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May 22, 2015 12:52 pm

Shavuot and US-Israel Relations

avatar by Yoram Ettinger

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Since 1949, the U.S.-Israel crises have always been V-shaped: quick to deteriorate and quick to rebound. Photo: Pete Souza/White House.

U.S.-Israel relations have experienced many crises, beginning with the U.S. State Department’s opposition to the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948, the U.S. State Department-initiated 1948-1949 military embargo (while the British supplied arms to Egypt, Jordan and Iraq), and Foggy Bottom’s sustained refusal to recognize any part of Jerusalem as Israeli territory.

However, since 1949, the U.S.-Israel crises have always been V-shaped (quick to deteriorate and quick to rebound), not U-shaped (quick to deteriorate and slow to rebound), due to the healthy foundations of the bilateral relationship — as reflected in the attitudes of the American people and Congress — which transcend the Palestinian issue, the Arab-Israeli conflict, Israel’s bombing of Iraq’s nuclear reactor, Iran, etc.

The foundations of U.S.-Israel relations were forged by the Bible-admiring Pilgrims of the 17th century and the Judeo-Christian values-driven Founding Fathers of the 18th century, preceding the evolution of the organized Jewish community, the Holocaust, the establishment of Israel and the appearance of AIPAC on the American scene. These foundations have nurtured a covenant between the American people — and their state and federal representatives — and the Jewish state, which has accorded Israel a unique standing as a foreign, but also a value-driven domestic issue.

The holiday of Shavuot — which commemorates the receipt of the Torah and the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai some 3,500 years ago — sheds light on the key values of the Pilgrims and the Founding Fathers. Those values had a profound impact on: the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the separation of powers (consider Moses, Aaron, the 70 Elders and the tribal presidents), the system of checks and balances, the requirement that the chief executive must be American-born, the concept that the capital city (Jerusalem and Washington, D.C.) does not belong to any tribe/state, the abolitionist movement and the general public discourse in the U.S.

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British philosopher John Locke, whose writings were the basis for the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, stated that “the Bible is one of the greatest blessings bestowed by God on the children of men.” Locke aspired for the 613 commandments to become the legal foundation of the Carolinas, in particular, and the new society in America, in general. Abraham Lincoln’s famous 1863 quote — “government of the people, by the people, for the people” — paraphrased a statement made by the 14th century British philosopher and translator of the Bible, John Wycliffe: “The Bible is a book of the people, by the people, for the people.”

Shavuot is celebrated 50 days after Passover (likewise, Pentecost — a derivative of the Greek word for 50 — is celebrated 50 days after Easter). Passover celebrates the Exodus, which has played a key role in shaping the American story, including the Revolutionary War and the struggle against slavery. The Liberty Bell bears an inscription: “Proclaim liberty upon the earth and unto all the inhabitants thereof (Leviticus 25:10),” which refers to the Jubilee — the cornerstone of the biblical concept of liberty — commemorated every 50 years. According to Judaism, there are 50 gates to wisdom, studied during the 50 days between Passover and Shavuot, challenged by the 50 gates of impurity. The 50th gate of wisdom is the gate of liberty — a cardinal value in the culture of the 50 states in the union.

Shavuot is the holiday of “the Constitution of the Seven,” according to the Hebrew acronym of the seven names of Shavuot: The holiday of the Fiftieth, the Harvest, the Torah, the Weeks, the Offerings, the Rally and the Assembly.

Shavuot is the second of the three Jewish pilgrimages (Sukkot and Passover being the other two), expressing the 3,500 year old trilateral linkage between the land of Israel (Abraham), the Torah of Israel (Moses) and the people of Israel (united by King David). According to King Solomon, “a triple-braided cord is not easily broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12). Abraham, Moses (“the humblest of all human beings,” Numbers 12:3) and David are the role models of humility — a human trait, which is highlighted by the Bible as a prerequisite for leadership.

It has been customary to pave the road from Passover to Shavuot by studying the six brief chapters of The Ethics of the Fathers, a second century compilation of Jewish ethical teachings, sayings and proverbs such as: “Conditional love is tenuous; unconditional love is eternal.” Similarly, Israel is the only unconditional Middle Eastern ally of the U.S., reciprocating the value-driven, unconditional identification of the American people with the Jewish state.

This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.

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  • At the end of May, 1949, the State Department threatened to
    reassess our ties with Israel — including ending support for Israel in international organizations — if Israel continued to refuse to take our advice in making peace with the Arabs. Amolng other things, the State Department wantred Israel to give up the Negev — an idea that emerged a year earlier in the Bernadotte Plan (apparently Bernadotte was fronting for the Brits and State), take in large numbers of Arab refugees, and agree to international status for Jerusalem.

    The recent threat from the Obama administration to reassess our ties with Israel is nothing new — has been occurring soon after Israel’s emergence — over State opposition, as Mr. Ettinger points out. And demands that Israel make territorial concessions also goes back to 1948. Remarks from President Obama suggest hat part of his hostility towards Israel reflects his displeasure with Israel’s conservative government. BUT — the State Department hard-line against Israel dates from the days when Israel was led by leftists. (Note, in that regard, concern in the early days that Israel would lean towards the Soviet Union!)

    Always, the excuse the pressure Israel into seeking peace with the Arabs. In September 1948, the British consul in Jerusalem told an Israel official that the Arabs refuse to make peace so that Israel will be forced to its knees and plead to the Arabs for mercy.

    This mindset explains, I believe, the Palestinian refusal, after 68 years, to make peace with Israel. It should be noted that although the State Department grudgingly accepted the existence of Israel — per President Truman’s instructions, by the summer of 1948, the Department thought that Arab Palestine should be incorporated into Trans-Jordan (now Jordan) — with, as already indicated, the Negev also going to Jordan.