Israel as an Inspiration

Israel’s path to the confident Jewish State it is today was not predictable. And in critical ways, without America’s friendship and support, it would not have happened at all. But America’s soul and America’s spirit owes much to the biblical roots of the Jewish people.

Today, the Jewish state is the world’s 20th oldest democracy. Its economy is now larger, on a per capita basis, than the United Kingdom’s. Militarily, it is a regional power, and it has developed a state-of-the-art missile defense system. Once a significant recipient of humanitarian aid, Israel today donates aid and emergency services globally. In every sense, Israel has arrived fully in the family of nations – despite incredible odds and an array of threats.

It is tempting to see this remarkable story as the result of America’s sponsorship of Israel these past 75 years – and in many critical ways, Israel’s survival and enduring strength owes much to the support of the American people and the American government.

And yet, this friendship has not simply been a story of America’s assistance to Israel. Israel’s unparalleled relationship with America has both shaped Israel’s character as a Jewish State and left a lasting imprint on America. Israel has risen to a point that it now contributes meaningfully to America’s security, economic dynamism, culture, and resilience.

Today, Israel is one of America’s most essential friends in a difficult and often dangerous world – a nation made more secure with American assistance yet also one that defends America’s interests, represents America’s values, and strengthens America’s future. That is a meaningful transformation in the relationship between these two nations – and the Jewish State must always aspire to be America’s most reliable regional ally.

There are very few nations that have been as vital to America’s security and defense as Israel, especially in recent decades. American airmen train side by side with Israel’s world-class aviators. American naval ships dock and resupply safely in Israeli waters. American intelligence services regularly cooperate with their Israeli counterparts on issues of vital national interest – including the prevention of terror attacks on Americans and in the American homeland.

During the Cold War, America learned critical lessons about Soviet weapons systems from Israel; during the Global War on Terror, America benefited from Israel’s hard-won lessons tracking, fighting, and interdicting terror organizations around the world. As warfare has evolved, Israel has developed with America answers to missile proliferation, military drones, and attack tunnels. Israel is a reliable supporter of American foreign policy around the world, and its growing regional influence has expanded American influence as well.

As Israel has become a more secure and stable economy, it has become a seedbed of innovation and discovery, to the great benefit of Americans and our way of life. The “start-up nation” has become a magnet for American investors and technological talent, and Israel has the second-most number of foreign-based companies on the New York Stock Exchange. Israeli advances in cybersecurity, nanotechnology, environmental science, water-use and desalination engineering, biomedical technology, semiconductors, quantum computing, and pharmacology have transformed the lives of millions of Americans. Israeli anti-projectile technologies provided more effective armor for the combat vehicles of American servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan; Israeli medical devices and technologies helped save their lives and treated them if they were injured; Israeli engineering achievements like physical exo-skeletons gave many Americans the mobility they needed after paralyzing injuries.

When COVID hit the globe, Israel became a major testing ground for the vaccines that saved and improved billions of lives – and it shared what it learned with the world. Today, Israel is a valued ally and partner precisely because of its economic value. Increasingly, more nations around the world want it as a friend.

In Israel’s biblical history, America has always found resonance with its own deeply held beliefs. Both nations, in their modern foundation, have shared a vision of living in a promised land. America’s Founding Fathers looked to the providential history of the Jewish people for guidance on how to craft the governing principles and documents that would guide its leaders and protect its people; in turn, the founders of the Jewish State looked to America as the first nation to recognize its restoration only 75 years ago.

After President Harry Truman signed America’s recognition of the Jewish State, he declared: “I am Cyrus” – a reference to the Persian king who returned the Jews to their holy land two and a half millennia before our own time. Time and again, Americans can see their own role in the story of the People of the Book returned to the places described in the book we read in our homes and houses of worship.

And in Israel, Americans can see a country that welcomes all faiths, as pilgrims and travelers come to touch the stones of Jerusalem’s streets and dip into the waters of the Sea of Galilee and the River Jordan. The Jewish State is a nation where the three great Abrahamic faiths are free to come and pray peacefully, something that was not possible for most of the last two thousand years.

The very idea of a Jewish State is important to America – and in its flourishing, Americans can see much to admire. People who have had little connection or familiarity with Jews or Judaism saw in Israel and its people an inspiring reflection of American values. Whether it was as a nation of immigrants making the desert bloom or creating a vibrant democracy while fending off hostile forces, Americans have come to see in Israel a reminder that their way of life – Western, democratic, culturally and ethnically diverse, rooted in the rule of law and protective of the rights of the citizen – has a bright future wherever it is embraced.

Israel has also inspired many Americans to action. At its foundation, Israel did not enjoy uniform popular support, even among American Jews. Political Zionism was not firmly rooted in an empowered pro-Israel movement. Moreover, American Jews were not successful in organizing on behalf of Jewish communal issues – as the failure to rescue European Jewry so tragically demonstrated.

But with each successive year, that pro-Israel political movement strengthened its voice and built a broader following. Those who support Israel were not only inspired by it, but also gained confidence from it. This was particularly true after 1967, when what appeared to be a moment of existential peril was turned into a massive, history-changing victory. The Jewish State gave birth to Jewish political pride in America – a little-noted, but critical transformation in the life of Jewish Americans. What had once been a relatively quiet, largely urban, and poorly organized ethnic community became empowered, proud of their heritage, and equally proud Americans.

Israel has fundamentally changed the character and self-image of the Jewish people everywhere. Jews are no longer victims, no longer passive, and no longer dependent on others for their lives or their fundamental security. After 2,000 years, there has been a total transformation of the character of a people, wherever they make their home. And that transformation, too, has been a critical contribution of the Jewish State to Americans.

Israel’s path to the confident Jewish State it is today was not predictable. And in critical ways, without America’s friendship and support, it would not have happened at all. But America’s soul and America’s spirit owes much to the biblical roots of the Jewish people. The world’s greatest democracy found in that story the inspiration for its greatness, and in today’s rebirth of a Jewish homeland, America finds anew much to celebrate and benefit from. The Jewish State and America were meant to prosper together, support each other and be friends, forever.

Howard Kohr is CEO of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)