Conservative commentator John Podhoretz said Republican leaders were late in understanding Israel’s deep “spiritual connection” with the United States.
However, he told an audience at Churchill Junior High School in East Brunswick, support for Israel within the party coalesced as the Jewish community found its voice and evangelical Christians became both “the backbone” of support for Israel and a political force, and as Israel became “a beacon of Western hope and the bulwark against Arab terrorism.”
“Israel and the United States share a kindred spiritual connection,” said the editor of Commentary Magazine, speaking Oct. 30 at a meeting of the Central New Jersey chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition. “Israel is Zion, homeland for the Jewish people.”
Podhoretz told the audience of around 100 that support for Israel lagged among GOP presidents, members of Congress, and voters as late as the early 1980s. At the time, the party was still controlled by “the old right,” which backed President Ronald Reagan’s sale of AWAC fighter aircraft to Saudi Arabia. Podhoretz was a speechwriter for Reagan.
The first President George Bush and his Secretary of State, James Baker, were “very much hostile to Israel,” said Podhoretz.
United States support for Israel has solidified over the last several decades, he said, over shared core values as much as for strategic reasons, even as much of the rest of the world has ostracized the Jewish state.
Those values, based on American ideals of individual freedom and human rights, have contributed to 70 percent of Americans consistently backing Israel in the Middle East even in the face of criticism over the Palestinian issue, he said.
“This is the only country in the world where this is the case,” he said. “As you know, in Europe, where they should be hanging their heads in shame, in the case of the Jewish homeland the situation is reversed.
“It is the United States that remains Israel’s friend, ally, and protector.”
‘America is Zion’
The United States is the only country founded on the idea of securing individual freedom and the dignity of its citizens, he said. Similarly, he noted, Israel was founded on the core Jewish belief that an individual’s freedom is “God-given.”
“You may be unjustly treated and oppressed, but no one can take away your freedom, because God made you free,” said Podhoretz, adding that the founding fathers modeled American “exceptionalism” on the “notion that America is Zion.”
Podhoretz was critical of Barack Obama, saying he was disheartened by the president’s response in 2009 when asked if he believed in American exceptionalism. “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism,” the president said.
While Podhoretz acknowledged the current administration was providing military hardware to Israel at an unprecedented rate — including “bunker buster” bombs — he insisted Obama has been hostile to Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“All the bunker buster bombs in the world will mean nothing if Israel loses the friendship of the United States,” he said. “Israel needs the United States more than the United States needs Israel.”
But the United States still does need Israel, and the country’s growing isolation on the world stage should raise alarm bells in the U.S. administration.
“[I]f Israel dies,” said Podhoretz, “the root idea of what makes America different also dies because we will also be alone.”