The well-known Spanish saying goes: Dime con quién andas, y te diré quién eres — tell me who you’re with, and I’ll tell you who you are. Israel ha andado con the United States since the former’s founding in 1948. Today, Israel and the United States vote together virtually every time in the United States, sometimes all alone. Israel, for instance, is one of the handful of countries, and the only other major one, that vote against the U.N.’s annual condemnation of the United States’s continued colonial occupation of Puerto Rico; and the United States, for its part, reliably defends Israel against international criticism of its 50-year occupation of Palestine.
Now, for the first time in its history, Israel — and by that I mean Prime Minister Netanyahu and the governing Likud — has openly declared itself to be the “nation-state of the Jewish people.” In past Israel has always claimed to be a multicultural democracy, but, as with the United States, that claim is purely on paper. (The Israeli flag proudly displays the Star of David, after all.) And now that Israel faces a growing Arab minority, the right-wing members of the Knesset feel the country’s Jewish identity is at risk of being drowned out by other cultures — an experience Israel also shares with its powerful benefactor.
For more than two centuries the people of the United States have been debating the essence of their own country. Some, mostly on the left, believe the United States is a secular, cosmopolitan democracy, open to all, and prejudiced against none. Others, however, usually on the right, claim the United States was founded as, and remains to this very day, a white, Christian nation. A civil war was fought partly over that same controversy; men like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Medgar Evers gave their lives trying to settle it once and for all. But the election of the country’s first African-American president in 2008 seemed to reignite the issue. (Right after launching his presidential campaign in 2007, Sen. John McCain of Arizona told a religious website that he believed “the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation.”) In the months following election, the Southern Poverty Law Center recorded a “surge” of racist hate groups, North and South, as white nationalism reemerged from its cave and exploded the popular belief that the United States was finally “post-racial.”
With a racist demagogue now occupying the White House, and white supremacists cheering his every assault on democratic norms, let anyone today say that the United States has resolved its national identity crisis.
As for the state of Israel, it has chosen “identity over democracy,” as Max Fischer aptly puts it in the New York Times. (I’m sure President Trump is itching to pull a Netanyahu right about now.) But Israel, along with the United States, would do well to remember the spirit of its founding document, the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, which reads:
The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations. [emphasis mine]
The United States’s own declaration famously affirmed that “all Men are created equal” (not to mention that whenever the government becomes abusive of the people’s rights, “it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new Government”). And so it appears as though the United States and its Middle Eastern proxy, ever twinning, might both suffer the same, crippling national disorder — namely, amnesia.
Featured image: Kristoffer Trolle/Flickr