Religious Groups Must Look Past Religious Freedom

Harking back to the origins of our ideas of religious freedom in 16th-century England, and surveying the political conflicts relating to religion in 21st-century America, Yuval Levin urges religious traditionalists to broaden their horizons as they set their agenda for public life. Social conservatives, he argues, have much to learn from Jewish traditionalists, who understand that “civil law doesn’t have to reflect every one of their moral convictions as long as it leaves them the room to have a meaningful community life.” At the same time, Jews must learn from conservative Christians that the outcome of today’s political fights over marriage, family life, and other matters will ultimately affect them as well. (Interview by Eric Cohen. Audio, 42 minutes.)

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More about: Jewish conservatism, John Locke, Religion & Holidays, Religion and politics, Religious Freedom

Israel Can’t Stake Its Fate on “Ironclad” Promises from Allies

Israeli tanks reportedly reached the center of the Gazan city of Rafah yesterday, suggesting that the campaign there is progressing swiftly. And despite repeatedly warning Jerusalem not to undertake an operation in Rafah, Washington has not indicated any displeasure, nor is it following through on its threat to withhold arms. Even after an IDF airstrike led to the deaths of Gazan civilians on Sunday night, the White House refrained from outright condemnation.

What caused this apparent American change of heart is unclear. But the temporary suspension of arms shipments, the threat of a complete embargo if Israel continued the war, and comments like the president’s assertion in February that the Israeli military response has been “over the top” all call into question the reliability of Joe Biden’s earlier promises of an “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security. Douglas Feith and Ze’ev Jabotinsky write:

There’s a lesson here: the promises of foreign officials are never entirely trustworthy. Moreover, those officials cannot always be counted on to protect even their own country’s interests, let alone those of others.

Israelis, like Americans, often have excessive faith in the trustworthiness of promises from abroad. This applies to arms-control and peacekeeping arrangements, diplomatic accords, mutual-defense agreements, and membership in multilateral organizations. There can be value in such things—and countries do have interests in their reputations for reliability—but one should be realistic. Commitments from foreign powers are never “ironclad.”

Israel should, of course, maintain and cultivate connections with the United States and other powers. But Zionism is, in essence, about the Jewish people taking responsibility for their own fate.

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More about: Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship