What Israel’s Memorial Day Can Teach Americans

Americans, Gil Troy notes, are accustomed to associating Memorial Day with sales and barbecues. In Israel, it is altogether different. As Troy writes, “Spurred by two moments of silence—first at 8 p.m., then at 11 a.m.—the entire nation mourns together.” Alongside other rituals, both local and national, the sirens create the sense of living memory that defines virtually all Jewish holidays. These observances also help form a kind of civil religion, which “needs sacred moments that mute partisanship by consecrating shared memory.”

A popular Zionist yarn claims that in 1954, then-Secretary of State John Foster Dulles dismissed Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, asking, “After 2,000 years of exile, can you honestly speak about a single nation, a single culture?” Noting that the Mayflower landed in America merely 300 years earlier, Ben-Gurion invited Dulles to find any “ten American children” and ask them, “What was the name of the captain of the Mayflower? How long did the voyage take? What did the people who were on the ship eat?”

Yet, Ben-Gurion noted, even though the Jews left Egypt 3,000 years earlier, thanks to the Passover holiday, which emphasizes educating one’s children about what happened—and ritualizing the teaching and learning—most Jewish kids know that Moses led the Jews, that they wandered 40 years before reaching Israel, and that they ate unleavened matzah on the run.

Jews kept Judaism and Jewish memory alive by reliving history through ritual.

With theaters closed, concert halls silenced, restaurants shuttered, radios playing somber songs, and every television station broadcasting martyrs’ tales, this new holy day enshrouds the whole country in a sacred silence.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Israeli society, Judaism, Yom Ha-Zikaron

When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount