As we celebrate this year’s Independence Day, every patriot should prepare to confront a fundamental challenge about our country: does the United States of America have any real right to exist?
The question is absurd, of course—even offensive. But it is no more absurd or offensive than a major theme of international discourse: the angry attacks on Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state in the Middle East. Leftist intellectuals, the Islamic bloc, glamorous celebrities, and even the United Nations insist that Israel’s claim to statehood and survival counts as deeply dubious, or at least open to question.
For three reasons, however, Israel could argue a far stronger case for its right to exist as an independent nation than could the United States.
The present inhabitants of the Jewish state maintain an ancient, ancestral connection to their modern homeland. A Jewish nation flourished on the territory of today’s Israel for more than a thousand years prior to mass exiles by the Roman occupiers. The pioneers of the Zionist movement felt that they were coming home, speaking the same Hebrew language that their forebears spoke, rebuilding the cities and towns that had been part of the people’s history for millennia.
When settlers arrived in North America, however, none of them suggested that they were reconnecting with some forgotten homeland, or re-establishing a national presence on the sacred soil of long-ago ancestors. They claimed America as their inheritance because they chose to live there, and toiled tirelessly and courageously to establish a beautiful society on a promising but underpopulated continent.
Long before Israelis defended themselves against invading Arab armies in their war of independence, leading international organizations recognized the right of Jews to settle there and establish a new nation. The British Empire authorized a “Jewish National Home” in today’s Israel in 1917, followed by the League of Nations, in 1923, and finally the United Nations, in 1948, with near-universal recognition of the new state.
No international organization existed to authorize the 17th-century settlement of the future United States by immigrants from England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, and other European nations. Only toward the conclusion of a supremely bloody war for independence did a handful of European states, led by France, recognize the U.S. as a legitimate nation.
America-haters and Israel-haters, almost always the same people, regularly denounce both nations for building their prosperity and power on genocidal crimes against indigenous inhabitants of their territory. It’s not true in either case, but in the United States the arrival of European settlers did result in an undeniable reduction in native populations, from an estimate of 3 million Native Americans when the British first arrived to less than 250,000 by 1900. (The numbers have rebounded sharply in the last century.)
By contrast, the Palestinian population never declined during the period of Jewish resettlement of the ancestral homeland; since Israeli independence, the Palestinian Arab population between the Jordan River and the sea, including Israel proper and all areas claimed by the Palestinian Authority, increased by nearly 500 percent. Even in the decade of the celebrated Palestinian refugees, 1941–50, internationally recognized population figures show a slight increase in Palestinian population in the area, from 1,111,398 to 1,172,100.
Without a historic connection to the land or endorsement by world organizations—and with the unmistakable, drastic decline of indigenous peoples as the result of American nation building—how can the United States possibly justify its right to exist?
The answer is easy, on the Fourth of July or any other occasion, as our forebears built a great nation from the ground up, then defended it with valor and determination through almost incessant warfare, and somehow managed to forge a new identity and vibrant culture in the process, assimilating idealistic immigrants from around the world.
To an amazing extent, Israelis have accomplished the same feats in a shorter time, creating a complex, dynamic society barely envisioned when resettlement began in 1880s, and even reviving an ancient and distinctive language that hadn’t been used in daily conversation for at least two millennia.
For anyone who visits Israel and experiences the three-dimensional actuality of its flourishing cities (with the metropolis Tel Aviv founded on desolate sand dunes in 1909), great universities, reforested hillsides, network of national parks, superhighways, and high-tech research centers, the idea of questioning the nation’s existence seems every bit as unthinkable as challenging the reality of the United States.
Many other contemporary countries offer far less persuasive reasons for acceptance in the family of nations.
Take Pakistan, for instance—a particularly pertinent example, as Israel and Pakistan entered the world stage at almost precisely the same moment, 1947–48, and both arose as the result of partition plans as the British Empire retreated.
Despite the lack of any historical precedent for the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and despite the contested, bloody nature of its founding, with more than 12 million refugees driven from their homes, no one questions that nation’s right to exist. It would be ridiculous to expect—or demand—that this nuclear-armed power of 170 million would somehow disappear.
But why should it be any less ridiculous to make those demands about Israel, a country that’s made far greater progress in achieving rule of law, democratic norms, and a functioning, prosperous economy, with more than 10 times the per capita GDP of Pakistan? What is it about the Jewish state that makes it a persistent target for so many powerful worldwide forces seeking its ultimate elimination?
Many Israelis instinctively identify the answer. The persistence of anti-Semitism emerges as the most plausible explanation, as no other conceivable rationalization makes sense. If classic Jew hatred means that Jews should be singled out among all religious and ethnic identities for special scorn, suspicion, and denial of rights, then modern anti-Semitism means that the one Jewish nation on earth should be singled out for special scorn, suspicion, and denial of national rights.
Israel continues to exist, despite the ardent desires of its enemies, but so too do the ancient anti-Jewish passions that approach the Jewish state with radically different demands, standards, and challenges than ever applied to the Palestinians, the U.S., or any other society on the planet.
On the Fourth of July, Americans honor our nation’s founding, and most of us see clear evidence of divine providence (another trait we share with Israelis) in the emergence of a remarkable society in a previously desolate, largely undeveloped corner of the globe. Like Israelis rejoicing on their own Independence Day in May, citizens of the United States don’t waste time arguing over a right to exist but prefer to celebrate our nation’s existence, recognizing that its unprecedented growth and power have profoundly blessed all of humanity.