For as long as I can remember we’ve always sung “God Bless America” at the end of the Passover Seder. This week is no exception. The tradition is not unique to our family.
The tradition began in our family when the state of Israel was born in 1948. Jews in America were sensitive to the question of whether we had dual loyalties (in the days before multiculturalism made dual loyalties fashionable in some circles). With the establishment of the modern state of Israel, many fervent Zionists said every Jew in the world should live in their ancient homeland. Most American Jews think otherwise. A Jewish state is a wonderful thing, but our political allegiance was, and is, and always will be to the United States.
In fact, we want the United States and Israel to be the exception to Disraeli’s famous dictum when Queen Victoria asked him to name England’s permanent friends that nations have no permanent friends, only permanent interests.
Nevertheless, even the firmest friends have disagreements. Friendly states, like friends, have to be careful not to allow temporary disagreements to cause permanent rifts.
Last week the Clinton administration and key members of Congress, friends of Israel all, objected to an Israeli arms deal with China. Four years ago, Israel signed a contract to sell China an aircraft with sophisticated airborne radar similar to the American AWACS system. Chinese President Jiang Zemin went to Israel last week to discuss that sale, and the purchase of as many as eight more of them.
Although the United States has known of this deal since its inception, it’s alarmed now in light of China’s recent threats against Taiwan. The United States could be drawn into a conflict between China and Taiwan.
When we posed questions to Israeli Ambassador David Ivry the other day at an editorial-board luncheon at The Washington Times, he was puzzled, he said, that the appetizer arrived before the AWACS question did. He returned to his answer during the salad, the breast of chicken entree and even the chocolate cake: The friendship of the United States is more important to Israel than the sale of arms.
“Israel’s national security depends on our relationship with the United States,” he said. “We have to take into account U.S. interests and concerns.”
Certain members of Congress have threatened to cut Israel’s military and economic aid by the amount of their profit on the arms sales. But the issue for Israel is about a lot more than money.
“We do not want to have China hostile to Israel,” the ambassador said, aware that China can sell arms to Israel’s Arab enemies in the Middle East. China sells arms now to Iran. But if Israel cancels the $2 billion contract, Britain (which enjoys its “special relationship” with the United States), which lost out to Israel in the original competition, would no doubt leap to fill the order.
For an American Jew, the sale offers another troubling concern. Israel, after all, was born with promises of seeking the moral high ground. Memories of the Holocaust were still raw and fresh. China is second only to Iran as the foremost human-rights offender in the world, according to Freedom House, a rights-monitoring organization. The State Department notes that China’s human-rights record is only getting worse.
When President Jiang visited Jerusalem, putting on the ritual yarmulke, he talked about the ancient histories of the two countries and how they had both contributed to the richness of the world’s culture. But the two nations look at the world in a quite different way today.
“Israel has a right to be sensitive about being dictated to, or the victim of a double standard, even at the hands of Israel’s best friend in the world,” notes the Jerusalem Post. “As relevant as these reasons for sensitivity may be, the possibility that a legitimate interest of a true friend may be hurt looms larger.”
At the Passover Seder, the youngest child always asks four questions about the holiday. This year he might add a fifth: Why should Israel, against the wishes of its best friend in the world, sell AWACS to China?