President-elect Trump, America, and the world are seeing the decades-strong friendship between the United States and Israel in shambles after the passage of a United Nations resolution likely orchestrated by outgoing President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.
Obama and Kerry want the world to believe that they seek to maintain a balance between the Palestinians and Israelis and only have Israel's best interests at heart. Yet their words and actions have tossed Israel to the wolves. The resolution makes illegal all the territories won by Israel after the Six Day War in June 1967 and all the semi-official "boundaries" established as a result, including Jerusalem's The Western ("Wailing") Wall, the Jewish Quarter, and the Mt. Scopus area and its hospital complex.
In his twitter response to Obama and Kerry's unprecedented actions to tie the hands of his successor, Trump has chosen forcefully to side with Israel. Of course the world awaits his inauguration to see what specific policies he will initiate to change course away from this huge foreign policy debacle, which even Obama's staunchest supporters, such as Senator Chuck Schumer and Harvard's Alan Dershowitz correctly are condemning.
To choose to side with Israel has not always been America's policy. But Trump's firm action, prior to his being sworn into office, is reminiscent of the choice Ronald Reagan made during a similar time period prior to his presidency, when few today know that Reagan spoke out about world affairs.
Reagan had been staunchly pro-Jewish and pro-Israel. He used to love telling the story of how his father had slept in his car rather than go to a hotel which had refused to admit Jews. During World War II, one of the war movies Reagan had made pushed for all races to work together to defeat the Nazis. When the Holocaust was revealed as the war ended, he never forgot the horror he felt when he watched the films of the Nazis' genocide of the Jews. When Reagan first ran for governor of California in 1966, he was charged with being anti-Semitic. Reagan was being advised behind-the-scenes by former president Dwight Eisenhower, and Ike helped him fight those false charges.
In late June 1967, Reagan was some eight months into his first quest for the presidency. By then, Ike had been mentoring Reagan on world affairs. Reagan was to speak in Omaha, Nebraska, to the Young Republican convention. But two weeks before, the Six Day War had broken out and Israel had stunned the world with its quick and huge victory. During the war, on June 11, Reagan had spoken at a huge pro-Israel rally at the Hollywood Bowl.
Among its many military triumphs, Israel recaptured Jerusalem (including the Western Wall and Mount Scopus) and vowed that the city never again would be divided and would forever be Israel's capital. By the time of Reagan's late June speech, Democratic President Lyndon Johnson wanted America to remain neutral.
In one of the first speeches of his career addressing world affairs, candidate Reagan delivered a stinging rebuke to Johnson's plans. Reagan told his young audience that America should not remain neutral. America had the moral obligation to support the Middle East's only democracy: Israel. Israel had been trying to live in peace but was threatened or attacked in 1948, 1956, and now again in 1967. Reagan said loudly with distinct moral clarity, "Our national interest is inextricably woven into the fabric" of Israel. In the years ahead, often Reagan would see the choices America had to face in such moral terms of right versus wrong.
In his Omaha speech, Reagan then had the foresight to discuss where the problems of the aftermath of the Six Day War would likely be debated by America and others and a settlement forced upon the parties: the United Nations. Reagan, because of the power of small nations at the General Assembly and the veto power of the Soviet Union at the Security Council, said that the United Nations, "as presently constituted," was exactly the wrong place to have final negotiations. Reagan proclaimed that only the parties involved directly (in 1967, that meant Israel and the Arab countries which had waged war on it) should negotiate directly. Reagan received wild applause and six standing ovations.
Thus Ronald Reagan in 1967 was telling the world that America had the moral obligation to side with Israel and that the United Nations was the wrong venue to impose its will. And it was during this same time that a young Israeli left his high school years in a Philadelphia suburb to return to Israel for his army tour of duty and eventually would become a commando and fight in the Yom Kippur War: one Benjamin Netanyahu.
A year later, in May 1968, to commemorate Israel's twentieth birthday and the upcoming one-year commemoration of the Six Day War, Reagan again spoke at the Hollywood Bowl for its Salute to Israel event. He again praised the courage of Israel and its soldiers and its desire to live in peace. But now that the Soviets had begun to rearm the Arab states that had been resoundingly defeated by Israel a year earlier. Reagan again cut to the heart of the problem of Johnson trying to remain neutral. Reagan saw the clear moral choice and called for America to rearm Israel.
Many analyses have appeared on President Reagan and Israel. During the early Reagan presidential years, Netanyahu was Israel's deputy chief of mission in Washington, D.C. When Reagan spearheaded the first delegation for strategic cooperation between America and Israel in 1982, Netanyahu was part of the Israeli delegation.
On Sept. 1, 1982, during a major address on the Middle East, President Reagan addressed the issue of whether Israel ever again should be forced to live with its indefensible pre-1967 borders when he stated, "In the pre-1967 borders, Israel was barely 10 miles wide at its narrowest point. The bulk of Israel's population lived within artillery range of hostile Arab armies. I am not about to ask Israel to live that way again."
Reagan proposed a five-year test period for Palestinian self-rule until, "Palestinian autonomy poses no threat to Israel's security." Israel, America, and the world still are waiting. Reagan concluded, "The United States will oppose any proposal from any party and at any point in the negotiating process that threatens the security of Israel. America's commitment to the security of Israel is ironclad, and, I might add, so is mine."
Undoubtedly Ronald Reagan could not foresee a time when a future occupant of the Oval Office would stab Israel in the back as has Obama.
By 1984, Bibi was Israel's ambassador to the UN. That same year, President Reagan visited Temple Hillel in North Woodmere, New York. Not since President George Washington's visit to Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1790, had a sitting president made an official visit to a synagogue. At the private Shabbat luncheon which followed, seated next to President Reagan was Rabbi Morris Friedman's son, Michael, a law student.
In 1985 under President Reagan, America signed its first free trade agreement —with Israel.
Of major note by historian David Margolick, starting in 1986, President Reagan had a just-published book as required reading for his senior foreign policy staff: Netanyahu's new book, "Terrorism: How the West Can Win."
Eventually, Michael Friedman became an attorney for hotel businessman Donald Trump. And when Michael was sitting shiva after the death of his father, one of the few people who braved a blizzard to attend the shiva service was Mr. Trump.
In late 2016, President-Elect Trump named David Friedman as ambassador to Israel. At this important time period, prior to being president, Donald Trump has chosen the moral high ground to support America's major ally in the Middle East and that region's only democracy: Israel. Trump now faces the huge challenges of undoing the unprecedented damage inflicted upon Israel by Obama and Kerry.
President-elect Trump is following in the footsteps of presidential candidate and Governor Ronald Reagan, who similarly, in the late 1960s, saw the clear moral choice and chose Israel and tried to undo the neutrality of another Democrat, Lyndon Johnson.
Reagan would be proud of the pro-Israel road taken by his successor in the Oval Office. Perhaps President Trump's first deal will be an expanded free trade agreement with Israel. And it may be the warm relationships that President Ronald Reagan had in the 1980s with Ambassador Benjamin Netanyahu and with Rabbi Morris Friedman that will continue in the 21st century with Ambassador David Friedman, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and President Donald Trump.
Gene Kopelson is the author of "Reagan’s 1968 Dress Rehearsal: Ike, RFK, and Reagan’s Emergence as a World Statesman" (Figueroa Press, 2016) and has published about Reagan’s 1966 successful gubernatorial campaign with Americans of Mexican descent. To read more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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