As the son of a pastor growing up in Plainfield, Iowa, and Delavan, Wisconsin, I remember well learning about places like the Mount of Olives in Sunday School.
I remember reading about Jesus crying to His Father, “May this cup be taken from me,” and imagining His final ascension, as told in Acts.
But I never expected to have the opportunity to stand at the top of the Mount of Olives myself or to walk where Jesus walked in Jerusalem.
Earlier this month, I was blessed to have such an opportunity, to visit Israel and to marvel at the sites of the Holy Land — from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to the Via Dolorosa. The feeling you get, the sense of awe and the sense of peace, is indescribable. The experience is powerful, one Tonette and I will never forget. The history of these places did not just change Israel or the region. The history of these places changed the world.
Yet even as you stand there, reflecting on the consequential events of two millennia ago, you recognize Israel is not merely a place of shrines and holy sites. Israel is one of the world’s most vibrant democracies and one of America’s most important allies.
So while we visited the Western Wall and the City of David, we also spent much of our time in Israel meeting with the country’s leaders, including Prime Minister Netanyahu and members of the Knesset from many political parties. We discussed our shared hopes for stability in the region, and shared threats from those who seek to destroy Israel and the United States.
We met with entrepreneurs, listening to their visions of creating economic opportunities for their fellow citizens and neighbors and building an even brighter future for their country.
With members of the Israeli Defense Forces, we traveled to the border, where soldiers stand guard, prepared to sound the alarm and defend against incoming attacks. They live every day with the threat of imminent danger.
In other words, Israel is strong: a country with a thriving economy, a remarkable entrepreneurial spirit, and a resilient people. Despite this strength, Israel is a small country that faces enemies on all sides. The region is in chaos. Groups who believe in annihilating Israel are on the rise. We see it everyday on the news: extremists like ISIS are growing stronger by the day. The threat of a nuclear Iran and Iran’s military interventions throughout the region are of increasing concern.
I wish it were not the case, but this trip only confirmed my belief that the current administration is not giving Israel the support it needs. Instead of standing with our ally, the president is making bad deals with a country that wishes to wipe Israel off the map.
As the Israelis rightly recognize, such a bad deal would not only give Iran a pathway to a nuclear bomb, it would empower their broader, destructive agenda. We don’t have to guess that Iran might do with billions of dollars in sanctions relief to funnel to terrorist proxies and an intact nuclear infrastructure. They have said so themselves. They seek the destruction of Israel and — ultimately — of the United States.
My goal in visiting Israel was to listen to its leaders and its citizens in order to better understand their perspective. It is very clear to me that now is not the time to dismiss or downplay the threats to their country or ours. Nor is it a time to dismiss the rise of anti-Semitism around the world and an increasing effort in places like Western Europe to delegitimize Israel. Now is the time to work together and restore the ruptured bonds between our two countries.
Israel’s history has made it a place of tremendous significance to billions of people around the world. As we look to the future, Israel will remain a place of great importance and a major strategic partner in building a more peaceful, more free world. I am more convinced than ever that as Americans we must embrace and support our ally in Israel.