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.

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Read more at Claremont Review of Books

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

 

Palestinian Acceptance of Israel as the Jewish State Must Be a Prerequisite to Further Negotiations

Oct. 19 2018

In 1993, in the early days of the Oslo peace process, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) under Yasir Arafat accepted the “right of the state of Israel to exist in peace and security.” But neither it nor its heir, the Palestinians Authority, has ever accepted Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, or the right of the Jewish people to self-determination. Robert Barnidge explains why this distinction matters:

A Jewish state for the Jewish people, after all, was exactly what the [UN] General Assembly intended in November 1947 when it called for the partition of the Palestine Mandate into “the Arab state, the Jewish state, and the city of Jerusalem.”

Although the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state does not stand or fall on this resolution—in declaring the independence of Israel on the eve of the Sabbath on May 14, 1948, the Jewish People’s Council, [the precursor to the Israeli government], also stressed the Jewish people’s natural and historic rights—it reaffirms the legitimacy of Jewish national rights in (what was to become) the state of Israel.

The Palestinians have steadfastly refused to recognize Jewish self-determination. [Instead], the PLO [has been] playing a double game. . . . It is not simply that the PLO supported the General Assembly’s determination in 1975, rescinded in 1991, that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” It is that that the PLO leadership continues to speak of Jews as a religious community rather than a people, and of Zionism as a colonial usurper rather than the national liberation movement that it is.

The U.S. government, Barnidge concludes, “should demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist in peace and security as a Jewish state” and refuse to “press Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians unless and until that happens.”

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Read more at BESA Center

More about: Israel & Zionism, Peace Process, PLO, US-Israel relations, Yasir Arafat