OpinionU.S.-Israel Relations

The US-Israel nexus transcends politics and geo-strategy

The roots of American attitudes to Israel are deeper than the political beltway of Washington, D.C., and precede both the 1948 establishment of the Jewish state and the 1776 U.S. Declaration of Independence.

The flags of Israel and the United States wave above a camp for U.S. service members supporting exercise Juniper Cobra at an Israeli Defense Forces site on Feb. 23, 2018. Credit: Sgt. Matthew Plew/U.S. Air Force.
The flags of Israel and the United States wave above a camp for U.S. service members supporting exercise Juniper Cobra at an Israeli Defense Forces site on Feb. 23, 2018. Credit: Sgt. Matthew Plew/U.S. Air Force.
Yoram Ettinger
Yoram Ettinger
Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.

Notwithstanding the systematic—and sometimes brutal—pressure the U.S. State Department and almost all U.S. presidents have applied on Israel for 75 years, commercial and defense cooperation between the two countries has surged to dramatic heights.

The mutually beneficial relationship has been consistent with U.S. economic and defense interests and with the U.S. mindset regarding Israel. U.S. policy toward Israel, unlike other other countries, is a derivative of the worldview of the American public, which is generally followed by American elected officials.

The U.S. public’s perspective on the Jewish state has been impacted by Israel’s unwavering democracy, reliability and unique technological, intelligence and military capabilities. Moreover, the worldview of most Americans has been influenced by the historic, religious, ethical and moral roots of U.S. culture and civic life, which were heavily influenced by British and French philosophers as well as by biblical sources. This is documented by the legacy of the Founding Fathers, who established the federalist system of governance and authored the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.

While the attachment of the U.S. population to the biblically-driven legacy of the Founding Fathers has gradually eroded, it still impacts the worldview of most Americans, as evidenced by the political discourse, which frequently features biblical quotes.

The role played by the Hebrew Bible in shaping contemporary U.S. culture and civic life was highlighted by a special issue of Mosaic Magazine:

“The separation of powers and the system of checks and balances reflect an awareness [embodied in the Mosaic legacy]… of the need to guard against the concentration of power vested in human actors….

“Americans wove into their constitutional traditions specific principles and measures derived from the Hebrew Bible…. Among them would be constitutional provisions ranging from the need for multiple witnesses of malfeasance for purposes of conviction and punishment, to the concepts of double jeopardy and cruel and unusual punishment, to national standards for weights and measures.

“According to James Madison’s notes, the understanding of human nature contained in Hebrew Scripture contributed substantively to the debates in the Constitutional Convention of 1787…. For example, the venerable Benjamin Franklin spoke in opposition to any proposal that ‘tended to debase the spirit of the common people…. We should remember the character which the Scriptures requires in rulers…’ invoking Jethro’s advice to Moses regarding qualifications for prospective Israelite rulers, ‘that they should be men hating covetousness….’

“From the time of the Early Pilgrims to the Founding Fathers, and even to later generations, many Americans saw themselves as chosen people—as God’s New Israel—reliving the Exodus story…. Thus, the political repression and religious persecution so many early settlers had endured in England was their Egyptian bondage; the Stuart monarchs were their intransigent Pharaohs; the treacherous waters of the Atlantic Ocean were their Red Sea….

“Americans in the founding era came to regard George Washington as their Moses, who led them out of bondage and into freedom. For these Americans, the providential history of the Hebrew people and the Biblical record of Moses’ instructions for creating the political and legal infrastructure needed to govern that people held special meaning and played a key role in directing their own ambitious errand into the new Promised Land….

“America’s founding generation appealed frequently to the Hebrew experience for principles, precedents, normative standards and cultural motifs with which to define a community-in-formation and to order its political experiments. The discourse of the age was replete with quotations from, and allusions to, the sacred text. Indeed, the Bible—and the Hebrew Bible in particular—was the single most cited work in the political literature of the founding era, with the book of Deuteronomy, which recapitulates Mosaic law and recounts the providential progress of God’s ‘Chosen Nation’… referred to more frequently than to the works of influential thinkers like John Locke….

“In 1783, Ezra Stiles, the President of Yale College, delivered a sermon before Connecticut’s highest public officials based on Deuteronomy 26:19, a passage describing God’s promise to exalt the nation of Israel on the condition that it remains a ‘holy people.’ This, Stiles declared, was ‘allusively prophetic of the future prosperity and splendor of the United States—of ‘God’s American Israel….’

“The ancient ‘Republic of the Israelites,’ declared Samuel Langdon, the Congregationalist Minister and politically active President of Harvard College in 1788, was ‘an example to the American States… Instead of the twelve tribes of Israel, we may substitute the thirteen states of the American union….’

“Some Americans also saw in the Hebrew Scriptures certain political models that were worthy of emulation. In 1775, Langdon opined: ‘The Jewish government, according to the original Constitution, which was divinely established, was a perfect Republic and an excellent general model’ for the nation now aborning.’

“In his wildly popular revolutionary pamphlet Common Sense (1776), Thomas Paine also turned to the Hebraic republican tradition, in order to denounce monarchy and hereditary succession. Monarchy, he asserted, had been ‘first introduced into the world by the Heathens and could not be defended on the authority of Scripture; for the will of the Almighty, as declared by Gideon and the Prophet Samuel, expressly disapproves of government by kings….’ But, in their folly, the Israelites then rejected God’s designs and insisted on having a king to reign over them, which Paine concluded is exactly why ‘monarchy is ranked in Scripture as one of the sins of the Jews…. The republic described in the Hebrew Bible reassured all Americans that republicanism was a political system favored by God….”

The biblical roots of America’s culture and civic system have yielded the inherent American popular—and therefore political—support for the reconstruction of the Jewish Commonwealth in the Land of Israel, which preceded the 1897 convening of the First Zionist Congress. For example, on March 5, 1891, over 400 distinguished Americans—including the chief justice, House and Senate leaders, governors, mayors, clergy, businessmen, professors and editors—signed the Blackstone Memorial, calling for the reestablishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel. Moreover, in 1825, John Quincy Adams, the sixth president, called for the “rebuilding of Judea as an independent nation. And, in 1819, John Adams, the second president, stated that “I really wish the Jews again in Judea, an independent nation.”

The deeply-rooted U.S. mindset on the Jewish state has been forged, primarily, by the U.S. population, rather than by the administration. It has evolved from the relatively permanent bottom (constituents) to the relatively temporary top (elected officials).

The roots of the U.S. mindset on Israel eclipse the political beltway of Washington, D.C., transcend the pertinent role of the Jewish community, run deeper than geo-strategic considerations and formal agreements and precede the 1948 establishment of the Jewish State and the 1776 U.S. Declaration of Independence.

Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.

This article was first published by The Ettinger Report.

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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