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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Jack Kemp and Israel

I was not a fan of Jack Kemp growing up. Kemp, who passed away Saturday night (Hat Tip: Memeorandum), was the star quarterback for the Buffalo Bills when I was a kid, and I was a fan of the New England (then Boston) Patriots.

I became a fan of Kemp's during the first Reagan administration when Kemp was one of the chief spokesmen for Reagan's 'supply side economics.' Had I been aware of Kemp's support of Israel from the moment he entered Congress in 1972, I would have become a fan much sooner.

Jack Kemp was one of Israel's big boosters. He visited here many times, most recently for Israel's 60th Independence Day last year. And while he backed a 'Palestinian' state, he was not willing to see it established unless and until Israel's security was absolutely guaranteed. He was a prolific writer and often wrote in support of Israel. I'd like to excerpt and link a few of his columns. In this column, from 2006, Kemp defended Israel's 'security fence' from conservative guru Bob Novak.
Contrary to the thrust of the Novak column, Israel's Christian population has in fact prospered and quadrupled in size over the last half century, in sharp contrast to the dwindling Christian communities in other countries in the Middle East. The continued dwindling of Christian communities in the Palestinian areas can be directly traced to the constant harassment to which they have been subjected by Islamic extremists. As a Christian, I am extremely troubled, as every American should be, by the implications of the Hamas victory in the recent Palestinian elections for the continued thriving of the Christian heritage in the Holy Land.

In contrast, never in history have residents in Jerusalem enjoyed more freedom of access to the holy places as under Israel's sovereignty. Israel's founding ethos, anchored in its declaration of independence, guarantees freedom of religion and conscience while safeguarding the holy places of all religions. Such is the case with every church, monastery and holy site in the country, many of which have been rebuilt and refurbished in recent years by the state of Israel.

I personally traveled into the West Bank in February to get a first hand look at the "security wall" and have come to the conclusion it's absolutely necessary for the physical protection of everyone. Bob is just silent on these issues and focused his attack on the impact of Israel's security barrier mainly in the area of the village of Aboud. Yet, he neglected to mention that the barrier was a last-ditch effort to halt the march of Palestinian suicide bombers on Israel's cities that resulted in the killing and maiming of thousands. The fact that the barrier has contributed to a remarkable decline in terrorist attacks - approximately 90 percent - is evidence of its effectiveness. Never mind that without it, thousands more would have lost their lives.

Confronted with dilemmas faced by no other western democracy, Israel had to strike a delicate balance between overriding security needs and pressing humanitarian concerns in constructing the barrier. Under the guidance of Israel's High Court, the government immediately implemented changes at the cost of rerouting large sections of the barrier, a process of self-scrutiny that continues today. Israelis are the first to acknowledge the implications of the barrier for communities on both sides of the fence, yet its necessity is beyond dispute.

In planning the route of the barrier, particularly in the vicinity of Jerusalem, where population density, religious and international interests intersect, Israel has demonstrated particular sensitivity to Christian concerns. The route was determined and in several cases altered, after a comprehensive dialogue with representatives of the various Church denominations. The ongoing consultations and effort to accommodate denominational interests put the lie to the notion that Israel supposedly seeks to "destroy" or "shatter" these communities.
In this column from 2002, Kemp spoke emotionally of visiting the Schneider Children's Hospital, which is attached to the Beilinson (now Rabin) Medical Center in Petach Tikva:
You may have read about Yasmin, a 7-year-old Palestinian girl who received a kidney from a young 19-year-old Jewish boy, Joni, who had been killed in a suicide bombing. The transplant was performed at the Schneider Children's Hospital. We visited Yasmin and her mother. As doctors, journalists and members of the mission crowded around her, she ignored the commotion and focused on her coloring book, unaware of the symbolism of her life saved by the savage ending of another. The doctors told me that organ transplants between Jewish and Arab children are quite common. A third of the children treated at the Schneider Hospital are Arab. The majority are Israeli citizens, but the hospital also treats Palestinian and Jordanian children.

When Irving Schneider and his late wife Helen, of New York, first conceived of the hospital, they wanted to start something that would have a broader ripple effect on Israeli society and the region. Their vision is conveyed in the hospital's cornerstone: "This hospital, dedicated to the inherent right of every child to live a healthy life in a peaceful world, will stand as a 'bridge to peace,' linking this nation to its many neighbors." Before violence erupted in 2000, the hospital was working jointly with doctors in the Palestinian Authority. Since then, the hospital has launched a first-in-kind health initiative with Jordan that reaches into Israeli and Jordanian Arab villages.

Walking around the hospital, we saw Orthodox Jews and devout Muslims, secular Jews, Christian Arabs, whose children slept and played in the same rooms, brought together by the shared experience of caring for a sick child. It was especially painful to meet children who had been injured in terrorist attacks: Roni, 2 /12 years old, all blond curls and smiles, whose stomach was ripped open by a bomb at a pizza parlor. Shira, 15, injured in the same attack, from whose heart a 3-inch steel nail was miraculously removed. Shai, a teenager on his way to school when a stranger approached him and blew himself up. Lior, 15, and his sister Rahel, 16, injured in the same attack. Lior survived the nail in his neck and the shrapnel in his stomach. Rahel did not make it. Her artery had been severed; her body was severely burned. Rahel's organs were donated. They could have gone to any child, Jewish or Arab; the waiting list is anonymous. Rahel's mother told us about the care she received: "My daughter was unconscious and unaware, the doctors and nurses knew that she wasn't going to make it, but they took such good care of her."

This contrast between the senseless killing outside the hospital and the indefatigable efforts inside to cherish and save every life was striking. An old Arab proverb holds that "He who has hope has everything," and that truth is borne out every day in Israel, where a stubborn refusal to give in to hatred keeps the flame of hope burning brightly.
Kemp wrote this column during his trip to Israel for the 60th Independence Day celebration:
To be historically accurate, instead of celebrating 60 years, we should be calling this the "3,000 plus 60" celebration, as the Jews were the original inhabitants of that ancient land and displaced by the Romans who were among the first colonial powers in decimating the Jewish population, thus leading to the Jewish Diaspora of these 3,000 years plus.

Worldwide Jewry never lost their identity with Israel, however, and prayed daily "next year in Jerusalem," even when incarcerated in Nazi death camps or the Soviet Gulag.

Having been to Israel often since my first trip in 1972 as a rookie member of Congress, I'm always amazed at the incredible progress, juxtaposed against the virulence of its enemies, many of whom would annihilate not only the state of Israel but Jews writ large.

It's equally hard to believe how much opposition there was 60 years ago this month to a Jewish homeland as the remnant of European Jewry, 6 million of whom were burned and gassed by the Nazis and incarcerated by the brutal despot Joseph Stalin.

One of my foreign policy heroes, Gen. George Marshall, tried to dissuade President Truman from recognizing the new state of Israel in 1948. He and his Arabist allies in the State Department thought it would erode our credibility throughout the whole world. On the contrary, Truman's support gave moral standing to our nation in keeping with our founding democratic ideals and shared values. Today, Israel is unambiguously our most loyal and steadfast strategic ally in that part of the world, notwithstanding our increasing trade, diplomatic, and strategic friends and allies in the Arabian Gulf.

I appreciate the perspective of former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Zalman Shoval, who recently wrote, "Israel's triumph should not be seen primarily in terms of victories over its enemies. Instead, it should be considered in light of its achievements. Without natural resources, without any substantial foreign aid during the first 20 years of its existence and in spite of its ongoing security concerns it has created a thriving economy. Israel is a leader in high technology, medicine and related fields, and is a major cultural center."
Kemp's heart was definitely in the right place. May his memory be blessed.


At 5:57 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Jack Kemp was a good man. I was saddened to hear of his passing and it shows that we do not yet live in a world where all righteous people remain a part of it. One day perhaps, G-d will wipe away the tears from all faces and heal the tear that rents our existence asunder. In the meantime, may his memory be for a blessing.


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