OpinionU.S.-Israel Relations

As President Biden said, you don’t have to be Jewish to be a Zionist

The U.S. president understands the deep bonds between our fellow democracies.

U.S. President Joe Biden meets with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid in Jerusalem on July 14, 2022. Photo by Emil Salman/POOL.
U.S. President Joe Biden meets with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid in Jerusalem on July 14, 2022. Photo by Emil Salman/POOL.
Noa Tishby. Photo: Alon Shafransky
Noa Tishby

On July 13, 2022, U.S. President Joe Biden arrived in Israel for the tenth visit of his career. Addressing Israel’s president and prime minister, he gave inspiring remarks, stating passionately, “You need not be a Jew to be a Zionist.” Truer words have rarely been spoken. While the restoration of Jewish nationhood in the land of Israel has deep roots in an ancient faith, most Americans—and freedom-lovers around the world—support the Jewish state, the only democracy in the Middle East. The truth is that Israel has deep roots in common with the world’s other free nations.

This is why Israel has been consistently supported by U.S. administrations, starting on the very day of Israel’s independence, when President Harry Truman was the first world leader to officially recognize Israel. As President John F. Kennedy once said, “The cause of Israel stands beyond Jewish life. In our pluralistic society … it has not been merely a Jewish cause, any more than Irish independence was the cause merely of those of Irish descent, because wherever freedom exists, there we are all committed. And wherever it is endangered, there we are all endangered.” In 1974, Richard Nixon became the first president to visit Israel. Most presidents since have followed suit, deepening America’s commitment to its gallant ally.

From the very beginning, Zionism—the movement for the reestablishment of a sovereign Jewish nation—has counted non-Jews among its most enthusiastic supporters. In 1891, several years before the modern Zionist movement was formally organized, a petition known as the Blackstone Memorial was presented to President Benjamin Harrison calling for the return of the Jewish people to their historic homeland, signed by “431 prominent Americans, including J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, future President William McKinley and numerous congresspeople, as well as several notable organizations, including The Washington Post and New York Times.”

It’s easy to understand the reason so many leaders support Zionism. As President Biden put it, “the connection between the Israeli people and the American people is bone deep. … We dream together.” In response to this statement, historian Gil Troy noted: “While belonging to that exclusive club of democracies, Israel and America belong to an even smaller subset of ‘dreamocracies,’ countries founded around defining ideas, not just shared space. … America is forged by a shared commitment to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ Similarly, Israel is more than a smaller, more contested, home—Israelis share a desire ‘to be a free people in our ancient homeland.’ Although particular to each nation, these dreams overlap in a universal vision.”

Our mutual support is explained by the depth of our shared values. Many of us have heard the increasingly shrill extremist voices calling for the United States to reverse its historic friendship with our fellow democracy and instead side with the dictatorships and terrorist groups arrayed against it. While in Israel, President Biden gave the first interview of his presidency to foreign media when he sat down with Israel’s Channel 12 reporter Yonit Levy. She took the opportunity to ask him directly about the “voices in the Democratic Party” calling for the destruction of Israel, and he admitted, “There are a few of them.” But he countered, “I think they’re wrong. I think they’re making a mistake. Israel is a democracy. Israel is our ally. Israel is a friend.”

The United States and Israel also took a strong step with the adoption on July 14 of the Jerusalem U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Joint Declaration. This document states, “The United States and Israel affirm that they will continue to work together to combat all efforts to boycott or delegitimize Israel, to deny its right to self-defense or to unfairly single it out in any forum. … While fully respecting the right to freedom of expression, they firmly reject the BDS campaign.”

Due to a well-organized campaign against it, Zionism is now considered a slur in certain circles. Inspired by the Soviet-sponsored and later revoked UN resolution declaring Zionism racism, some in the U.S. are now invested in this false notion. But Zionism is in fact a progressive movement. It was created to progress Jews from two millennia of discrimination, pogroms and persecution to self-governance and self-determination in their indigenous land. Zionism is not in opposition to anyone else’s self-governance and self-determination, Palestinians included. On the other hand, “Free Palestine from the river to the sea,” the chant adopted by BDS and its celebrity followers, is indeed that—a call for the destruction of the single Jewish state in the world, a shamelessly anti-Semitic goal.

Biden and, fortunately, the majority of Americans, understand this. Indeed, Biden has done more than state his support; he has come through for the region and the world by helping increase ties between Israel and its neighbors. Following his visit, Biden became the first U.S. president to fly directly to Saudi Arabia from Israel. On July 15, Saudi Arabia made the historic announcement that it would open its airspace to aircraft of all nations, including flights originating in Israel. Two days later, Israel’s national airline, El Al, submitted an official request to overfly Saudi airspace. These may not seem like major steps to anyone outside the region, but their meanings are significant and they are the real-life manifestation and a clear indication of a transforming Middle East.

Lovers of democracy around the world understand that Israel—like those other precariously placed democracies including Ukraine and Taiwan—is fighting the battle for all free people to live in peace and dignity. President Biden got it exactly right. The truth is that while there are only a few million Jews in the world, there are hundreds of millions of Zionists.

Noa Tishby is Israel’s special envoy for combating anti-Semitism and delegitimization of Israel.

This article was originally published by Jewish Journal.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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