As we sit now between Israel’s Independence Day celebrations (according to the Jewish calendar, the Israeli celebration was yesterday—in America, we look forward to May 14), I thought it would be interesting to visit with a man I greatly admire, Kenneth Bialkin. The chairman of the America-Israel Friendship League (AIFL), Bialkin has a front-row seat when it comes to the American-Israel relationship.
Bialkin is a thoughtful observer, and his reflections on Independence Day are especially insightful.
“This year Independence Day is right after Memorial Day (“Yom Hashoah Ve-Hagevurah” in Hebrew). The entire country stops, the sirens ring, people get out of their cars and stand in the streets for a moment of silence in memory of the people who died in the Holocaust. It is a solemn day, remembering those who perished.
“A week later is Independence Day. A day of celebration, like our Fourth of July, which gives thanks and celebrates the freedom that is preserved from the time in 1948 when a relatively small group announced the independence of Israel.”
Bialkin recognizes Israel’s remarkable accomplishments and also acknowledges the challenges the country faces.
“Here we are in 2014 and this is a special celebration. Israel is still the only free country in the whole region, in all of the Middle East. It’s the only one that hasn’t seen rebellion, revolution, or civil war. On every border, its neighbors are fighting: civil war in Syria; conflicts in Lebanon amongst the various sects; the struggle in almost every country between those who are fighting terrorism and those who are practicing terrorism (sometimes you can’t tell the difference between them). And here is Israel, in the midst of that region, able to keep its independence, freedom, and dignity and democracy. It stands there as America’s main ally in the fight against terror.”
As with every year of Israel’s modern existence, there are dangers lurking.
“The pressure of Iran hangs over the region and later this year we will learn whether the interim agreement with Iran will be such that Iran gives up the prospect of a nuclear weapon. Israel and the U.S. will have to agree on Iran if they [Iranians] balk on the prospect of giving up a nuclear device.”
Israel has enjoyed the support of an overwhelming majority of the American public. Bialkin appreciates this, but also wonders where American political leadership stands.
“If you look at analysis of public opinion in America, it’s astounding how strong the support for Israel is, notwithstanding the fact that—just to put it delicately—no one really knows where America [politically] stands on these issues in the peace process.
“America has now called a timeout in the negotiations because the parties were unable to come to an agreement in all these months of brokered negotiations. So we all have to be careful and watchful.”
Recently, Secretary of State John Kerry raised eyebrows when he told a private gathering that if negotiations with the Palestinians fail, Israel risks being seen as an “apartheid state.”
Kerry’s unfortunate remarks created a firestorm.
“The expressions of the secretary of state create a certain ambiguity of where the administration lies in how long and how strongly it will stand by and support Israel fully. But I think the American public and Congress haven’t wavered a bit. And I think we can all take a great deal of comfort in the fact
that most people in America love freedom and love Israel.”
With friends like Kenneth Bialkin, Israel is in good hands. May the connection between our two countries remain unbreakable!