A Common Moral Vision Unites Two Countries



Jews around the world will celebrate the festival of Chanukah by lighting the Chanukah candles for eight days, beginning on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev (late December). Each night an additional candle is added to the menorah, the light burning brighter, symbolizing the power of the Jewish spirit to endure. The holiday commemorates the victory of Judah Maccabee, the Jewish leader, and his followers over the Syrian tyrant, Antiochus Epiphanes, in 165 BC, and the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem that had been desecrated by the Syrians.

The battle was not simply a struggle between military forces: the Jews at the time were grappling with the intoxicating influence of Hellenism, just as Jews today contend with the allure of Western culture. By refusing to surrender to the Syrians, the Jews preserved their religion and their identity within a dominant non-Jewish world. Chanukah therefore is a celebration of religious liberty and of freedom over oppression. As such, it is fitting to dwell on today's struggle against tyranny, engaged by many nations but two in particular, each different yet sharing a common moral vision.

The US and Israel lead the war against this generation's greatest threat, the peril of Islamist terror, and, oddly enough, find themselves beset by the most vicious calumny and condemnation. George Bush is felt by some to be worse than the Butcher of Baghdad (now captured), while Ariel Sharon is often described as interchangeable with Hitler. It is astonishing to see the hatred of many towards those who would take up the gauntlet against despotism and brutality. The reasons of course are many but revolve around two linked phenomena: anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism.

In the first, we find the hatred of a self-confident, prosperous, and resilient America, the great colossus, able to act independently, and felt to be threatening to the values of a pacifist, post-national, multiculturalist Europe, and to the Islamists who perceive western freedoms (as embodied by the US) as a threat to their civilization. Anti-Semitism is based on hatred of a people possessed of a vision of “choseness” and forever seen as a non-conforming “other,” resistant to assimilation into the larger, governing culture.

The fundamentalists of the Islamic world and many Europeans fear and loathe the US because America exemplifies a different vision of “the good,” a commitment to the principles and values it is based on, and the institutions of freedom and human rights it has long established. In addition, this President does not wince or employ diplomatic nicety in defining that which is unarguably evil, which many find irksome. In the current war on terror the US has demonstrated its will to not only protect its own freedom but to spread it to those regions long denied its benevolent influence.

The modern state of Israel, too, has created a tiny zone of freedom in a region famous for violence - for which it too is despised. On a tiny spit of desert off the Mediterranean coast, with no natural resources to speak of, and regularly facing existentialist threats, Israel has built a modern democratic state. It boasts a vibrant economy, a tolerant and diverse society, and provides immeasurably better opportunities for its people, both Jew and Arab, than any of the surrounding states that instead consume their energies fomenting hatred.

That both the US and Israel are at the forefront of the current battle is not a coincidence but firmly rooted in their shared moral vision, and adherence to common principles of freedom and human rights. The Jews have long believed that they were chosen to serve in a unique way, to be what the prophets called a “light unto the nations,” and over three thousand years have given the world a moral teaching that has inspired many even while arousing hatred and resentment.

So, too, has the US long regarded itself as possessed of a singular mission, to be what the Puritans called the “New Jerusalem.” American values have been a powerful force for good in the world even while it too has aroused the hostility and disgust of many.

In the Jews, history has provided an instance of an ancient people inspired by a vision of the rule of law under God and in the Americans a modern civilization that in the past century by acting in concert with its principles has opposed and destroyed the most virulent of totalitarianisms.

As Israel carries out its struggle for freedom surrounded by odious regimes who seek nothing more than its destruction, and as America labors in its efforts to create freedom and democracy in the heart of the autocratic Middle East, the spirit of Chanukah in which small bands defeated mighty armies for the sake of their freedom can offer solace and inspiration.



  • There are no comments.
Add Comment