nation’s generosity in helping us to advance our country and to bring a better life to our people.

…We are grateful to our great sister democracy and to you, Mr. President, for all that has been done and is being done to strengthen us in our national rebuilding. You will have some opportunity to observe for yourself what has been accomplished in transforming this once barren land into a fast developing and vibrant country

On behalf of the Government of Israel and the people of Israel, and in the spirit of the profound friendship between our nations, I bid you Barukh Haba, blessed be he who comes.


Yitzhak Rabin

Joint Press Conference, White House, March 16, 1994

Mr. President, the Vice-President, Secretary of State, dear friends. It was important and worthwhile to meet today with the president and its team, to know and appreciate what we have known for a long time, that the friendship and trust between our two countries are profound, and now as good, if not better, than they have ever been. We could not ask for more.

For this, Mr. President, please accept our gratitude. It is good to know that a great nation blessed with values and democracy stands with us for the greatest battle still to come, the battle for peace.

About the Author
Fred was raised and educated in Tehran. He hails from a family of Iraqi Jews who fled Iraq, and subsequently, in the wake of the the 1979 Islamic Revolution, fled Iran. His parents spent formative years in Israel. As Arab Jews and Zionists who experienced the generosity of Moslem culture, and in particular the high spirit, hospitality, and graciousness afforded them in Iran, his perspective is formed by many of the historic events that engulfed the region.