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How Jack Kemp Championed Israel

Updated: Jul 12, 2022


Yesterday marked the 9th day of Av on the Hebrew calendar, known as Tisha B’av, a day of tribulation and mourning in the Jewish faith. On this day, the Holy Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonian Empire in 423 BCE, only to be rebuilt and destroyed again on Tisha B’av in 70 CE by the Roman Empire. It marks the defeat of the Jewish Revolt against the Roman empire in 133 CE, as well as the expulsion of the Jewish people from England in 1290 and Spain in 1492. Throughout their history, the Jewish people have not only persevered, but have prospered in the face of evil and destruction. In light of this tragic day, we reflect on the importance of the modern Jewish State of Israel— which Jack Kemp so fervently believed in and advocated for throughout his life. 


Mishpachah - family - holds that the eternal bonds forged with those closest to us must never be abandoned nor denied. The importance of this undeniable connection is best exemplified not in times of ease and expediency, but in strife and challenge. This is the framework that served as the basis of Jack Kemp’s view of the American-Israeli bond. Kemp embodied the values of mishpachah by standing as a beacon of courage and strength when advocating for Israel was often politically unpopular. In light of the current efforts to establish a lasting peace in the Middle East, it is important to apply the timeless principles that Jack Kemp so passionately believed in. 

Despite periodic American- Israeli political disagreements, Kemp fervently supported the sovereignty of the Israeli people and their elected Prime Minister. He fully trusted their decisions to act in the best interest of ensuring peace and security for their people. Kemp explained, “I have not opposed what the elected government of Israel is attempting to do. That is not a choice for Americans to make.” He believed that those who bear the consequences of a decision, at a minimum, should have the exclusive priority of making that decision. For it is the lives of Israeli citizens that shoulder “the deadly price that miscalculations can exact.” 

Kemp recognized and appreciated that Israel, a Middle Eastern rarity with its democratic ideals, shared values with the U.S., and easily saw the mutual benefit of economic, political, and military cooperation. Kemp contended, “Israel, and only Israel, remains dependable, an ally whose relationship with the United States is built on a solid foundation of shared values rather than shifting sands of expediency.” Israel plays a strategic role in the Middle East that has fought Soviet expansion and fanaticism since the modern state’s rebirth. America’s investment in Israel is not simply “extending charity,” but “contributing to a vital defense outpost for the west, just as surely as our own defense budget is vital to our freedom.” Kemp viewed Israel’s existence, security, and prosperity as not only in the best interest of America and the Jewish people, but of the entire world “to defend freedom, to support democracy, to fight terrorism, and to resist the rising clamor of hypocrisy in the once hallowed halls of the United Nations.” 

During the Oslo Accords in 1993, for example, Kemp insisted that “America cannot be neutral between the parties in these talks” and “cannot accept moral equivalence in the Middle East.” He knew that appeasement of extortion is a path to exacerbated conflict, not successful conflict resolution. From Adolf Hitler’s invasion of the Sudetenland to Israel’s boundless hostile Arab neighbors, this principle has withstood the test of time. Kemp was always “skeptical of ‘Land For Peace’-- calling on Israel to sacrifice the tangible for the unlikely.” Kemp sought a restoration of peace despite inherent and generations-old regional instability. He reiterated that “we cannot forget history” and its ramifications during peace talks. Historical promises for false peace have long been used as a tool of war. Until those who declare war are committed to a real peace, peace is simply a temporary tactical pause in hostility. 

A family bond should be stronger than those that hold political party alliances. Thus, Jack Kemp believed that the “American-Israeli family” and the “great power for good” that it stood for is stronger than the partisanship that divides us. The basis of the fight for Israel should not be a partisan issue, rather the support for what is morally right and historically true. Israel and the U.S., Kemp noted, are “woven from the same cloth, whose destinies are intertwined.” Jack Kemp empowered, motivated, educated, and united people under the kinship between America and Israel. Through his profound understanding of Jewish history, Kemp tiressly fought so that every Jew would continue to have peace, security, and freedom in the Land of Israel. 


This post was written by Jack Kemp Foundation summer intern, Nina Raab. She is a part of the University of Illinois' Class of 2023.

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