Welcoming Vice-President Mike Pence to the Knesset, both Benjamin Netanyahu and the opposition leader Isaac Herzog cited a statement made by America’s first vice-president, John Adams, in 1819: “I really wish the Jews again in Judea an independent nation.” Meir Soloveichik comments on the quotation, its context, and its meaning:
If any founder deserves to be celebrated in Israel, it is Adams. Thomas Jefferson thought little of the Jewish intellectual legacy. But the Jews were “the most glorious nation that ever inhabited this Earth,” Adams insisted. “The Romans and their empire were but a bauble in comparison [to] the Jews. They have given religion to three-quarters of the globe and have influenced the affairs of mankind more, and more happily, than any other nation ancient or modern.” . . .
The words cited by Netanyahu had been written by Adams to the most prominent American Jew of his age: Mordecai Manuel Noah, a Jewish playwright, politician, and journalist. Speaking in 1818 to Congregation Shearith Israel in New York, Noah delivered a passionate paean to the nascent United States and to the home that Jews had found there. “Until the Jews can recover their ancient rights and dominions, and take their rank among the governments of the earth,” he declared, “this is their chosen country.” Yet Noah was convinced, half a century before Herzl, that the Jews could soon return to the Holy Land and create their own state. . . .
Noah sent his speech, and his likeminded writings, to three past presidents: Adams, Jefferson, and Madison. While each responded politely, only Adams engaged the revolutionary proto-Zionist theme. . . .
It is therefore fitting that Israel’s parliamentary leaders greeted a vice-president of the United States by quoting Adams’s letter. This exchange between Adams and Noah, perhaps more than any other correspondence in American history, embodies the Jewish love affair with America and the philo-Semitism of some of its founders, which presaged the future American support for the Jewish state.