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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

Israel Agreed Not to Retaliate During the Persian Gulf War—and Paid a Price for It

Feb. 19 2018

During the Persian Gulf War of 1991, Saddam Hussein fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel, killing one person and causing extensive property damage. Under intense pressure from the first Bush administration to sit still—ostensibly because Israeli involvement in the war could lead Arab states to abandon the White House’s anti-Iraq coalition—Jerusalem refrained from retaliating. Moshe Arens, who was the Israeli defense minister at the time, comments on the decision in light of information recently made public:

[W]hat was George H.W. Bush thinking [in urging Israel not to respond]? His secretary of state, James Baker, had accompanied the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Charles (Chas) Freeman, on a visit to King Fahd in Riyadh on November 2, 1990, two-and-a-half months before the beginning of the war, to obtain the king’s approval for additional deployment of U.S. troops in his kingdom in preparation for the attack on Iraq.

He was told by the king that although they would not welcome Israeli participation in the war, he understood that Israel could not stand idly by if it were attacked by Iraq. If Israel were to defend itself, the Saudi armed forces would still fight on America’s side, the king told Baker. So much for the danger to the coalition if Israel were to respond to the Scud attacks. Israel was not informed of this Saudi position.

So why was President Bush so intent on keeping Israel out of the war? It seems that he took the position, so dominant in the American foreign-policy establishment, that America’s primary interest in the Middle East was the maintenance of good relations with the Arab world, and that the Arab world attached great importance to the Palestinian problem, and that as long as that problem was not resolved Israel remained an encumbrance to the U.S.-Arab relationship. If Israel were to appear as an ally of the U.S. in the war against Iraq, that was likely to damage the image the U.S. was trying to project to the Arabs.

In fact, immediately upon the conclusion of the war against Saddam Hussein, Baker launched a diplomatic effort that culminated in the Madrid Conference in the hope that it would lead to a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It didn’t. . . .

Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: George H. W. Bush, Israel & Zionism, Israeli history, Peace Process, Persian Gulf War, US-Israel relations