On Monday, while on a vote-hunting expedition in south Florida, John Kerry told a Jewish audience about the time he flew an Israeli fighter jet. It is a good story, and it has the virtue of truth. I know because I was there.
This was back in the mid-'80s, soon after Kerry had been elected to the Senate. The Boston branch of the Anti-Defamation League organized an educational trip to Israel for him. He was accompanied by a delegation of Massachusetts Jewish activists and Democratic campaign contributors.
The government of Israel takes such senatorial visits seriously. A high level of hospitality was laid on. The senator wanted to visit a military air base, and the ministry of defense was only too happy to comply. It even assigned him a reserve military escort officer: Me.
Kerry got the standard tour of the fighter jets. Then, unexpectedly, he asked for permission to fly one. I was against it in the army you are responsible for whatever you sign out, and I had signed out a U.S. senator but it wasn't my call. The base commander suited Kerry up and took him for a run over Israel.
In Florida on Monday, Kerry invoked that experience as a pro-Israel credential. "I've had the privilege of ... learning firsthand how tight that security is, how close the borders are, how tiny and fragile [Israel] is," he told his audience.
Here's another story from that trip that Kerry didn't tell: He and his delegation were taken, as all visiting dignitaries are, to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. Kerry toured the exhibits, asked questions and emerged somber but dry-eyed.
"Sen. [Al] Gore was here recently," one of his Israeli hosts said. "This museum brought him to tears."
There was probably a bit of malice in this remark; everyone knew that Kerry and Gore were rivals. Kerry responded by asking for a private moment. He went off to the side and stood alone. When he returned, according to people who were there, he had tears running down his cheeks.
I don't want this story to mean too much. A lot of politicians can make themselves cry (who knows, maybe Gore did too). I also don't think that that tears are necessarily the most appropriate response to genocide.
Still, there is something chilling about Kerry's emotional detachment, even if you believe (as I do not) that the senator didn't yet know that his own grandparents were Jews a blood connection that would have given Kerry himself a ticket to a concentration camp.
Kerry considers himself a friend of Israel, but his approach to it like his approach to everything is essentially cerebral. His flight over the country was an educational experience it gave him a better sense of Israel's strategic geography.
But the threat facing Israel now isn't primarily military. Countries, including many Kerry prizes as members of "the international community," are waging diplomatic war aimed at turning the Jewish state into a pariah. This is not a threat you can discern from the cockpit of a jet fighter, but it is real enough. And its desired effect is on display at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
In a time of jihad, an American President who doesn't see that and feel it is a dangerous friend to have.