After America declared its independence in 1776, the leaders of the new country had to decide on its national symbol. Some preferred the bald eagle, while others wanted Moses leading the Children of Israel into the Promised Land. The eagle narrowly won, but the fact that the Moses symbol was in contention and was suggested by none other than Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, suggested how emblematic was the deep spiritual connection between America and the idea of a Jewish state.
Indeed, a great many prominent Americans, including John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, and Woodrow Wilson, supported reestablishing Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel. Harry Truman, who claimed to know the Bible by heart, ignored the opposition of his own Secretary of State, and made the United States the first nation on earth to recognize Israel a mere 11 minutes after it declared its independence on May 14, 1948. “I am Cyrus,” Truman said, likening himself to the ancient Persian king who, in the Bible, restored the Jews to their homeland.
Like America, Israel wrested its freedom from Britain, and forged a democracy. Along with the United States and a handful of other countries, Israel is one of the few nations in the world never to have known non-democratic rule. This fact furnished an additional bond between the United States and Israel, one that is symbolized by Lincoln Street in Jerusalem and Ben Gurion Avenue in New York, and by the memorials in Israel for Martin Luther King, Jr., John Kennedy, and the victims of 9/11. Only Israel has a park named for, and featuring an exact replica of, the Liberty Bell.
After the 1967 Six-Day War, the United States and Israel embarked on a strategic alliance that is today both multi-faceted and vast. The deep spiritual connection combined with our shared democratic values and our close defense ties account for the American public’s extraordinary support for Israel, which is at a near all-time high. That is why President Obama has said that he has spent more hours talking with Prime Minister Netanyahu than with any foreign leader, and has declared that "America has no better friend in the world than Israel." Netanyahu, who has twice addressed joint sessions of Congress, similarly described the United States as "Israel's best friend in the world."
Our mutual commitment has passed from president to president and prime minister to prime minister, remaining unbreakable. This 4th of July, with much of the Middle East in turmoil and Iran striving to make nuclear weapons, Americans know that there is one state in the region that is relentlessly democratic, economically and militarily robust, remarkably innovative, and unequivocally pro-America. All Israelis join in wishing our 300 million American friends the happiest of national birthdays.
Michael Oren is Israel's current ambassador to the United States
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