When I counsel couples about to be married who insist they never fight, I worry. Perhaps they are unwilling to trust the strength of the relationship by disagreeing. Yet, when others tell me that each fight imperils the marriage, I also worry. Healthy relationships can bear disagreement without endangering closeness. They can be angry without rupture. This brings us to Israel and America.
In each instance of tension in the Israel-U.S. relationship, Jeremiahs roam the editorial pages. This time will tear the fabric, they cry. Israel’s distrust of Obama or the power of oil or Netanyahu’s inability to come to terms with the Palestinians are all likely culprits to break up the marriage. But, there are enduring and powerful reasons why Israel and America are bound together in ways that will not change any time soon.
First is a deep ideological affinity. Both are nations fashioned by immigrants who went in search of greater rights than they had at home. Early Americans came from a relatively advanced political culture. Israel’s founders came from the despotisms of Eastern Europe. But both knew that the only way to create a vibrant and thriving society was to expand politics beyond one’s own prejudices. The Israeli press is vigorous, funny, sometimes rude, and robust. There, you find as unfettered an exchange of views as any place in the world. If you think Congress is contentious, check out the Knesset. In Israel’s Knesset, it is not uncommon for people to scream at one another—Israelis know how to mix it up.
In both places, the gift of speaking one’s mind is honest and acute analysis. Forthright reporting in the press leads to the exposure of shortcomings. Both countries face serious challenges, but of what government and society is that not the case? In free ones, we hear about it.
The second enduring bond is social dynamism and respect for achievement. A test case in any country is the position of women. Apart from simple considerations of justice, both societies are dedicated to not wasting the talents of half the population. In the midst of an illiberal region, Israel is not only an egalitarian society, but offers LGBT equality and is fashioned as a meritocracy. Israel faces the additional challenge of the religious establishment’s control over issues of personal status like marriage and divorce, but, of late, this too is being repeatedly and sometimes successfully challenged. Free enterprise has a way of loosening bonds. The engine of capitalism drives both Silicon Valley and Start-up Nation.
Finally, there is a common religious heritage. America is still overwhelmingly a culturally Christian country and Israel a Jewish one. Of course, the historical relationship between the two has been painful and often tragic. But the modern rapprochement between Jews and Christians is quite astonishing and even beautiful. Pockets of anti-Semitism remain in the U.S., but many ancient prejudices have dimmed or disappeared. For many religious Americans, Israel is a repository of millennial hopes as well as a modern example of a nation that still carries the principles of freedom and equality in a region that is dedicated to ignoring them.
Obviously, Israel faces challenges that the U.S. does not: enemies on its borders, a sometimes antagonistic mix of populations, and the continuing struggle for peace with its neighbors. But these difficulties and dissimilarities do not obscure the greater affinities. Yes, there will be disagreements, friction, and frustration. Yet, here are two beacons of rescue, that called to and continue to call to refugees who hope of finding a place where they can speak and live freely. Two nations, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.