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A Refreshing Exploration of the Jews’ Role in Creating American Democracy

Feb. 14 2018

In his online course “Jewish Ideas and the American Founding,” offered by the Tikvah Fund, Meir Soloveichik explores the role of both actual Jews and biblical and even talmudic ideas in the shaping of the United States during its formative years. Elliot Kaufman writes in his review:

The lectures are untraditional, and better for it. Each one tells a story more than it covers a topic. Soloveichik begins by introducing us to Jonas Phillips, “the most important American Jew you’ve never heard of.” In 1787, Phillips complained to George Washington that the Pennsylvania state legislature’s mandatory Christian oath precluded Jews from serving. A patriot himself, Phillips argued that “The Jews have been true and faithful Whigs, . . . have bravely fought, and bleed for liberty which they cannot enjoy.”

Phillips captured the essence of American exceptionalism on religious liberty: unless the Jews could participate in public life without forswearing their faith, they had neither religious liberty nor the full privileges of American citizenship. Instead of having to check their Judaism at the door, Jews would contribute their unique ideas and practices for the benefit of their fellow Americans. . . .

America established religious freedom not as a compromise to keep the peace, or a sop to minority groups, but as a requirement of a just society. Backed by the Constitution, Washington promised Jews such as Jonas Phillips that they would find in America the freedom to be both full citizens and fully Jewish. America kept that promise, but only in part because of the Constitutional guarantees. The American people, whose basic affection for the biblical Israelites, Hebrew scripture, and the Jews themselves has been unparalleled, did much of the heavy lifting. Above all, the American message to the Jews has been, “Your story is our story and your God is our God.” . . .

More than anything, Soloveichik’s eight-hour course left me with a deep appreciation for America and what it has done for the Jews―not as a favor, but out of a conviction that gets to the heart of what America was founded to be. A different viewer might well come away with the same appreciation, but for what the Jews have done for America.

Read more at Claremont Review of Books

More about: American founding, American Jewry, George Washington, Hebrew Bible, Judaism

How the U.S. Can Strike at Iran without Risking War

In his testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Michael Doran urged the U.S. to pursue a policy of rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East, and explained how this can be accomplished. (Video of the testimony, along with the full text, are available at the link below.)

The United States . . . has indirect ways of striking at Iran—ways that do not risk drawing the United States into a quagmire. The easiest of these is to support allies who are already in the fight. . . . In contrast to the United States, Israel is already engaged in military operations whose stated goal is to drive Iran from Syria. We should therefore ask ourselves what actions we might take to strengthen Israel’s hand. Militarily, these might include, on the passive end of the spectrum, positioning our forces so as to deter Russian counterattacks against Israel. On the [more active] end, they might include arming and training Syrian forces to engage in operations against Iran and its proxies—much as we armed the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Diplomatically, the United States might associate itself much more directly with the red lines that Israel has announced regarding the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has, for example, called for pushing Iran and its proxies away from its border on the Golan Heights. Who is prepared to say that Washington has done all in its power to demonstrate to Moscow that it fully supports this goal? In short, a policy of greater coordination with Jerusalem is both possible and desirable.

In Yemen, too, greater coordination with Saudi Arabia is worth pursuing. . . . In Lebanon and Iraq, conditions will not support a hard rollback policy. In these countries the goal should be to shift the policy away from a modus vivendi [with Iran] and in the direction of containment. In Iraq, the priority, of course, is the dismantling of the militia infrastructure that the Iranians have built. In Lebanon, [it should be] using sanctions to force the Lebanese banking sector to choose between doing business with Hizballah and Iran and doing business with the United States and its financial institutions. . . .

Iran will not take a coercive American policy sitting down. It will strike back—and it will do so cleverly. . . . It almost goes without saying that the United States should begin working with its allies now to develop contingency plans for countering the tactics [Tehran is likely to use]. I say “almost” because I know from experience in the White House that contingency planning is something we extol much more than we conduct. As obvious as these tactics [against us] are, they have often taken Western decision makers by surprise, and they have proved effective in wearing down Western resolve.

Read more at Hudson

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen