The Longstanding American Appreciation of Jerusalem’s Uniqueness

Dec. 28 2017

Reflecting on the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Meir Soloveichik recalls another American politician’s visit to the city:

[T]he enduring connection of Jews and their city is something many Americans have understood, and they have revered the Jewish link to Jerusalem long before the modern Jewish state was born. In 1871, William Seward, Abraham Lincoln’s former secretary of state, journeyed on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. As his travelogue recounts, “our last day [in] Jerusalem has been spent, as it ought to have been, among and with the Jews, who were the builders and founders of the city, and who cling the closer to it for its disasters and desolation.”

Seward spent several hours on a Friday afternoon at the Wailing Wall, admiringly observing the Jews who were “pouring out their lamentations over the fall of their beloved city, and praying for its restoration to the Lord, who promised, in giving its name, that He would ‘be there.’” Upon departing at sunset, he encountered a rabbi who begged him to attend kabbalat Shabbat, Sabbath evening prayers, at the Hurva synagogue—then the most magnificent Jewish house of worship in the Holy Land. (It was destroyed by the Jordanians in 1948 and just recently rebuilt.)

Seward sat through the entire service, which concluded with a special Hebrew benediction. “The rabbi informed us,” the travelogue reports, “that it was a prayer of gratitude for Mr. Seward’s visit to the Jews at Jerusalem.” This was nothing less than what Jewish law calls hakkarat ha-tov—an expression of Jewish gratitude to any world leader who publicly embraces the Jews’ link to their eternal city.

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More about: History & Ideas, Jerusalem, U.S. Foreign policy, US-Israel relations

Israel’s Nation-State Law and the Hysteria of the Western Media

Aug. 17 2018

Nearly a month after it was passed by the Knesset, the new Basic Law defining Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” is still causing outrage in the American and European press. The attacks, however, are almost uniformly incommensurate with this largely symbolic law, whose text, in the English translation found on the Knesset website, is barely over 400 words in length. Matthew Continetti comments:

Major journalistic institutions have become so wedded to a pro-Palestinian, anti-Benjamin Netanyahu narrative, in which Israel is part of a global trend toward nationalist authoritarian populism, that they have abdicated any responsibility for presenting the news in a dispassionate and balanced manner. The shameful result of this inflammatory coverage is the normalization of anti-Israel rhetoric and policies and widening divisions between Israel and the diaspora.

For example, a July 18, 2018, article in the Los Angeles Times described the nation-state law as “granting an advantageous status to Jewish-only communities.” But that is false: the bill contained no such language. (An earlier version might have been interpreted in this way, but the provision was removed.) Yet, as I write, the Los Angeles Times has not corrected the piece that contained the error. . . .

Such through-the-looking-glass analysis riddled [the five] news articles and four op-eds the New York Times has published on the matter at the time of this writing. In these pieces, “democracy” is defined as results favored by the New York Times editorial board, and Israel’s national self-understanding as in irrevocable conflict with its democratic form of government. . . .

The truth is that democracy is thriving in Israel. . . .  The New York Times quoted Avi Shilon, a historian at Ben-Gurion University, who said [that] “Mr. Netanyahu and his colleagues are acting like we are still in the battle of 1948, or in a previous era.” Judging by the fallacious, paranoid, fevered, and at times bigoted reaction to the nation-state bill, however, Bibi may have good reason to believe that Israel is still in the battle of 1948, and still defending itself against assaults on the very idea of a Jewish state.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israel's Basic Law, Israeli democracy, Media, New York Times