The president of the United States has recently reassured us and proclaimed that “America has Israel’s back”. Given the recent controversies between the prime minister of Israel and the president of the United States, this message was meant to soothe the relationship between the two countries and to allow for a more positive progression of policies that would be in their mutual interest.
The president of the United States also said that he retains the right to criticize and chastise Israel over policies that he feels to be wrong and even harmful to its own welfare. He declared that Israel somehow has departed from the founding views and policies that almost seventy years ago created it as a state. He, like many others before him and probably after him as well, knows better than we do what is good for us and how moral and just we should be.
By stating that “America has Israel’s back” he is now free and even compelled to judge Israel and its policies and government from the lofty level of the high ground that he has staked out. There is no question that the United States, from the beginning of the State of Israel till today, has remained a loyal friend and a great supplier of practical and diplomatic help to the Jewish state. There is also no question that the wise course for any Israeli leader is not to be viewed as being hostile or unfriendly to the persona and policies of the American president.
Yet, over the decades since the establishment of the State of Israel, America and its presidential leaders have often adopted policies that have proven to be counterproductive to the interests of the State of Israel, and in fact, of the United States as well. America is not blameless nor spotless in the creation of the terrible mess in which the Middle East finds itself today. It should therefore be somewhat wary, if not even humble when offering advice to those who actually have to live in that Middle East.
Over the long history of the Jewish people we have had many enemies but we have also had numerous non-Jews who were good friends and appreciated the special role of the Jewish people in the story of human civilization. Nevertheless, at moments of terrible danger and crisis when Jews were being persecuted and slaughtered, no nation, no matter how friendly its citizens may have been disposed towards Jews and Judaism, ever really had our back.
In World War II when European Jewry was almost completely annihilated, the Allies were, or felt themselves to be. powerless to somehow prevent the Holocaust from occurring. The debate amongst historians and scholars as to why the railroads and trains leading to the death camps of Poland were never bombed will undoubtedly continue for years to come.
But whatever the reason and no matter how legitimate the justification for inaction may have been, the simple fact is that those trains and rails never were bombed. And the behavior of most of the Allied countries towards refugees and survivors of the Holocaust and the emerging State of Israel was at the most tepid and at the least hostile. Thus Jews can be excused for not excitedly responding to words and platitudes, no matter how well-meaning about others, having our back. Does anyone really believe that the United States will go to war on behalf of Israel?
The reality teaches us that we alone have our back - and front as well. We need help from the world and we certainly hope to receive it diplomatically, politically and financially. We hope that the United States will continue to provide us with the type of help in the future as it has in the past. However, nations have interests and not friends, and strategic goals that are not usually affected by emotion or bravado.
We would do well to accept the words of the president of the United States and be thankful for his statement. But we would be foolish if we somehow relied on the United States or any other country in the world to truly have our back and to think they would take up the cudgel of actual military action on our behalf.
We all know that ultimately the God of Israel has our back. The Talmud long ago taught us that relying on humans is a futile policy and that ultimately our reliance can only be placed in the God of Israel, Who has guided us and preserved us against all odds until today. It is nice to hear reassuring words of support but let no one think that somehow those words gives one license to play with the future of the Jewish people and its state. With God’s help, Israel will survive and will prosper because of Israel itself.