By Don Feder – BarbWire guest contributor
In researching a recent commentary on the Battle of Concord and Memorial Day, I was again struck by the colonial affinity for names from the Jewish Bible. Among the first Americans to fall at Concord’s North Bridge was Militia Captain Isaac Davis. Major General Israel Putnam was one of two American commanders at the Battle of Bunker Hill.
Ethan Allen demanded that the British surrender Ft. Ticonderoga “In the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress.” Jehovah is an English representation for a name for God in the Hebrew Bible (YHWH).
While those names sound archaic today, and though knowledge of the Bible has declined dramatically, America’s connection to Israel (ancient and modern) remains strong.
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A 2013 Gallup survey found the highest public support for Israel in over 20 years – this despite a relentlessly negative portrayal of the Jewish state in the mainstream media and academia, and the most anti-Israel administration in our history. According to Gallup, 64% of adult Americans sympathize with Israel, compared to only 12% who favor the so-called Palestinians.
In trying to explain the uniqueness of our relationship with Israel, it’s often noted that Israel is one of our major trading partners (16th out of 187 nations in 2012), that America was instrumental in founding the Jewish State, and that Jerusalem is our only reliable ally in a region where just about everyone else hates us.
These are all compelling reasons for the U.S./Israel partnership, but our relationship with Israel transcends such mundane matters. In all of recorded history, no two peoples have been closer than Americans and Jews. A spiritual connection exists between ancient Israel, America and modern Israel.
This reality was recognized by Harry Truman, who said in a 1950 speech: “I had faith in Israel before it was established. I have faith in it now. It has a glorious future before it – not just another sovereign nation, but as an embodiment of the great ideas of our civilization.”
In a very real sense, America didn’t begin at Plymouth in 1620 or in Philadelphia in 1776, but at a mountain in the Sinai Peninsula over three millennia ago. Before there could be an America, there had to be an Israel.
The newly freed slaves who stood at Sinai were brought out of Egypt with a strong Hand and an outstretched Arm, as the Bible recounts. They had separated themselves from the Egyptians and rejected the rule of Pharaoh. At Sinai, they became a nation.
They formed a covenant. A covenant is a sacred compact among people who share a moral vision and agree to live a certain way, with God as their witness. At Sinai, the children of Israel voluntarily bound themselves to Mosaic Law. They agreed to recognize certain rights and assume certain responsibilities.
It was the first time in history that rights were universally proclaimed. This was reflected in the commandment not to show partiality to the poor nor favor the powerful in judgment – “But, justice, justice shall you pursue.” In a world with slavery, exploitation of the weak and human sacrifice, this was a truly revolutionary doctrine.
Israel was the first nation in history without a king. The period of the Judges lasted for 365 years – longer than the history of the United States to date. Ancient Israel provided the moral vision of Western Civilization, which eventually led to the founding of America, almost 1,700 years after the destruction of the Second Jewish Commonwealth.
Margaret Thatcher stressed the importance of Sinai to America when she observed: “The Decalogue (10 Commandments) are addressed to each and every person. This is the origin…the sanctity of the individual…You don’t get that in any other political creed…it is personal liberty with personal responsibility. Responsibility to your parents, to your children, to your God…Your Founding Fathers came over with that.”
In the 17th century, a group of English settlers, called dissenters, came to these shores imbued with what can only be described as a Jewish worldview. No Christians have ever identified more closely with the People of the Book (as they called them) than the Pilgrims and Puritans who shaped our political institutions more than any other colonists. Cotton Mather, the great Puritan minister, wanted to make Hebrew the language of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
They had made their own Exodus – leaving behind them the corruption of the Old World, separating themselves from their brethren in England, and coming here to establish a new Jerusalem. The Atlantic Ocean became their Red Sea, the American wilderness their Canaan and the Geneva Bible their stone tablets.
That identification didn’t end with the Colonial era.
In his Thanksgiving sermon of 1799, Abiel Tabbot of Andover, Massachusetts told his congregation: “It has often been remarked that the people of the United States come nearer to a parallel with Ancient Israel, than any other nation upon the globe. Hence ‘Our American Israel,’ is a term frequently used, and common consent allows it apt and proper.” In his first inaugural address, Thomas Jefferson referred to America as the “chosen country.”
The original design for the Great Seal of the United States – recommended by Jefferson, Adams and Franklin – showed the Children of Israel crossing the Red Sea, with the motto: “Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.” The Liberty Bell, which tolled to herald the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, is inscribed with a verse from the Torah (Leviticus 25:10) “Proclaim Liberty throughout the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof.”
From our earliest history, the idea of covenant dominated American political thinking.
While they were still aboard the Mayflower, the Pilgrims pledged to found their colony, “For the glory of God, the advancement of the Christian faith and the honor of King and country … and by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic…”
The Declaration of Independence (America’s founding document) was our most important covenant. In this regard, a paper by Daniel J. Elazer of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (“Covenant and America’s Founding”) is worth quoting at length:
“The Declaration shares many of the characteristics of the classic Biblical covenant at Sinai. Central to this similarity is that the Declaration established the Americans as an organized people bound by a shared moral vision as well as common interests. The sense of an American identity, which had been emerging during the previous generation, was formalized and declared to the world much like the Sinai covenant had formally created the people Israel whose sense of shared identity and common destiny had emerged earlier but was concretized during the Exodus. Thus the opening paragraph of the Declaration asserts that Americans are no longer transplanted Englishmen, but a separate people entitled, like all peoples, to political independence. There is then a separation from another and a flight from Tyranny. The Americans, moreover, are held to be a single people made up of individuals bound in partnership in a common enterprise.”
Like covenants of the Bible, God plays a central role in the Declaration of Independence. The opening paragraph speaks of our infant republic being entitled to assume “the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them.” It then goes on to proclaim the concept of universal rights and establish their basis, “That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…”
It closes “With a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”
Just as Israel had to separate itself from Egypt, with the Declaration of Independence, America separated itself from Britain. In the Declaration, God is acknowledged as the source of rights, as He is in Mosaic Law.
By establishing a republic (the first in modern times), once again, America followed in Israel’s footsteps. Remember, there was no king in Israel for almost four centuries.
James Madison – our 4th president and author of the Bill of Rights (often called the Father of the U.S. Constitution) – observed in a 1778 speech to the Virginia Assembly: “We have staked the whole of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government, upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves to control ourselves to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”
Daniel Webster, who was born during the Revolution and was close to the Founding Fathers (intellectually as well as chronically) said of the Jews: “I feel, and have ever felt, respect and sympathy for all that remains of that extraordinary people who preserved through the darkness of so many centuries the knowledge of one supreme spiritual being…” Webster continued, and this is crucial, “The Hebrew Scriptures I regard as the fountain from which we draw all we know of the world around us, and of our own character and destiny as intelligent, moral and responsible beings.”
That knowledge of human nature and the way the world works, gained from the Torah, shaped our political values over the course of almost two centuries. Often in our national saga, our leaders turned to the Bible to tell us what was in their hearts.
On his way to Washington, D.C. for his inauguration in 1861, Abraham Lincoln stopped in Philadelphia to visit Independence Hall, America’s Sinai. Standing at the birthplace of our republic, Lincoln declared, “All my political warfare has been in favor of the teachings coming forth from that sacred hall.” In witness whereof, our 16th president paraphrased Psalm 137, “May my right hand forget its cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if ever I prove false to those teachings.”
Three tragic years later, speaking at the dedication of a cemetery at Gettysburg, Lincoln reminded his listeners that the Founding Fathers had brought forth, “A new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…” He ended with the prayer “That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.”
Starting with George Washington, every president has taken his oath of office on a book which includes the story of the patriarchs and prophets, the Exodus, the encounter at Sinai, and the Ten Commandments. The history of Israel is in the marrow of our bones. It flows in our national bloodstream. More that Athens and Rome – more than Roman Law and English Common Law – Israel shaped America.
If Ancient Israel was instrumental in the founding of America, America was crucial to Israel’s rebirth in 1948. It’s somehow fitting that our support for the fledgling state was due to a president from the Bible Belt.
Despite our common heritage, that support was by no means certain. I can’t imagine FDR championing the concept of a Jewish state. By the way, Truman was under enormous pressure not to recognize Israel from – guess where? – our State Department. Some things never change.
Then-Secretary of State George Marshall, a revered figure who was Army Chief of Staff during World War II, told the president point-blank that he’d resign if America recognized Israel’s independence. With the Cold War looming, Truman desperately needed Marshall at his side. Still, the man from Missouri did the right thing, instead of the expedient thing. By the way, Marshall did not resign.
Is it necessary to recount how different the world would be without the strategic partnership of the United States and Israel?
There’s another consideration worth noting: The enemies of Israel and the Jewish people have invariably been the enemies of America – from Nazism and communism, to Islamism. All of them hate the common ideals on which America and Israel were founded – human rights, equality before the law and tolerance.
And here at home, without exception, those who hold America in contempt also loathe Israel.
Secretary of State John Kerry returned from Vietnam in the early 1970s and accused the men he served with of committing war crimes. Today, he calls Israel an apartheid state. The boycott, divestment, sanctions movement is made up of leftists who hate America every bit as much as they hate Israel.
Rev. Jeremiah Wright – President Obama’s pastor and spiritual mentor for 19 years – is rabidly anti-Israel. In the aftermath of 9-11, Wright called on God to “damn America.”
The United Nations, that anti-American vipers’ nest, is also (not surprisingly) anti-Israel. In 2013, almost half of all resolutions passed by the UN Human Rights Council – 45 in total – condemned the Jewish state. The Council’s members currently include such bastions of human rights as Pakistan, China and Cuba.
The current occupant of the White House, who rejects the principles on which America was founded – the rule of law, separation of powers and limited government – makes Jimmy Carter look like a Zionist. He is trying to do to Israel’s borders what he’s done to America’s.
Those who believe Israel’s founding was an injustice believe the same of America. Those who think American prosperity is based on oppression and exploitation condemn Israel on the same grounds.
At the 2012 Democratic National Convention, a majority of delegates supported removing references to both God and Jerusalem as Israel’s capital from their platform. The Democrats have devolved from the party of Truman, Adlai Stevenson and Eleanor Roosevelt to the party of Obama, Jimmy Carter and John Kerry.
Whether it’s Michael Moore, Oliver Stone, Danny Glover or George Soros, hatred of America and Israel go hand in hand.
In the poll I mentioned earlier, 55% of Democrats supported Israel (7 points lower than among the general public), versus 71% of Republicans. Israel is favored by 77% of conservatives, but only by 51% of liberals (a gap of 26 percentage points).
Let me leave you with a cautionary note. As Bible illiteracy rises among the young, support for Israel declines. Again, according to Gallup, support for Israel is highest among those 55 years-of-age and older (71%) and lowest among 18 to 34 year-olds (55%).
A survey by Barna Research reveals that only 40% of adult Americans can name even five of the Ten Commandments.
Baptist theologian Albert Mohler writes that the Barna poll “indicated that at least 12% of adults believe that Joan of Arc is Noah’s wife. Another survey of graduating high school seniors revealed that over 50% thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife. A considerable number of respondents to one poll indicated that the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham.” Mohler adds, “We are in big trouble.” As indeed we are.
It is up to us, the friends of Israel – Christians and Jews – to spread knowledge of the spiritual bond that unites America and the Jewish state, and why support for Israel is very much in keeping with our heritage and values.
It’s a beautiful story full of wonder and hope. As we say at the Passover Seder, reading from the Hagaddah, “And the more one tells it, the more he is to be praised.” God bless you, and thank you for the opportunity to be with you this evening.
Don Feder is a former Boston Herald writer who is now a political/communications consultant. He also maintains his own website, DonFeder.com.
First published at GrassTopsUSA.
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.