Israel Lost a Great American Friend

Daniel Inouye, a Democrat from Hawaii, was the U.S. Senate’s most senior member, a military hero and a unique American success story.

By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on December 24, 2012.)

When the U.S. Senate’s most senior member died last week, the people of Israel lost a great friend. At the time of Daniel Inouye’s death at 88, the Democrat from Hawaii was the president pro tempore of the Senate, meaning that he was the presiding officer of the Senate in the absence of the vice president and the third in line to succeed the president of the United States, after the vice president and the speaker of the House. For many years he was also the best friend Israel had in Congress.

He was a military hero and a unique American success story. Inouye, who was was born in Hawaii, volunteered to serve during World War II in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, an infantry regiment in the U.S. Army made up of Americans who, like Inouye, were of Japanese descent and were intent on proving their loyalty to the United States at a time when Japanese Americans were mistreated and uprooted from their homes.

The regiment was known for the valor of its soldiers and received more decorations than any other similar unit in the U.S. Army. Inouye was awarded a battlefield commission and received the highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor. He lost an arm in combat, and for the rest of his life was distinguished by the empty sleeve pinned to his suit.

After the war Inouye went into politics in Hawaii and was elected to represent his home state in Congress after it became the 50th state of the union in 1959, serving first as a member of the House of Representatives and then as a U.S. senator. Inouye distinguished himself on many occasions during his long political career. He was known as a principled man of the highest integrity who believed in American ideals and served them to the best of his ability as both a soldier and a civilian.

Inouye saw Israel as a country dedicated to these very same ideals. As someone who had displayed such great courage under fire himself, he admired Israel and Israelis for the courage they showed again and again when under attack by enemies far superior in numbers. He saw Israel as an ally of the United States and as a country that shared the same values and ideals as the United States. He saw no disparity between the two countries’ strategic interests, and considered them one and the same. True to this belief, he utilized every opportunity to initiate or support congressional legislation that would be of assistance to Israel.

Inouye was the first senator I asked to see on becoming Israel’s ambassador to Washington, and my advice to the ambassadors who succeeded me was to do the same on arriving in Washington. If you needed advice, he was the first one to ask. If you required help, you could count on him to provide it.

He visited Israel at every opportunity. Inouye was here during the 1991 Gulf War, dutifully donning the gas mask he was issued when the sirens sounded. He had no compunctions about visiting settlements located beyond the 1949 armistice lines. He accompanied me on a visit to Alfei Menashe, one of the earliest settlements in Samaria.

Inouye, whom I had the privilege of calling my personal friend, last visited Israel in January of this year. “An Iranian attack on Israel is an attack on the United States,” he told high school students in Jerusalem, adding: “At a time like this, when you have revolutions in [the Arab world], thank God we have Israel.”

The people of Israel, and Jews throughout the world, have lost a great friend.

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