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Opinion

American vs. Israeli patriotism

The Fourth of July is a time to reflect on what Israel can teach America about love of country.

The American and Israeli flags are screened on the walls of Jerusalem's Old City as a welcome to U.S. President Joe Biden on July 13, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
The American and Israeli flags are screened on the walls of Jerusalem's Old City as a welcome to U.S. President Joe Biden on July 13, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Dr. Eric R. Mandel
Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network, senior security editor of The Jerusalem Report and a contributor to The Hill and The Jerusalem Post. He regularly briefs member of Congress and their foreign policy advisers about the Middle East.

This June, I was privileged to hear an American lieutenant-general studying at the Israel Defense College speak about American patriotism and the lack thereof. He said he was saddened that he recently read that less than a third of young Americans are proud to be citizens of the United States.

Indeed, a March poll taken by The Wall Street Journal revealed that only 23% of Americans aged 18-29 say patriotism is important to them. Of all adults, only 38% said, “Patriotism was very important, down from 70% in 1998.” Americans place “low importance on these values, many of which were central to their parents’ lives.”

In contrast, 86.2% of Israeli Jews feel a sense of belonging to the Jewish state, according to a 2022 Israel Democracy Institute poll.

As an American who advocates for American national security interests in Congress and educates young Americans at universities, I empathized with the General’s concern for our country. I worry about the long-term implications of a situation in which most of our nation’s young people have allowed policy differences to cast doubt on our nation’s founding principles.

However, this situation is unsurprising. American students from primary school through college are taught that America was born in sin—as the 1619 Project and its advocates proclaim—rather than founded on principles of liberty and justice.

America’s triumphs have greatly outweighed our failures, and the progress we have made is remarkable. Nonetheless, America is constantly disparaged by the far-left, which holds sway in academia. It is also a growing and destructive presence in our body politic.

When the lieutenant-general spoke about his time living in Israel, he expressed confidence that Israelis, despite their domestic turmoil, are more patriotic than America’s millennials or Gen Z.

Perhaps the best way to understand the striking difference between young Americans and Israelis is in the symbols they use for political protest.

American protests almost never feature an American flag, but at the Israeli protests against judicial reform, thousands of Israeli flags were proudly waved. These were patriotic protests, passionately advocating for a change in government policy. Protesters wave their flags as part of a competition over who is more patriotic and more Zionist—the current government or opposition supporters.

The Israeli right, center and left all proudly declare themselves Zionist. Young pro-Israel American progressives would never say such a thing out loud for fear of censorship or expulsion from their far-left circles.

America’s July 4 Independence Day celebrations are on the horizon. This is a day when we are supposed to remember and honor the founding of our nation. But just like America’s Memorial Day, on when those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom are commemorated with department store sales, the message of July 4 will be superficially celebrated with fireworks, while its profound meaning will often be ignored. The bright lights will obscure the appreciation we should have for our nation as a unique, tolerant land of opportunity for those who are hard workers and open-minded. 

Immigrants from around the world seek to reach America, with long waiting lists to immigrate legally and hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants willing to risk life and limb to gain entry.

Unfortunately, our young citizens have learned to define our nation through the lens of grievance and victimhood to the detriment of the patriotism required to sustain a vibrant democracy.

Israelis, by contrast, are the fourth-happiest people in the world. How can that be when they have never experienced a day without an enemy wanting to conquer and annihilate them? It is because Israelis live meaningful lives with a sense of national purpose. Families are close and share their joys and sorrows together. These families extend well beyond bloodlines. When you serve in the IDF, you gain new family members for life. Certainly, life in Israel is complicated, but it is a life that matters. It is not the life of entitlement and materialism that now defines too much of American society.

I love America. My father taught me to do so. He was a proud veteran injured in Japan at the end of World War II. He brought his American ideals with him to Japan, helping start a branch of the Boy Scouts there.

The American lieutenant-general I mentioned above said that Israel is America’s best ally, both militarily and in terms of shared values. I am proud to be an American Jew. I wave the American flag as an American who has been given opportunities that few other Diaspora Jews could have imagined. I also wave a flag for Israel, because that is where my heritage began over 3,000 years ago and, today, Israel supports American national security interests as well as its own.

Happy Fourth of July. May Americans become as patriotic as Israelis and open their eyes to the gifts and opportunities we were all given by our founding fathers.

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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