Yesterday was the Fourth of July and we Israelis celebrated US Independence Day in our hearts with a feeling of respect and kinship far deeper and closer than we ever felt before. For the past 35 years, the United States has been Israel's closest, and often only, ally.
Yet, in spite of the closeness of our relationship, over the years there has been little reflection on what America really is or how it came to pass that the US has become Israel's best friend.
Concentrating only on the outcome of American success rather than its causes, for most Israelis, America has defined hyperbole. The US was a caricature of wealth and power – Wall Street, Hollywood, big cars, big bellies – a John D. Rockefeller who hands out dimes to shoeshine boys. Rarely did we pause to look below the surface and wonder about the firm foundation upon which this sustained success was built.
Then came the attacks of September 11, and the American response, and Israelis saw a US that we had rarely considered. Behind the self-absorbed success story, we found a thoughtful patriot. Behind the John Wayne swagger we found Gary Cooper's humility and stubborn defiance. Behind the shell-game morality of Monica's White House, we discovered the New York Fire Department and Rudolph Giuliani.
Rather than falling apart in hysteria and finger pointing after thousands of their countrymen were murdered in single day, we saw Americans come together in anger and defiance, united in their deep conviction of the basic goodness of America and their willingness to discriminate between good and evil.
It is common wisdom that you learn the truth about a person's character by how he acts in times of crisis. This is no less true of nations. In times of crisis, a well-grounded person will be able to call upon reserves of strength and wisdom cultivated by generations of like-minded people who preceded him, even if, on a day-to-day basis, he rarely considers them important. So too, a moral relativist, who rejects tradition, flitting instead from fad to fad, will fall apart at crunch time.
In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, Israel saw Americans collectively embracing ideas of human freedom and individual responsibility promulgated and defended by the Founding Fathers. History engulfed every action, both symbolic and concrete. America, the gossamer dream of fast cash and liposuction, was replaced by America the land of Special Forces and B-52 bombers.
Endless debates about multiculturalism and victimology were sidelined. In their place came discussions of civilizational struggles against barbarism; the durability of the US Constitution; and the ability of an open society to defend against an enemy who exploits its freedoms to destroy freedom.
For the first time in recent memory, the foundations of the US were exposed for all to see. They were very strong.
For Israelis, America returning to its roots and acting with the collective wisdom of its history paralleled our own post-Oslo national awakening and catalyzed our newfound understanding of our friend. Although many have argued that Israel's relations with the US reached new heights of intimacy in the 1990s, the truth is that for most of the last decade, neither Israel nor the US was capable of being true friends to each other, for they were untrue to themselves.
In the 1990s, both countries were enjoying unprecedented prosperity, the result of the hard work and vigilant defense of their security and freedom in the decades before. Both Israel and the US brazenly ignored the causes for their success and trivialized the importance of their respective traditions and histories. In so doing they ignored and so emboldened the enemies at their gates.
Americans and Israelis know from their respective histories that freedom and free people will forever be the enemy and the envy of all who seek power for power's sake and therefore must always be vigilantly upheld and protected.
The problem is that the success of that protection causes free men and women to take their freedom for granted and object to paying the necessary price for its preservation. Understanding this phenomenon, in 1837, a young Abraham Lincoln declared, "If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men, we must live through all time, or die by suicide."
In the 1990s, both Israel and the US took freedom for granted.
Here we decided that we were tired of protecting ourselves and sought shortcuts to our liberty. We turned our backs on our history, symbols, collective wisdom and ideals of Jewish continuity, responsibility and law and absurdly assumed that this self-flagellation would earn us respect and safety. The Oslophiles' blithe sacrifice of the Temple Mount, the concrete anchor of our history and values, was the pinnacle of this folly.
In the US, American ideals of liberty and limited government were replaced by European artifices of moral relativism and political correctness. Talk of communal rights became more and more prevalent as the guiding principles of individual responsibilities and rights were summarily discarded. Lawsuits abounded, with individuals at every turn claiming that all ill they experienced was someone else's fault. Universities were filled with talk of the end of the nation-state system and the emergence of UN-led global governance. The US, far from being exceptional and unique, was to be relegated to the role of financier as the Third World. The European Union, and the World Court were embraced as the true harbingers of a global utopia and peace that the US was too provincial to appreciate.
For Israel, the lynching of our IDF reservists in Ramallah shattered these irresponsible delusions. The naked barbarity of the act a crowd raucously applauding a monster with bloodstained hands and then ecstatically tearing apart our human flesh on that bright afternoon in October 2000 was the death knell of Oslo. The UN sponsored anti-Semitic hate fest at Durban last August was its funeral.
For the US it was, of course, September 11, both for what the attack represented in itself, as well as for the fact that the same voices that previously had been heard championing political correctness were now telling us the US had more or less asked for it.
What is most revealing for Israelis about the US's post-September 11 odyssey back to its ideological and social roots of patriotism is that the more "American" Americans become, the more understanding they are of Israel's struggle. While in Europe and the Arab world, patriotism bears a direct link to anti-Semitism, in the US just the opposite is the case. So too, as Israelis cast aside Oslo's self-abasement and become more patriotic, we are able to recognize for the first time just how natural and moral our ties to the US truly are.
For three generations, American Jews, still smarting from the wounds incurred by European chauvinism and utopian fervor, have feared the canard of dual loyalty as they feared little else. What we see today is that there is no contradiction between being an American patriot and being an Israeli patriot. As both Israel and the US return to our first principles while we fight civilization's battle against barbarism, we learn that at our national foundations stand shared values of freedom and humility and collective defense of individual rights.
Both countries are a finger in the eye to enemies of these common values and therefore are destined to ensure their separate and joint success only by vigilantly defending themselves today and in every generation to come. Understanding this today, we Israelis realize that we are linked to the American people not by circumstance, but by providential justice.
In the week of US Independence Day, under the common threat of terrorism, we embrace our American friends as brothers in
arms and in peace.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post