Emanuel Cohen

Why American Jews Should Still Care About America

U.S. and Israeli flags are flown in 2012
U.S. and Israeli Flags Flown in 2012/Maj Stephanie Addison, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

On Dec. 10, 1987, Hamas’ leaders fatefully enshrined their vision for the future of the land of Israel: a state, run by Islamic militants and ruled by sharia law, to be established through the means of jihad. Not by popular democratic will, nor by peaceful cooperation or negotiation, but by the murder, the slaughter, of civilians. Nearly 40 years later, on Oct. 7, 2023, that vision was perpetuated through a series of brutal attacks on Israel.

Hamas originally codified within its charter that the “day of judgment will not come about until Muslims fight Jews and kill them.” In what most likely was an attempt to attract further empathy from the academic and progressive field, it stated in its 2017 “revision” of its charter that it rejects the “persecution of any human being or the undermining of his or her rights on nationalist, religious or sectarian grounds.” You read that correctly: Hamas does not discriminate. On Oct. 7, the Hamas terrorists who violently stormed into Israel did not discriminate. They didn’t discriminate between men, women and children. Nor did they discriminate between babies, foreigners and elderly Holocaust survivors. They kidnapped, injured, murdered, beheaded and incinerated anyone throughout the area surrounding the Gaza Strip, with at least 200 people remaining as hostages and rockets raining down daily over Israeli cities in the weeks since. 

As UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, these attacks “did not happen in a vacuum.” While Guterres was accusing Israel of provoking these attacks, his words inadvertently highlight a pattern of external involvement by actors who seek the downfall of Israel. 

Iran provided meaningful guidance, intelligence and training to Hamas militants and leaders in preparation of the Oct. 7 attacks. Iran has for nearly 40 years called for the extermination of the State of Israel. It trains, supplies, and finances Hezbollah, another terrorist entity stationed on Israel’s northern border and provides weapons and training to Houthi militants in Yemen, who just recently declared war on Israel. All of this has occurred as Iran seeks to pursue its own nuclear weapon to further threaten Israel, the U.S. and any Gulf state who dares to cross its path. Iran’s attacks on freedom also occur within its own borders as it clamps down on free speech and expression. 

But Iran’s campaign of destruction is not limited to the Middle East; Iran has recently signed agreements to supply Russia with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to further maim and kill Ukrainian front line defenders. These weapons will directly aid in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, an invasion which has verifiably killed nearly 10,000 civilians (and unofficially likely many more). Russia hasn’t conducted its latest violation of humanity in the way “traditional” wars are fought. New testimony has emerged of actual Russian rape and torture of captives. These reports build upon earlier reports that Russia has kidnapped Ukrainian children and forcibly brought them back to Russia to grow up “as Russians.” Some of the atrocities that Hamas perpetrated on Oct. 7 are similar to Russia’s massacre in Bucha in Ukraine in March 2022 (just one example of Russian brutality). 

Further east, in Xinjiang Province in China, the Chinese government has largely succeeded in destroying the province’s most populous minority: Uyghur Muslims. China has arrested, detained, tortured and kidnapped at least one million predominantly Muslim ethnic Uyghurs for the purposes of “reeducation.” It uses Uyghurs to conduct forced labor to prop up Chinese manufacturing. China is engaged in a global race to topple the principles of freedom and democracy worldwide in its quest to suppress American power and the institutions that it has shaped since WWII. Whether it be through its impending military invasion of Taiwan to cripple one of the region’s most successful democracies, or its facilitation of the poisoning of American citizens via the sale of fentanyl and its components to Mexican cartels, China is engaged, albeit perhaps more indirectly than Iran and Russia, in a campaign of terror and destruction.

The above three actors – Russia, Iran and China – are not the only ones conspiring to harm freedom worldwide. Smaller actors, like North Korea and Syria, have certainly participated in this campaign. Yet for the purposes of simplicity and impact, I will focus on the “big three.”

These “big three” constitute what President George W. Bush described as an “Axis of Evil.” President Bush utilized this term in reference to the conglomeration of enemies funding international terrorism against the United States shortly after 9/11. Though the enemies may have changed or shifted in power, the term is just as relevant today as it was in 2002. 

Russia, China and Iran may have disparate economic systems, distinctly different populations and sometimes inconsistent interests. Nonetheless, they cooperate, coordinate and act in ways that serve to target one main end goal: the death of America, and more importantly, the values that undergird Western civilization. It is no secret that they have worked together with harmful entities to achieve this goal. Russia’s mercenary Wagner Group plans to send air defenses to Hezbollah, a group funded by Iran, in a move that builds upon existing Russia-Iran cooperation. China has recently reaffirmed a strategic partnership it formed with Iran just last year, and China continues to support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. These actions are mere examples of much larger, foundational partnerships between these actors that aim to darken the skies that cover our world.

These actors coordinate under the guise of what China likes to call “win-win” diplomacy. Such diplomacy involves the mutual support of bilateral goals and nothing else. As innocent people the world over are slaughtered mercilessly, these actors claim that interested parties should focus their own attention internally. Worse, they simultaneously profess their desire for certain universal values such as peace and cooperation while working to undermine those very values. To quote Atlantic contributor Michael Schuman, “China wants credit for stating the obvious—that peace is better than war—without the responsibility or entanglements involved in bringing that peace about.” These calls for peace sound quite similar to emerging voices on the New Right that claim that all would be good in America if only we drew away from the world. 

If there’s one thing that was made clear on Oct. 7, it is this: we cannot turn a blind eye to evil. We must work toward the shaping of a world order that values freedom over captivity, good over evil, light over darkness.

This situation looks bleak, even dire. But the path forward to it is clear; it is a path that bold leaders, from Lincoln to Reagan to Bush, have acknowledged. We, as Americans, are in desperate need of strong leadership. What is required from the Oval Office is a strong articulation of and advocacy for the values of freedom and human life. It is a strong articulation that, if you threaten those ideals, we will put our money where our mouth is. Strong leadership means not backing down in the face of terrorism or of our enemies. It means not backing down when members of our own party seek to derail us. Most importantly, it means not allowing this Axis of Evil to define what is right and wrong. Such a possibility will almost certainly translate to world order in which Israel is mercilessly bullied by its enemies.

Despite all feelings to the contrary, I truly believe that now is the time when American Jews, and Americans more broadly, must reinvigorate their support for our country. It has always been our duty to vote and support what we believe to be best for America. But the current geopolitical moment demands as much from ordinary citizens as it does from our defense infrastructure and leaders. America needs our support for fierce leaders who are unafraid of the consequences of standing for what is just and good in this world – from the freedom of Jews to exist in their own country to the freedom of Taiwanese citizens to live independently.

It is natural, in light of Oct. 7, to think solely of one’s own survival and the survival of our spiritual brethren in Israel. Yet we must consider what we can do beyond our donations and social media campaigns to support Israel’s very existence. This Axis of Evil backs nearly every threat to Israel’s existence; our world would certainly be a better one if its rise was blunted.

A strong Israel needs a strong America and vice versa. To give up on America would serve to deprive Israel of its staunchest supporter, and more foundationally, the country that has afforded a world order in which Israel can exist. 

Israel simply does not have the wherewithal to respond to this Axis of Evil in the same manner that the U.S. does; it is struggling to even preserve its own territorial integrity at the moment. As such, it is up to the United States to enforce these universal freedoms where Israel cannot.

To many people, the situation we find ourselves in today feels like a new existential crisis, the likes of which we have never seen before. Certainly, for my own fellow Gen Z-ers, this sentiment hits close to home. Some of us were not alive when the planes hit the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on 9/11, and others were merely toddlers. And the fading collective memory of last century’s wars means that today’s circumstances will continue to feel as new as before.

To whom, to what, specifically, do we look to in order to guide our nation in facing these challenges, I do not know. Yet perhaps George W. Bush’s words, from his very speech that aptly described the immense challenges that faced the U.S. after 9/11, can be used to guide our leaders, current and future, in how they respond to this geopolitical moment. He said,

“America will lead by defending liberty and justice because they are right and true and unchanging for all people everywhere.”

The notion that these principles are universally cherished and desired is one that America, and Americans, cannot shy away from. And it is my sincere hope that his next words will ring true for America’s response to the multifaceted challenges that it faces today and in the coming years:

“Steadfast in our purpose, we now press on. We have known freedom’s price. We have shown freedom’s power. And in this great conflict, my fellow Americans, we will see freedom’s victory.”

About the Author
Emanuel Cohen is a 22 year old senior at Brandeis University, double majoring in Politics and Int'l & Global Studies and minoring in Economics.
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