‘Scoop’ McCain

While, as I argued in my last blog posting, the best part of Barack Obama’s AIPAC speech reflected a passionate, poetic understanding of Zionism as an anchor for Jewish identity, John McCain’s AIPAC speech revealed his deep sensitivity to Israel’s role in Jewish history and in American history.

STOP the presses! Can it be! Are you allowed to say something positive about BOTH candidates? Aren’t you supposed to demonize one and sanctify the other? Actually, much can be learned about the two candidates by seeing the different ways they approach their friendship with Israel. And there can be no more eloquent repudiation of all the libels about the Jewish Lobby by seeing how the candidates offered two very different intellectual paths that both led to a bipartisan affirmation of the enduring friendship between Israel and America, practically and spiritually.

McCain rooted his views of Israel in the more conventional, but equally compelling, narrative of the Jewish need for a Jewish state as a refuge from persecution, especially after the Holocaust. McCain views Israeli and American security needs as intertwined. The Arizona Senator understands that, as sister democracies, Israel and the United States share a common battle in fighting Islamic extremism, and in the particular need to check Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

McCain began his speech by praising one of the architects of the America-Israel alliance, Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson. Senator Jackson represented the State of Washington, a western state with few Jews. Throughout his career, and at the peak of his power in the 1970s, Jackson defended the Jewish State not because it was the politic thing to do, but because it was the right thing to do. Jackson also worked hard to save Soviet Jews, another cause without an obvious Washington State constituency – but with a compelling moral rationale.

Senator Jackson understood that Israel was an essential ally in fighting America’s greatest threat in the 1970s, Soviet Communism. Jackson was the kind of bighearted visionary who could champion Soviet Jewry and Israel in such a way that he never appeared to be using the plight of Soviet Jews or Israel’s needs as mere tools against Soviet Russia. Rather, he showed how the universal moral cause and America’s strategic needs converged and reinforced each other.

Obama, left, and McCain
Photo: AP

“Scoop” McCain is following that approach in fighting the Islamist scourge. He appreciates the way Israeli and American needs harmonize – and a righteous American-Israeli friendship consecrates and cements the strategic American-Israeli alliance. “My friends,” McCain proclaimed, “as the people of Israel know better than most, the safety of free people can never be taken for granted. And in a world full of dangers, Israel and the United States must always stand together.”

Here, then, is one of the continuing mysteries following September 11. On that awful day in 2001, the Islamist terrorists acted so despicably the moral confusion of so many Westerners should have ended. The joy the fundamentalists took in destroying the Twin Towers, with nearly 3000 innocents slaughtered, should have been a clarifying crime.

The Jihadists’ wanton destruction was so outrageous, so unjustified, so threatening that it should have ended our era of moral relativism. The Islamist attempt to establish a reign of terror should have ended the reign of error centered in our universities that consistently finds fault with the West and absolves Third Worlders of guilt.

The blood unnecessarily and tragically spilled of so many workers, both black and white, rich and poor, American and non-American, should have cleansed the polluted, self-abnegating souls of so many America bashers, in the United States and abroad. The fact that it did not raises disturbing questions about what is happening in the West culturally, ideologically, existentially.

I recall one meeting I attended of Canadian academics who spent so much time blaming the United States for what happened on 9/11, that when it was my turn to speak I said, “I must have been watching a different channel than the rest of you that Tuesday in September. I saw that America was attacked that day, not the other way around.”

John McCain’s AIPAC speech had the kind of moral clarity that we need to face the world’s challenges today. And, like his mentor, McCain could not forget the human dimension, in this case, mentioning Gilad Shalit, Eldad Regev, and Ehud Goldwasser, the three Israeli hostages who were kidnapped so cruelly nearly two years ago.

Israelis – and their friends throughout the world – should appreciate the fact that both of America’s leading presidential candidates spoke so powerfully and so personally at the AIPAC conference. And let us be clear. This bipartisanship does not reflect AIPAC’s power as much as it reflects the greater power and logic of the enduring American-Israeli friendship.

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