Category Archives: Middle East

The Palestinian State

Direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians will commence on September 2 in Washington, DC under the auspices of the United States.  The aim of these negotiations will be to resolve all final-status issues and bring an end to the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are long odds that the summit will actually meet its goals, but it is interesting to exam what a future Palestinian state would look like and how the Jewish State will be impacted.

Here are my recommendations for the resolution of final-status issues:

1. There Shall Be No Right For Palestinian Refugees To Return To Their Former Homes Within Israel-Proper.

If the Jewish State was to allow all Palestinian “refugees” into its borders after a final settlement it would be committing politicide. Millions and millions of Muslims would flood Israel and forever change its demographic balance. It would no longer be a Jewish nation and that would contradict the whole point of Israel engaging in these negotiations in the first place; which is to secure a Jewish State with defined borders that is democratic and secular.

There is moral justification for the right of return. Claims of ownership within Israel-proper are dubious at best and they can rarely be verified. Additionally, Arabs weren’t the only refugees in 1948 — 800,000 Jews had to flee their homes for fear of their lives, leaving all their invaluable belongings behind. By any logic, if the Palestinians are allowed to return to places within Israel, Jews should be able to go home to their property in the Muslim world. What happened in 1948 wasn’t a displacement of a people, it was a population exchange of Jews and Arabs. And any final settlement must acknowledge this.

The only reason the Palestinians are still refugees in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and throughout the region is because rather than ease their plight, Arabs leaders have preferred to use their cause as a cudgel against Israel . The Jewish State assimilated its immigrants, the Arabs haven’t.

It is only because of pragmatic political concerns that Israel should offer these refugees a compensation package, which should total up to $30 billion, an amount proposed in 2000 during the almost-successful negotiations at Camp David. In return, these Palestinians should renounce the claims they and their children have made on property within Israel-proper.

(above) Maaborot in the early 1950s.

2. All of  Jerusalem shall remain a pat of the Jewish State and all people — Jews, Christians, and Muslims — shall have access to holy sites.

Jerusalem is the center of the Jewish religion and state, and it is the home to the Western Wall, which is the most sacred shrine of Judaism. It also hosts the Mount of Olives, holy to Christians, and the al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-most important place of worship in Islam. Under Israel, all three major religions have had access to their holy sites. However, before 1967, when the Jordanians ruled the city’s eastern half, Christians and Jews were denied access to the Mount of Olives and the Western Wall, and the Arabs desecrated Jewish places of worship.

In 1967, after the Six-Day War, the Jewish State took control of all Jerusalem, an event commemorated by the Israeli holiday of Yom Yerushalayim. All were free to pray as they pleased, and the slums of eastern Jerusalem evolved into prosperity. With this history in mind, all of Jerusalem should remain under Israeli sovereignty. With that in mind, Palestinians should be allowed authority over Muslim holy places and they should be permitted to hold their Parliament and base their governmental functions inside the city.

(above) Jews praying at the Western Wall.

3. Israel shall annex settlements that are close to pre-1967 borders and Palestinians will be compensated by land from Israel-proper.

Following the Six-Day War,  Israelis settled in the West Bank, to the east of the pre-1967 borders. Today, over 300,000 Jews live in Judea and Samaria, most of them in neighborhoods miles from the Green Line. These settlements would probably be annexed by Israel in any resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Just as there are many Jews in the West Bank, there is a sizable Arab population within Israel. These Israeli-Arabs constitute a demographic threat to the Jewish State, which is already 25% non-Jewish. For settlements in the West Bank that are close to the Green Line, Israel should exchange land from within Israel-proper, particularly from the north, in Galilee, which have large numbers of Arabs. This land swap would make both Israel and a future Palestinian state as ethnically homogeneous as possible, and thus  maximize the chance for peace

(above) The Galilee, in Northern Israel, which has a large Arab population.


4. The Palestinian state will be demilitarized and Israel will retain a security presence in the Jordan Valley to protect water resources and patrol the international border.

Any Palestinian state has to be demilitarized. Israel cannot have Arab armies a day’s march from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Like Japan after World War II, Palestine should only be allowed to have a small military force, whose mission is solely a defensive one. To ensure Israel’s security, international peace-keeping forces should man the international border between the West Bank and Jordan, inspecting cargo going to and fro Palestine and preventing the spread of weaponry. To maintain its economic prosperity and to procure the natural resources it needs, the Jewish State should be allowed to continue to draw water from the Jordan River, as it faces a chronic shortage of H2O.

(above) The Jordan River, which provides much of Israel's water supply.


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A Theocracy’s Bete Noir: The Young

Through countless generations and among all societies, the young have been bringers of change who have upended the status-quo and dramatically altered social and political mores. In today’s time this truth still holds, and it is evidenced by events currently unfolding in Iran, where youths have kept alive the sputtering Green Movement. Last year, after the Islamic Republic’s stolen election, hundreds of thousands of university students and others filled the country’s streets and demanded that their voices be heard. The government, in characteristic theocratic-authoritarian fashion, effected a brutal crackdown on dissent; arresting, raping, and maiming dissidents and then prosecuting them in Stalinist show-trials where death sentences were handed down.

The government’s reign of terror has driven much of the revolution off the streets and has dissuaded many from further resistance. However, the young and learned are tenacious in their struggle for freedom. On university campuses and in their social circles, they challenge the Iranian regime’s legitimacy, while they remain one of the last sectors of society willing to openly defy the theocracy. They are brave men and women who take their lives in their hands and possess more courage and strength than the dispirited and hesitant politicians who claim to lead them. When these politicians called off protests last month, the students massed on the streets and campuses anyway, braving beatings with no bravado and telling their stories to the world via social media.

Neda Agha-Soltan is the symbol of the Green Movement: a young, vivacious 26-year-old, who was gunned down by government thugs.

It is this bravery and determination that sustains the Green Movement, and the Iranian regime is taking steps to destroy it. The first crackdown didn’t silence the young, so now the theocracy is going after them with a vengeance. The universities, which have been the breeding grounds of dissent, are now being flooded with government clerics, who will spy on students and stifle free speech. In an even more blatant move, the regime has sought to wrest outright control of educational institutions away from the non-profits that run them.

While fighting on that front, the theocracy is also taking aim at the young’s more relaxed social attitudes. The government’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance recently published a list of approved hairstyles for men that barbers must stick to when cutting their clients’ locks: a response to stylings that are quiet protests against the Islamic Republic’s distaste for personal freedom. If men have it bad, women certainly have it worse. The morality police have stepped up their arrests of females who don’t adequately cover up and those who don’t conform to the nation’s ridiculous dress code. This primarily affects the young, who are resistant to gender inequality and who give little heed to the Islamic Republic’s mandated separation of the sexes.

Iranian men with "un-Islamic" hairstyles.

The Iranian regime might be for some time kept afloat by guns and thugs, but a government that lacks legitimacy in the eyes of the people and keeps control through brute force, will face a day of reckoning. Time is on the side of the young, who make up 70 percent of the population, and who will soon enough wield political power that matches their numbers. Eventually, the tree of liberty will grow in Persia, given life by the blood of tyrants.*

*This sentence is paraphrased from Thomas Jefferson’s famous phrase: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

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The Jewish State and Its Detractors

Israel has increasingly come under fire from Europe, the United States, and the Arab world for its behavior in its conflict with the Palestinians.  It has been called an apartheid state, compared to Nazi Germany, and been the target of innumerable boycotts and divestment campaigns. Liberals across the Western World have pilloried it, it has been demonized at gay-pride parades, lambasted by feminists, and criticized by human-rights organizations. However, this anger is misplaced and progressives, rather than attack the Jewish State, should embrace it.

There is no moral equivalence between Israel and its enemies. Israel is a democracy, where each citizen, Arab and Jew alike, chooses their leaders in free and fair elections. The Jewish State has a vibrant free press, which regularly takes on the country’s leaders, and a judiciary that often overrules the government on the most substantive matters. Everyone is entitled to worship as they choose and the holy sites of Jerusalem are open to the adherents of all three Abrahamic faiths. Women are treated as equals and in Tel Aviv there is a sizzling gay night-life. It is blessed with economic prosperity and a dynamic free market, and all of its people enjoy higher living standards than those living in other parts of the Middle East.

Gay Pride Parade in Tel Aviv.

Now let’s compare Israel to its Muslim neighbors. The only other democracy in the area is Turkey, where everyone is afraid to speak out against the government. Iran is ruled by the oxymoron, known as the Islamic Republic, Saudi Arabia is under the thumb of absolutism, and Syria is governed by a military dictatorship. In Pakistan, freedom of expression is restricted by Internet censors, who recently blocked Facebook for un-Islamic content. Jordan, supposedly ruled by an enlightened monarch, bans Jews from owning property or holding citizenship. In Saudi Arabia, women endure a truly untenable existence; banned from driving, allowed out only under the supervision of a male relative, and forced to hide their faces in a sweaty, black abaya. It is even worse in the Islamic Republic. In Iran, where President Ahmadinejad claimed no gays live,  homosexuals face the death penalty. Most Arab economies are government-controlled and resistant to innovation, and even in Dubai, the financial capital of the Muslim world, abject poverty persists.

A lighthouse shining through the darkness

More succinctly, Israel is a lighthouse of freedom, shining over a dark sea of despair and depredation. Because of this fact, it is hypocritical for progressives to sully the Jewish State’s good name while condoning Arab oppression. Real liberals, which I consider myself to be, should support Israel for the sake of shared values, from an accurate reading of history, and with a good sense of the challenges that it today faces. The struggle of the Palestinians is not one of national liberation, it is one that seeks to destroy an established nation and people, replace light with dark, and supplant hope with hate. The Palestinians are not an oppressed people, they could have had a state long ago. They are rather the most recent manifestation of an enemy that has plagued the Jewish people from time immemorial; the heirs of the Amalekites, Nebuchadnezzar, and Hitler. Indeed, Hamas is not a big leap from Haman. They are the barbarians at the gate and the Visigoths of our time, the arch-foes of civilization and civility. It is in this historical sweep that the conflict must be viewed to be properly understood.

American liberals must seize on the positions of the giants of their past, like Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson, both dear friends of the Jewish State. But why should they support Israel over the multitudes of Arabs? Simply “because it is right,” as President Johnson once declared.

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Wild Turkey

Turkey — the Muslim anchor of NATO with a long history of secularism — is straying from its roots. The Turkish government, controlled by the Islamic Justice and Development Party and led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has slowly gravitated away from the West and towards the Islamic world.  As its bid to join the EU has been stalled, Turkey has begun to abandon the dream of its founder, Ataturk, who envisioned his nation as a secular, Western democracy and has instead focused on becoming the core state of Islamic civilization. In the process, it has alienated the United States on many issues and ruptured its strategic alliance with Israel.

The father of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk.

Erdogan has treated the Jewish State — with which Turkey did $2.5 billion of trade in 2008 — with atrocious disrespect. Last year, he ambushed Israeli President Shimon Peres at the Davos Economic Summit, telling him “that you are killing people,” in response to Israel’s 2009 defensive war in Gaza. This year Turkey allowed a flotilla of so-called peace activists seeking to provoke a confrontation with Israel over its blockade of the terrorist-run Gaza Strip to sail under its flag. When nine of said activists were killed after trying to lynch IDF personnel in a scuffle on the Turkish flagship, the Mavi  Marmara, it was Turkey that reacted with indignation. Erdogan labeled the Jewish State ” a state sponsor of terrorism,” his government downgraded diplomatic relationships with it, and it is now pressing the UN Security Council to open an international investigation — a euphemism for a lynching of Israel — into the flotilla crisis.

From Erdogan’s previous behavior one might not guess that a state sponsor of terrorism was not welcome in Ankara. After all, didn’t Turkey and Brazil (to the chagrin of the US) vote against sanctioning Iran — the state sponsor of terrorism — for its nuclear program. And doesn’t the prime minister have a warm relationship with the genocidal leader of Sudan, Omar Bashir, who is wanted by the Hague for crimes against humanity.  This willingness to overlook the wrongdoings of Muslim leaders and governments reflects a disturbing double standard on Turkey’s part.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan shaking hands with Sudan’s genocidal maniac leader, Omar Bashir.

Indeed, Turkey doesn’t exactly have its house in order when it comes to human rights violations. It still will not come to terms with its bloody past, which is shown by its refusal to acknowledge the Armenian genocide that took two million lives, and its horrendous treatment of ethnic minorities. And while Erdogan tears up for the people of Gaza, there is no end in sight to the Turkish occupation of the northern half of Cyprus.

Its friendship with the US is also fraying. As aforementioned, it refused to support sanctions against Iran, for which America has tirelessly campaigned. It has been hesitant to allow the US to build military bases on Turkish soil. Lastly, as described in The New York Times, it has gone off message and undermined American foreign policy objectives in the region.

The Turkish flag with the Islamic crescent and star.

Turkey’s slide into Islamism and its drift away from the West and the United States is cause for alarm. America should respond by reaching out to secular elements within the government, like the military, and putting pressure on the civilian leadership in Ankara to correct its behavior. Europe should be more forbearing when it comes to Turkey’s EU bid and use that desire as a way to keep that country from going down a more fundamentalist path. Israel must stand its ground and not give into ridiculous Turkish demands. Finally, the people of Turkey, with their long history of tolerance, must decide whether this is the future they want. If not, it is their responsibility to bring their discontent to the ballot box and oust this government from power.

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The New Iran Sanctions

A vote at the UN Security Council imposing sanctions on Iran.

Yesterday the United Nations’s Security Council levied new sanctions on Iran for its quickly-progressing nuclear program. The sanctions — which were agreed to with Turkey and Brazil voting no and Lebanon abstaining — black-listed some companies that do business with the theocratic regime and are aiding its attempts to make atomic bombs. However, the Security Council’s actions do not go far enough because they do not target all the corporations that help Iran get around international isolation and the resolution fails to take aim at the heart of the Iranian economy; oil and gas exports. This failure is mostly the responsibility of China and, to a lesser extent, Russia, who capitalized on every opportunity to weaken the draft and assented to sanctions that were much less strong than the ones the United States had originally sought.

The Iranian regime also has Brazil and Turkey to thank, which to thumb their nose at the United States and in Turkey’s case, to ingratiate itself with the Muslim world, have not only voted against the sanctions but have tried to strike a horrible deal with the so-called Islamic Republic. This bargain struck last month and sealed by hugs — in a scene resembling the Munich Conference of 1938 — would leave Iran with enough uranium to manufacture one nuclear bomb, with which it could wreak grievous harm on the world. This is unacceptable and was appropriately rejected by yesterday’s Council vote.

Lula of Brazil, Erdogan of Turkey, and Ahmadinejad of Iran hugging each other in May.

That being said, the United States and Europe need to lead by example and go beyond the sanctions approved in the UN. The EU and the US should crack down on American and European companies that engage in behind-the-scenes dealing with the Iranian government and its lackeys and affiliates, America should divest itself of the theocracy’s oil, and European governments should freeze the assets of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, which is classified as a terrorist organization and is responsible for much of the regime’s nuclear program. Iran must not be allowed to acquire weapons with which it will menace mankind, theocrats with bombs are never safe.

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America Must Stand With Israel

The Stars and Stripes and the Magen David.

In the wake of the flotilla crisis, America must buck the tide of criticism and stand with its only true friend in the Middle East: Israel. Israel has been unfairly condemned by the international community of hypocrites for protecting its people from rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. The Arabs are trying to play to their street, Europe is playing with oil politics and courting the Muslim vote, and America is silent.

Some have said that the Obama Administration should speak up and join the chorus of condemnation. They are wrong. Yes, America must speak up, but they must do so on Israel’s behalf.  The Israelis are solid allies; they are the only real democracy in the Middle East and bonds of friendship–economic, political, and emotional–tie us together. The Jewish State happens to be right on the issue of Gaza: trade should not be able to flow freely into an enclave controlled by terrorists, especially when that commerce brings in materials that have been used to fire 10,000 rockets at Israel in the past five years. If the people of Gaza want the blockade lifted, they should throw Hamas from power. If Hamas cares about the people they rule–they don’t–they can end the Strip’s isolation by recognizing Israel’s right to exist and renouncing violence.

The official policy position of the current administration supports the blockade, though Obama and the State Department seem to be backing away from that stand. They should not, because there is no good alternative to it, and it is imperative to Israeli security and survival.

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My Take on the Flotilla Crisis

A series of letters I wrote to the New York Times about the Gaza flotilla situation:

Here are the links to the articles:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/01/world/middleeast/01flotilla.html?scp=1&sq=condemnation&st=cse

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/04/opinion/04fri3.html?scp=1&sq=credible%20investigation&st=cse

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/05/opinion/05sat2.html

To the Editor:
Re: “Deadly Israeli Raid Draws Condemnation,” By Isabel Kershner, June 1st, 2010

Given the international community’s kid-gloves approach to Iran it is disturbing and outrageous to see Israel condemned fiercely by the nations of the world in what is a horrendous double standard. Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb to menace all of mankind with and Israel is attempting to stop the flow of material aid to a terrorist organization. Nevertheless, it is Israel that is denounced by the UN Security Council while that body remains quiet on the Iranian nuclear program. Approaching the heights of hypocrisy, the Prime Minister of Turkey downgraded ties with the Jewish State, which he labeled “a state sponsor of terrorism” while he has helped the bomb-building Islamic Republic, which provides support to Hamas and Hezbollah, avoid slap-on-the-wrist sanctions. This double standard should bother anyone with a fundamental sense of fairness, and it must be resolved before Israel is dragged through the mud.

DANIEL SOLOMON, Belle Harbor, NY, June 1st, 2010

Re: “A Credible Investigation” Editorial

To The Editor:.
Just as the so-called activists aboard the ship Israel raided sought to
lynch IDF commandos, an international investigation would lynch the Jewish
State. We have seen this already with the supposedly impartial Goldstone
Report, written by a commission whose writers had already made their
conclusions before they were empanelled. Similarly, the UN Human
Rights Commission — which is composed of some of the world’s worst human rights violators — is completely incapable of carrying out an impartial
investigation. Even the Middle East Peace Quartet cannot be fair,
because of the participation of the United Nations, an organization
that for twenty years equated Zionism with racism. On the other hand,
Israel is an open society with a vibrant democracy, a free press, and
a people willing to question their government. The Jewish State
possesses two strengths that are unique to liberal democratic systems,
the abilities of  introspection and self-correction, which it is ready
and able to use.
DANIEL SOLOMON, Belle Harbor, NY, June 4th, 2010

To The Editor:

Re: “Turkey’s Fury”

Turkey should get its own house in order and come to terms with its bloody past before it lashes out against Israel. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed much compassion for the people of Gaza, but where is his sympathy for the Kurds, who have been persecuted by the Turkish government for generations? Where is his apology for the Armenian genocide? Additionally, what type of friend condones attempts by its flag-ships to run a blockade and deliver cement – which can be used for bombs – to a terrorist organization dedicated to that friend’s destruction? That doesn’t sound like a good friend to me.

DANIEL SOLOMON, Belle Harbor, NY, June 5th, 2010

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The Desert Mirage of Dubai

Today came news that Dubai World, the state holding company of the United Arab Emirate of Dubai, is seeking to defer $59 billion in loan repayments to its creditors. According to The New York Times,  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/28/business/28markets.html?_r=1&hp,the, emirate “like many Western consumers during the good times, [...] gorged on debt and borrowed too much to finance a building boom that has gone bust in the downturn.” Just a few years ago, Dubai was experiencing a boom, as oil prices and the skyline of the city soared together. Showing off its new-found wealth the state embarked on several ambitious projects, notably, the construction of palm-shaped islands off its coast. Gorging on expensive oil and unsustainably expanding its metropolis, Dubai was poised for collapse. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the global housing bubble, as the emirate was caught on the unawares spending decadently while putting away no money for the economic winter.

Today this reality is demonstrated painfully on the streets of Dubai where foreclosure rates have skyrocketed as developments are abandoned and workers flee the once thriving city. The artifical islands, once the symbol of Dubai’s prosperity lie empty as the real estate market implodes.

Dubai and countries of its ilk must take an important lesson from this downturn. They must realize that an economy cannot be premised on petrodollars which arrive with frightening irregularity. They must learn that oil is not sustainable and they must cultivate their human capital with one-time oil revenues. They must use their oil wealth as a stepping stone to a higher level of economic existence and not as an unbottomable purse with whichf to finance real-estate projects. The UAE has a serious problem when it has skyscrapers that rival New York’s yet its ranks 95th in literacy world-wide.

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Reasons I Support Israel

1. Israel is a developed nation. In sixty years Israel was able to build a first-rate society out of the ashes of the Holocaust. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Jewish State is the only developed country in the Middle and Near East. Israel has the 24th highest rate of human development in the world, or a .93 out of 1 on the Human Development Index, these statistics released by the United Nation’s Development Program. This is roughly the same as Germany. Israelis enjoy the 16th lowest infant mortality rate in the world 4.22 out of 1,000 live births, higher than any Muslim nation. The Israelis also have the 14th highest life expectancy among the world’s people at 79.4 years, according to the CIA World Factbook.

2. Israel serves the US’s strategic interests in the Middle East. The Jewish State is the only real democracy in the Middle East and Israelis view America in an overwhelmingly positive light. Israel has been a staging ground for many American overseas contingency operations and has been a reliable friend in a turbulent region. Also American intelligence officials are dependent on the Israeli Mossad much of their information on the Muslim World. Israel destroyed Saddam Hussein’s nuclear weapons program in 1981 and in 2007 dealt a severe blow to Syria’s nuclear ambitions. If these countries had acquired weapons of mass destruction (WMD’s) they could have bombed not only Israel but the US as well. Additionally, Israel and the US are bound together by economic relationships. There are billions of dollars in trade and services transacted between Israel and the US every year. America’s first free trade agreement was with Israel and American companies like Motorola, IBM, Microsoft, and Intel have made significant investments in the Israeli market.

3. Israel is the only democratic, free, stable and relatively secular nation in the Middle East. The Jewish State has free and fair elections every four years to elect members of the Knesset (Parliament) and the Prime Minister. This contrasts sharply with every other country in the Middle East where democracies de jure (Lebanon), oxymoronic Islamic republics (Iran), and even monarchies (Saudi Arabia and Jordan) reign supreme. In these undemocratic countries; dissent is stifled and silenced at gunpoint, (vis-à-vis Iran), women are treated like chattel, religious minorities are persecuted, and homosexuals are murdered. In Israel people of all religions are free to worship as they choose, the media and people often criticizes the government, women enjoy the same rights as their male counterparts, and it is the only place in the Middle East where there are gay-pride parades. Israel by Middle Eastern standards is incredibly stable. Since 1948, there has not been a single regime change or government overthrow in the Jewish State. While in this same space of time there have been three revolutions in Iraq and two in Iran

4. A homeland for the Jewish people is a moral imperative. For thousands of years the Jews have been oppressed. They were enslaved in Egypt, chased out of ancient Israel by the Romans, persecuted in Europe by the Christians, killed by the Nazis, and imprisoned in gulags by the Soviets. After all these years of persecution and oppression, the Jews deserve a land they can call their own, where they can be themselves and live in peace. That is what Israel is: a haven for the oppressed people of the Diaspora.

In short, the Israelis have done in sixty years what the Arabs have not in four-hundred years. They have built a first-rate society with all the trappings and accoutrements of a developed country that guarantees equal rights to all its citizens, a first-world island in a sea of chaos, a beacon of hope for all. Israel deserves America and the world’s support.

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