A Whole New Ballgame
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman delivered a speech this week that made the unbearably hot and humid weather feel like a breath of fresh air. At the annual Fourth of July celebration, held Monday evening at his official residence in Herzliya, Friedman not only reiterated his personal faith in Judaism and the Jewish people, but stressed America’s ”unbreakable bond” with the Jewish state.
The bond Friedman was referring to had become so fragile during former US President Barack Obama’s two terms in office that it became the punchline of a joke made in 2014 by comedian Jay Leno. Obama, Leno quipped, knows just how unbreakable the US-Israel bond is, “since he’s been trying to break it for years.”
It was not only Friedman’s address that was crafted to convey the loud and clear message that the new administration in Washington is going to behave differently — that it is and will continue to be unequivocally and unflinchingly on Israel’s side. The fact that he was the first US ambassador to invite settler leaders to the event, and proudly pose for photographs with them, already spoke volumes.
Friedman began by recounting that the first time he hosted a party in Israel was at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, when he was 13. “As the son of a rabbi of modest means, I can assure you that my bar mitzvah party bore absolutely no resemblance to the party that we are attending here tonight,” he said. “But the spirit … is exactly the same. It is the spirit of patriotic Americans committed to increasing the ties and enhancing the relationship between the United States and the State of Israel. That’s what my family stood for 45 years ago, and that’s still who we are today.”
That right off the bat he boasted of his Jewish connection to the Western Wall in the context of US-Israel relations was highly significant. It signaled to those supporters of President Donald Trump who became disillusioned by what appeared to be a backtracking of his vow to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem that this is not a case of yet another administration reneging on its promises in an attempt to appease the Palestinians and impose a peace deal on Israel. It also indicated to Israel’s enemies that America recognizes Israeli sovereignty over its capital city.
Friedman went on to say, “It was just two months ago that I had the honor … to be the master of ceremonies at the very first party ever hosted by the White House to commemorate Israel’s Independence Day, [where] I had the privilege to proclaim, ‘yom haatzmaut sameach l’medinat yisrael’ — ‘Happy Independence Day to the State of Israel.’ Today, it is my great pleasure to return the favor from 6,000 miles away. And so let me proclaim, ‘yom haatzmaut sameach l’artzot habrit,’ ‘Happy Independence Day to the United States.'”
And then he quoted, in Hebrew, a line from Psalm 118 — “This is a day that the Lord has made; let us [be glad and] rejoice in it” — to make a point about Israel’s being “the source of many of the Judeo-Christian values that spawned the American enterprise.” He invoked the famous Puritan Pilgrim John Winthrop, who in 1630 “implored his followers to be faithful to the teachings of the Jewish prophet, Micah, to ‘do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with thy God,'” and told new immigrants to America that if they did so, they would “find that the God of Israel is among us.”
He said that when Winthrop “referred to New England as a ‘city upon a hill with the eyes of all people upon us,” he was also referring to Jerusalem. Indeed, Friedman added, “So much of who we are derives from the teachings of ancient Israel. And, perhaps for that reason, it is no surprise that the United States and Israel have the most special of special relationships.”
Here, again, Friedman purposely spoke of Jerusalem, emphasizing that the success and mutual admiration that America and the Jewish state enjoy emanate from “ancient Israel.”
”We have, of course, common enemies that unite us,” he said — as well as military, trade, culture and cybersecurity cooperation. “But our collective core, what fundamentally unites us, is that we are the two shining cities on a hill, drawn together by a shared history, shared values and … a shared destiny of continued greatness.”
This declaration was nothing short of momentous, particularly as it came on the heels of senior Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner’s June 21 meeting in Ramallah with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, whose henchmen described the encounter as “tense.” Apparently, being told by a prominent member of the White House staff that the paying of terrorists’ salaries has got to stop is not what Abbas had expected to hear — despite being yelled at by Trump himself in May for having lied about the rampant incitement in the PA against Jews and Israelis.
Friedman’s next allusion to Jerusalem involved noting that he is the “first [US] ambassador to accompany [Trump] in visiting the kotel hamaaravi, the Western Wall.” From here, he segued into his conclusion by talking about how, earlier in the day, he and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had toured the aircraft carrier the USS George H.W. Bush off the coast of Haifa.
Peace through strength, he announced (quoting King David’s words in Psalm 29, which he said his father used to recite every Shabbat morning) is “a foundational cornerstone of the Trump administration” and a “guiding principle of the State of Israel.”
Finally, Friedman said that American men and women in uniform, like their Israeli counterparts in the IDF, “hope never to fire a shot,” preferring to keep the world safe through a demonstration of strength and courage. However — he implied — they willingly sacrifice their lives in this mission if left no other choice.
While the new US ambassador to Israel wound down his remarks by wishing the United States a happy 241st birthday, the audience revved up its cheering for the start of what Americans call “a whole new ballgame.”
Ruthie Blum is an editor at the Gatestone Institute. This piece was first published in Israel Hayom.