Dear Mr. President, as I suggested when we recently met at the White House, I
hope you will be able to take some time while in Israel to enjoy the wonderful
sites of that remarkable country and to get to know some of its diverse
The Jewish (and therefore Christian) connection to the Holy Land,
which is being disputed by some of Israel’s enemies, becomes self-evident when
you see the Jewish heritage all around you and beneath every step you
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Israel is truly the birthplace of Judaism and Christianity, and a
place of holiness to Islam as well.
Israel is among the most
heterogeneous places in the world – a model of ethnic, religious and racial
diversity. Though it is the nation-state of the Jewish people, more than 20
percent of its citizens are Christians, Muslims and members of other faiths. Its
Jewish population includes Black Africans from Ethiopia, Sephardic Jews from
North Africa, Russians, Georgians and many others. There are even Israelis from
my hometown of Brooklyn and your hometown of Chicago.
The country is
truly a mosaic, in every sense of that word.
When you visited Israel
before you became president, you emphasized the security of civilians living
near the Gaza Strip and subjected to continuous rocket fire endangering children
and adults alike. Now Israel’s children also face security threats from
Hezbollah in the north, Iran to the east and terrorists from everywhere. Israel
is the only country in the area whose right to exist is questioned by its NATO
ally, Turkey, and by many member states of the United Nations. Israel will
never, and should never, compromise on its security, and you have never asked it
to do so. You recognize that Israel will be capable of offering a generous peace
to the Palestinian Authority only if its security remains
You have told the Israeli people and its supporters in
America that you have Israel’s back and that you will never allow Iran to
develop nuclear weapons. You will say that again to the Israelis during your
visit but please also tell that to the Arab and Muslim leaders you will be
meeting during your visits to their countries.
They need to hear it as
clearly as the Israelis, and the Israelis need to see and hear you saying it
directly to Arab and Muslim leaders. I know you understand this.
Iranian mullahs, who you will not be meeting, also need to hear that containment
remains off, and the military option remains on, the table.
They may have
misunderstood your nomination of Chuck Hagel as sending a mixed message with
regard to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Hagel tried to clarify his position, but
left something to be desired. An unambiguous statement by you, directed at the
mullahs and repeated during every stop on your itinerary, will make it crystal
clear that Iran will never be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. That
understanding, coupled with crippling sanctions, may well persuade the mullahs
to retreat across the golden bridge of peace.
WHILE IN the Middle East,
you will be meeting leaders and ordinary people. It is important to understand
the difference between democratically elected leaders, such as Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu; unelected leaders, such as King Abdullah of Jordan; and
leaders who fall somewhere in between, such as the Palestinian Authority’s
President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Israeli leaders
directly represent the will of their constituents, as evidenced by the complex
results of the recent election. If you want to influence Israel in the direction
of making painful compromises in the interests of peace, you must persuade the
Israeli public. That is not as much the case in either Jordan or the Palestinian
Authority, though with the advent of the Arab Spring, the voices of the people
count more today than they did before.
Israelis are very opinionated,
somewhat distrustful and quite worried about the future. They will seek to
interpret (perhaps overinterpret) every word, gesture and silence. They will
watch for changes in nuance between what you say to them and what you say to
They want very much to trust you and they will if you are
open and frank with them, as I know you will be.
want peace, normalization and a predictable future for their
They also want and need security in a neighborhood that is
becoming increasingly unstable, unpredictable and dangerous.
love and admire America and its people. They know that Americans, by and large,
support them, while Europeans are falling away. It is important that you
reaffirm the mutuality of interests and admiration between the United States and
Israel. Israelis will express appreciation to you for what our country has done
to enhance the security of Israel. I hope you will express, on behalf of the
American people, our appreciation for what Israel has contributed to the United
States and to the world during the short 65 years of its existence as the
nation-state of the Jewish people. It’s a great and positive alliance. May it go
from strength to strength.
The writer is a prominent professor of law at
Harvard University and a well-known advocate for Israel.