Sunday, May 8, 2011

This Yom HaZikaron, US and Israel on the Same Page

The significance of the timing of the Bin Laden strike has not been lost on Israel. Navy SEAL Team 6 killed Bin Laden on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. Today marks the beginning of Yom HaZikaron, Memorial Day, following immediately tomorrow evening with Yom HaAtzmaut, on which Israel will celebrate the 63rd anniversary of its independence.

The questions Israelis have pondered over the past week in the course of observing these holidays are in many ways similar to those Americans asked themselves this first week after the Bin Laden strike. What is the meaning of the senseless death of our loved ones? What does the future bring? How can we balance our liberal democratic ideas with our long-term security? It is this parity of thought which forms the strongest and clearest basis of the US-Israel alliance. The answers to these questions, however, are less clear.

One of the most striking features of the American political landscape last week was the restraint with which Americans observed the momentous occasion of Osama Bin Laden's death. The official response was muted and respectful, and much of the country followed suit. As if we, not al-Qaeda, were somehow guilty of wrongdoing. But perhaps the reserved sentiment was less a function of guilt and more an acknowledgement of the complex world in which we now live. Killing Osama Bin Laden, as justified and necessary as it was, will not bring back those killed on 9/11, nor will it free Americans from the complexity of the road ahead in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.

In Israel, cynicism prevails in politics. Many Israelis see the options presented to them by their leaders as the least bad choice. The Arab uprisings, and the new Palestinian unity agreement, have thrown new complexity into a conflict which is already one of the most complex in history. While Israelis overwhelmingly support democracy and personal liberty, response to the uprisings has been mixed over concern for the safety and security of the Israeli state. Israelis have hope for peace, but with so many personal connections to war and the ultimate sacrifice, pragmatic action is understandably often difficult.

Out of this common complexity, however, arises the common need to focus on the future. The killing of Osama Bin Laden cannot erase the pain of the past ten years for the United States. But it can allow Americans the closure which helps them to re-focus on the current and future challenges they face. For Israel, no amount of standing on principle in the wake of rapidly changing realities can erase the pain of the past. Nor can it bring back the men and women whom Israelis will mourn over the next 24 hours. But smart action now can set Israel on a track towards long-term security.

It will therefore be our common challenge to approach policy with an eye towards tomorrow. While the American and Israeli past has largely been a past of war, dedication to the creation of a peaceful, stable, free, and prosperous Middle East can facilitate a future of peace.



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