The unofficial theme of this week’s impressive 15th annual Herzliya Conference seemed to be Rahm Emanuel’s advice to US President Barack Obama: “You never let a serious crisis go to waste.” Rightists declared that the boycott crisis proves that Israel must never leave the territories while Leftists insisted that boycotts prove that Israel must leave the territories. Amid this gloom, MK Tzachi Hanegbi emphasized the good news of a thriving Israel while the Democratic activist Kathleen Kennedy Townsend gave a warm, refreshing, enthusiastic “we love you” from a leading American liberal.
It was a moving display of all-American decency, celebrating the shared values of what Townsend called two “nations of immigrants,” two “children of the dispossessed,” two “nations that create a vibrant future.”
Robert F. Kennedy’s eldest daughter mentioned her father’s love of Israel, his support for America’s first major arms sales to the Jewish state, then said, dramatically: “Due to that stance, he lost his life.”
Forty-seven years and one day after her 42-yearold father’s murder, a member of the Kennedy clan affirmed what many Americans have long denied: that RFK’s assassination was the first act of Palestinian terrorism on American soil. Most Americans still view this crime in the context of the 1960s’ chaos – actually, it anticipated today’s terrorist threat.
As a people hard-wired by centuries of oppression to be necessarily vigilant against any bigotry, and as a people who love a good worry over crisis, many Jews are justifiably furious at the growing hostility against Israel. It is so easy to feel the world is against us unfairly, because so many people are, unfairly.
We should mistrust the world, knowing the worst is possible, while still believing that the best is possible too. Zionism was, is, and must continue to be a force of light fighting the darkness, a source of inspiration not desperation, and a proactive program for progressing, not just wallowing.
Intellectually, the sky-is-falling chorus risks oversimplifying the world, much as our enemies do.
Godel’s incompleteness theorem teaches that any mathematical system, no matter how rigorous, can stumble into some contradiction. This acknowledgment of complexity is our ally against our enemies who denounce us categorically – but it is also our ally against our own paralyzing pessimism.
Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s support reminds us that the growing elite attacks on Israel are warning signs, not death warrants; the voices of a minority purporting to be more representative than it is. Those voices are still drowned out by a the 70 percent that supports Israel steadfastly, despite the media coverage romanticizing Palestinians. Recent polls by Gallup and others demonstrate that over the past three decades popular support for Israel has remained consistent – or increased. The Palestinian cause remains unpopular.
Never underestimate the decency of the American people, the shared values uniting Israel and America as sister democracies, and the dirty little secret of American foreign policy bonding the two nations, too: that while Americans like to believe foreign policy is driven by American hopes, it is actually driven by American fears.
George Washington’s Farewell Address urging Americans to remain isolationist drilled into Americans a deep reluctance to get involved in other countries’ messes. After World War I, the Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, renewing Washington’s isolationist call, feared America’s independence being violated, the country’s “vigor exhausted...her moral force abated,” by the world’s “everlasting” squabbles.
As a Reluctant Interventionist, America has been dragged into foreign conflicts more due to worries than wants. World War II became about fear of Japanese and Nazi world domination – only prompted by the dastardly Pearl Harbor surprise attack.
Despite the lovely sentiments linking America and Israel, the two countries bonded under John F. Kennedy during the Cold War against a common enemy: the Soviets.
Today, Americans most fear five man-made disasters, according to the Chapman Survey: terrorism; world war; American decline; economic collapse; and nuclear or biological attack. None reflect liberal concerns about human rights. None echo clichéd campus attacks falsely accusing Israel of racism, colonialism, or imperialism. Four connect to fears of Islamism.
In building ties with America, then, and reinforcing the historic foundation of popular support, Israel’s supporters – and Israel’s government – must be anti-Islamist but not Islamophobic. A Jewish state founded in revulsion against anti-Semitism must not perpetuate other forms of bigotry. The fight is not against hundreds of millions of peaceful Muslims or Islam itself, but is based on what Townsend called a “righteous fear” against a minority of fundamentalist extremists, who recruit too many noncombatants as enablers.
Similarly, the ongoing assault against Barack Obama and his administration as “anti-Israel” is juvenile, inflammatory and counter-productive.
The heckling of Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew at this week’s Jerusalem Post conference reflects an unhealthy absolutism that overlooks the complexity of the issues facing Israel, particularly regarding Iranian nukes and Palestinian rights. Self-identified pro-Israel activists should stop recruiting people to the millions who genuinely are “anti-Israel,” meaning against the very idea of a Jewish state. As a people so injured by the unreason of others, we can do better, we must do better.
Even on days when the US Supreme Court foolishly supports the myth that Jews born in Jerusalem were not born in Israel, even amid occasional tensions, we should never forget, that even in this increasingly atheistic age, we should continue to say “God Bless America” – and Canada and Australia.
Those three countries stand out in supporting Israel, not just diplomatically, not just militarily, but popularly, too. We share common values. We share common interests. But we also share common enemies: Islamism and terrorism, the new glues in the American-Israeli coalition, although the president of the United States is not as motivated by fear of those phenomena as he should be.The writer is the author of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s to be published October 6 by Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press. A professor at McGill University, he will be a Visiting Scholar at the Brookings Institution this fall.
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