Ilan Ramon and the Shuttle - the Bond of Freedom



The images of the seven astronauts being interviewed while orbiting the earth at an altitude of more than two hundred miles two days before the fatal breakup of the Columbia shuttle were touching and unforgettable for many reasons not the least of which was the presence among the seven of Israeli pilot, Ilan Ramon. His appearance was a powerful symbol of the bond and common journey of two great nations, so different in history, size, and make-up, yet so alike. Behind the seven seated astronauts loomed the flags of both nations, side by side, the familiar red, white, and blue of the United States, and the blue and white star of David of Israel. The symbology of this juxtaposition, too, inspired and awed, inviting reflection again on all that united our two nations, their common founding principles, their commitment to democracy and freedom, their shared battle against terror, and the hope they each represent, one for the world, the other for an ancient and persecuted people.

But the comparisons are valid, and, even, ironic. The United States is forever imbued with a sense of originality and freshness, a land of innovation and youth, yet the oldest, most stable democracy in the world. The modern state of Israel is a relatively young nation, born in 1948, yet ancient, the homeland of a people with a history 3000 years old. The US is the world's only super power, incomparably more powerful than any other nation or group of nations. The US is the underwriter of the current international system, the guarantor of world freedom and security, the nation that defeated the two great evils of the twentieth century, Nazism and Communism. The US is the source of hope for millions around the world who continue to flock to our shores, including many from Moslem and Arab nations. The phenomenon of American dominance and preeminence, though, is not accidental. Other nations or groups of nations are as large or larger than the US, possessed of similar if not greater populations, land, and resources: Russia, China, Brazil, and the European Union, to name a few. But it is the US that leads the world. The reasons for this preeminence may not be fully understood, but are evident: it is based on the power of stable constitutional democracy, of freedom, of the rule of law, and of capitalism. It is based on this nation's commitment to human rights, dignity, and the individual. And it is through this commitment that wealth, knowledge, and power is created. Not by chance, good fortune, particular demographic compositions, or even natural resources, but by a system that unleashes the power of the individual in the context of a free and lawful society. This - for nations or peoples curious about our achievement, or filled with hatred, envy, and resentment because of it - is the recipe for American success, the foundation upon which a free, just, and prosperous society is built.

Israel, too, is such an example of the power of liberal democratic capitalism. A tiny nation of six million beset by a sea of totalitarian Arab states with a collective population of nearly 300 million, bent on the annihilation of Israel, launching wars and unceasing terrorist attacks against it since its birth more than fifty years ago, it has withstood the Arab onslaught against overwhelming odds, providing again compelling testimony of the power of democratic culture. Israel has confronted hatred and isolation, worldwide ostracism and condemnation, ongoing terrorism and war, and despite this has defended itself quite handily while managing to build a thoroughly modern western state. Until the recent intifada with its unending violence and terror, Israel was prosperous and growing, a world leader in an array of high tech industries (agriculture, telecommunications, computers, health and biological sciences, weapons and security systems to name a few); all this despite facing an ongoing existentialist threat, its very survival at risk, and even more absurdly, with most nations of the world (and the UN) lining up solidly against it, and even questioning its right to exist. The Arab nations that oppose and despise them, decry them in the most virulently anti-Semitic language through their government controlled media, are dictatorships to a one, not a single democracy among them, with little or none of the freedoms and rights enjoyed by Westerners, or, for that matter, Israelis. Despite the oil, they collectively rank as one of the poorest, most backward regions in the world, beset by illiteracy, high infant mortality, virtually no economic growth to speak of, and a combined GDP (for 22 Arab states) less than that of Spain. There is almost nothing manufactured in the Arab world that can be sold competitively in the open market. Their standard of living is abysmal. Per capita income in Syria is $1,000; in Yemen it is $200; in Saudi Arabia, even with all the oil, it is $6,000 (and dropping). Egypt hovers around $700. In Israel, it is $18,000. Their governments, by any western standard, are illegitimate and illegal, ruling in many cases by naked brutality and force, imprisoning, torturing, and murdering dissidents and opponents. They enslave their populations under their tyrannical rule, and incite hatred of Israel and Jews (and America) to divert attention from their obvious deficiencies and flaws. They are failed states, medieval and regressive, many of them oppressive and inhumane to their own citizens. And despite their overwhelming superiority in size and number, their insane wish to destroy the “Zionist entity,” and their ongoing attempts to do so, they have been, and will remain, unable to end the great experiment of freedom and hope that is the embattled state of Israel. Israeli preeminence in the region, like American preeminence in the world is not an accident; it is based on freedom and the great value each society places on the individual.

There are other reasons for the powerful link that binds the two nations, unique in the world (save, perhaps, for our alliance with Britain). The United States and Israel occupy similar positions in the religious and moral spectrum. Israel, the Jewish State, is imbued with the flavor and texture of Judaism, its morality and ethics nourished by the rugged and robust wellspring of Jewish faith. The United States, too, remains very much a religiously based society. Most Americans attend church and believe in God; a Judeo-Christian ethic and perspective brace the moral structure of our nation. And it is well known that Christians in America are among Israel's greatest supporters. Although not exclusively, each nation was founded with a religious purpose in mind: a place for religious minorities under persecution elsewhere to worship in peace and dignity.

Both nations are also nations of immigrants. The American story has been one of hope and optimism, the New Jerusalem, the goal of millions of immigrants pressing to our shores, often under great duress, to fulfill their dreams. The modern state of Israel, too, since its birth in 1948, has been a source of hope and promise for Jews, the chance to return to their historic homeland, the land promised them by God; and Jews from every corner of the globe have done so. Israel, too, like America, is a nation of immigrants, one of the most diverse and fascinating societies in the world.

The two nations now also face a common enemy. The United States, who defeated the two great evils of the twentieth century, Nazism and Communism, is now called upon to confront the great evil of this generation, the force that threatens freedom and human rights everywhere: Islamofascism. Israel has been on the frontlines of this battle for well over fifty years. It is Israel that has refused to negotiate or surrender to extortionist terror; Israel that has determined to relentlessly track down, capture, or destroy any group or individual that has killed its citizens; Israel that has for more than fifty years sent a message of righteous defiance to the world that terror and murder will not stand. The United States, too, has engaged the enemy, poised now to do what is necessary to subdue those who would destroy us and freedom loving nations everywhere. Never have the aims of the two nations been so closely aligned as they are now.

The loss of the shuttle was a great tragedy for everyone, for Americans and Israelis alike, and for so many around the world that look to America for leadership and hope. That an Israeli was aboard that tragic flight that the flags of these two nations flew together was entirely fitting and proper. For the bond that unites our two peoples is strong, deep, and relevant. The United States and Israel are vibrant examples of what a people can achieve when they live in freedom. We mourn the loss of the astronauts, even as we look to the future, committed to the shared vision that has girded the two nations since their births.


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