The Star of David will be flying on Independence Day, but why will the U.S. flag also attend festivities?
By Anshel Pfeffer
I am not sure when some Israelis began the rather vulgar custom of flying both Israeli and American flags from their cars on Independence Day. I think I first noticed it around a decade ago, but am uncertain whether it began in the last days of the Clinton Administration - good ol' Bill being undoubtedly the most popular president of all time in Zion - or did it start as a sign of identifying with the American people in the wake of 9/11? Whatever the origins, I don't believe that I saw many, if any, cars with Old Glory in the last couple of years.
Does this mean that Israelis ultimately realized that showing the flag of another country on their own country's independence day is the epitome of bad taste? Or is this just another interesting barometer reading for the fluctuating relations with our strategic partner since the accession of Barack Hussein Obama?
I doubt it is possible to receive an answer to this sociological dilemma, but I have a sneaking suspicion that next week a few drivers will show their approval for the killing of Osama bin Laden by once again adorning their cars with both blue and white and the Stars and Stripes. It would be too simplistic to interpret this phenomena as a lack of national pride on the part of Israelis. Just about every country in the world measures itself to some degree by the American standard and frets over its ties to the superpower.
Britain, with all its centuries of tradition, seems obsessed with whether it still has a "special relationship" with America. The British media seemed delighted with the huge interest last week's royal wedding caused across the Atlantic, as if this itself was an affirmation of it being a major event.
America has worked itself into the fabric of just about every society across the globe, so is Israel in any way unique in this? We often hear Israel being described as the "51st State", but many other countries with strong ties to the U.S. have earned the sobriquet at one point or another - sometimes approvingly, other times with derision.
The United States is not Israel's first strategic partner. At its birth, significant parts of Israeli society looked to the Soviet Union for inspiration, but the hardcore socialist groupings were rapidly becoming a minority as waves of immigration almost swamped the tiny state and the pragmatist leaders realized they had to look westward.
When, after Stalin's death, the enormity of his reign of terror began to dawn, it was only a relative handful of diehards who were really shocked. In the 1950s and early 1960s, France supplied the majority of military hardware - even a nuclear reactor - but they always seemed fair-weather friends while America remained the mother lode.
Perhaps the greatest crisis of 1948 was the fear that the Truman Administration would not recognize the Jewish state at its inception. The United States, despite earlier misgivings, was actually the first country to do so, 11 minutes after Ben-Gurion declared independence.
But the connection transcends politics and economics, and amounts to more than Israel being the ultimate "client state" and - despite its size and relative standard of living - the highest recipient of American foreign aid. It permeates every facet of Israeli culture, high and low, wherever you look: A country situated in the Middle East, a society founded chiefly by immigrants from Eastern Europe, based on the most ancient tradition in the world, yearning more than anything else to emulate the United States of America.
Are we just incurably provincial, eternally dissatisfied with our parochial existence? I felt so until Monday morning, when Obama announced the successful assassination of bin Laden and thousands took to the streets of Washington and New York in celebration. My first thought was: "They've all become Israelis." It was not just that one of the most liberal presidents in American history had totally adopted the Israeli strategy of "targeted killings," but that an entire, sophisticated society had given itself over to a visceral festival of justified vengeance and retribution.
I don't think that the multitudes thronging Times Square, cheering for the death of the king of terror, means that Americans are bloodthirsty - only that, occasionally, they allow themselves to act like real people. Just like Israelis.
Generalizations regarding any society as a whole - and the bonds between nations - are dangerous as they blur failings and weaknesses, and tend to disregard injustices committed against others. Israel and the U.S. certainly have those in abundance, but they also have many positive attributes in common. Innovative and dynamic, founded on principles of freedom and liberalism, fiercely democratic. Even growing fears about curtailment of personal freedoms are, at least in part, a result of the fact that few countries in the world have ever allowed their citizens such a wide freedom of speech and movement.
Recent talk of an eclipse of American power is ridiculous. The Obama Administration's lack of influence on recent developments in the Middle East is natural: No one can control these spontaneous outbursts of popular uprising, not the local autocratic regimes, nor the global superpower. But America has still played a key role. Where did the groups of protesters get the tools of organization that enabled them to overcome censorship and repression? Facebook, Twitter, mobile phones that capture videos and send them in seconds around the globe - none of this would have been possible without American technology and innovation.
The dictators' downfalls may have increased local fears about a rise in anti-Israel sentiment and radical Islamism, and that's partly justifiable. But what we seem to have overlooked is that many of those calling for democracy in Arab lands have cited Israel as their example of a functioning democracy in the Middle East. No, they certainly don't love us, but it has been interesting to hear Bashar Assad's critics on Al Jazeera repeating the mantra: "Even Israel did not act like this in Gaza."
Hatred and jealousy of America and Israel are just one side of the coin: Both countries capture the imagination of the Middle East and the entire world for similar reasons. Both are exciting, if somewhat flawed, experiments, both set standards for the world, and much of the frustration with them is due to the fact that other countries find it very hard to measure up to these standards.
American realpolitikists and the handful of ultra-liberals in Israel may not understand the mutual love between the countries but it doesn't seem to be weakening, whatever the level of relations between the two administrations. There is no reason to mix up the two independence days; May and July are close enough to each other as it is. During the rest of the year much work is needed to fix our many problems, but next week we should just remember and celebrate.
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