Sunday, July 3, 2011
Happy Fourth of July, Israel
For years Israel has been on the frontlines in the battle to protect our nations’ shared values.
Independence Day, is by far the most important national holiday in the United States. It commemorates the birth of the nation and the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, with fireworks, picnics, concerts, parades, political speeches and ceremonies. It is a day of patriotism and pride – the largest birthday celebration in the country and a true day of remembrance.
It is in this spirit that I, as an American, will celebrate Israel.
The nation of Israel and the Jewish people have sacrificed more for freedom per capita than any nation on earth. When the Jewish poetess Emma Lazarus penned the immortal words emblazoned on the the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal, Palestine was desert, a wasteland in the hands of the unfriendly Turks. From 1881 to about 1920, three million Jews emigrated from Eastern Europe to the US. Welcoming them to America were Lazarus’s words: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Ties between the Jewish people and the early pilgrims in America were as foundationally strong as the rock on which they stepped ashore in 1620. A group hoping to found a “New Israel” would become highly influential when the colonists began to aspire to freedom. Early founders and presidents of the newly-formed republic would express the hope that the children of Israel might one day find rebirth in their homeland – the land God gave to Abraham.
Our forefathers Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin lobbied for an image of Moses guiding the Israelites on the Great Seal. Such presidents as John Adams, Woodrow Wilson and Abraham Lincoln lobbied for a homeland in Palestine for the Jews. President Harry S. Truman was the first world leader to recognize the new State of Israel in 1948.
Perhaps the greatest symbol of Israel’s sacrifice is Yonatan Netanyahu, the commander of Sayeret Matkal who was killed in action during Operation Entebbe in Uganda. Character and dedication come through in a letter he wrote to his parents on December 2, 1973: “We are preparing for war and it’s hard to know what to expect. What I am positive of is that there will be a next round and others after that. But, I would rather opt for living here in continual battle than for becoming part of the wandering Jewish people. Any compromise will simply hasten the end. As I don’t intend to tell my grandchildren about the Jewish State in the twentieth century as a mere brief and transient episode amid thousands of years of wandering, I intend to hold on here with all my might.”
Radical Islamists call America the “Great Satan,” and Israel the “Little Satan.” The reason is obvious; the Jewish people in Israel have, with their own blood, defended America and the Western world against radical Islam since the days of Netanyahu’s death on July 4, 1976.
On July 4, 1980, I read his story in The Jerusalem Post. It deeply touched me, and I made my way to the Netanyahu home to express my sympathies for his sacrifice. His father, Benzion Netanyahu, answered the door and graciously invited me inside for tea. After a few moments, we were joined by Yoni’s brother, Binyamin. The pain in his eyes over the loss of his beloved brother was apparent. I asked him if I could pray for him. He politely acquiesced. I held his hands in mine and prayed, “Jonathan loved David; you loved Jonathan. Out of the ashes of your despair will come strength from God, and you will be the prime minister of Israel twice.”
I wept as I prayed. Binyamin Netanyahu looked at me as if I had little if any sense, and said, “I’m not going into politics; I’m going into business.”
I was so moved by the encounter that I requested a meeting that week with then-prime minister Menachem Begin through his personal secretary, Yehiel Kadishai. When Begin came through the door of his office, I said, “Mr. Prime Minister, yesterday I met the prime minister of Israel.”
He said, “You are mistaken; it wasn’t yesterday that we met.”
I said, “No, it is not you.”
He laughed and asked who his competition was. I responded, “Benjamin Netanyahu. He will be prime minister twice. Will you give him a job?”
At that time, Begin didn’t know Netanyahu, but his senior adviser Reuven Hecht, also in the room, did, and spoke highly of him. Begin agreed. The following night, Hecht offered Netanyahu a position in the Israeli Embassy in Washington under Moshe Arens.
For over 20 years, I kept the story in confidence and did not tell Netanyahu that I had asked for an appointment for him... until he demanded that I tell him the truth. He smiled and said, “Oh, so you’re the one. I don’t know whether to kiss you or kick you in the rear.”
Without a doubt, the prime minister has maintained the courageous and moral clarity of his brother, Yonatan.
A FEW months later, I had dinner in the home of Isser Harel, the head of Israeli intelligence who was instrumental in the capture of Adolf Eichmann. Hecht had arranged the dinner and joined us for the evening. I asked Harel if he thought terror would ever come to America. He said America had the power, but not the will; terrorists had the will, but not the power.
“All that can change with time,” he said. “Arab oil buys more than tents. You kill a fly and rejoice; we kill one and 100 come to the funeral. Yes, I fear it will come. I believe the first terror attack will be New York City’s tallest building.”
Then I asked Harel what would happen with Anwar Sadat. He said, “I fear he will be assassinated by radical Islamists. They really don’t like democracy. We’ve saved his life several times, but we can’t always be there.”
On a lighter note, I asked, “Who do you think will be the next US president?” (Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan were opponents.) He answered, “The word on the street is that the Iranians will have something to say about that. When Ronald Reagan places his hand on the Bible, the hostages will be released.”
To my amazement, as Reagan was sworn in as the 40th president of the United States, a news flash came across the screen: The hostages in Iran had been released.
Harel’s words and the death of Yoni Netanyahu inspired me in 1981 to write Israel: America’s Key to Survival. On the front cover of the book are US and Israeli flags sliced in half by an Islamic sword. The premise of the book was that Israel was the only democracy and firewall between radical Islam and the West. On the back cover is a quote from Binyamin Netanyahu: “Their goal is to destroy America... destroy it... reduce it to nothing and they feel they can effectively do it through terrorism.”
The writer is a journalist and an author and heads the Evans Institute of Middle East Studies
PM Benjamin Netanyahu's July 4th Greetings
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