On December 6 President Donald Trump acknowledged something that most Israelis, most pro-Israel groups and many other people in the world have accepted as reality since 1949 by formally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and directing the State Department to start moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
There was elation in many quarters, as Israel supporters praised Trump for stopping the waivers that previous U.S. Presidents have signed since 1995 to delay the move. Predictably, the Palestinians and many countries in the United Nations were not happy. Not quite as predictable was the reaction of some American Jews.
In making the declaration, Trump said, “I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. I’ve judged this course of action to be in the best interest of the United States of America and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. After more than two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. It would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result.”
Although the declaration did not specify an undivided Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was pleased. Prior to the vote in the UN, Netanyahu said he thought most European countries would follow suit in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. A few countries, such as the Czech Republic and Guatemala have gotten on board, ten more are actively talking about moving their embassies to Jerusalem and Russia made the acknowledgement of Jerusalem’s status as the capital of Israel several months ago. Groups such as StandWithUs, the National Council of Young Israel, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews and others were quick to praise the move.
Some Jewish groups are cautiously optimistic about the declaration with the concern for rising incidents in Israel and anti-Semitism elsewhere. Some scholars believe that Trump’s policy is good for the peace process, while others are skeptical.
A huge rejection of the policy came from Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) at the organization’s 74th North American Biennial General Assembly. As 6,000 Reform Jews gathered in Boston for the event, Jacobs called the announcement “ill-timed,” saying, “While we share the president’s belief that the U.S. embassy should, at the right time, be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, we cannot support his decision to begin preparing that move now, absent a comprehensive plan for a peace process.”
Not all Reform Jews agree. For instance, Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, senior rabbi of Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York City, wrote an article in The Times of Israel, saying his colleagues were wrong on the politics and the merits of the decision, which is widely supported in Israel. As he explained, “We have yearned for Jerusalem for two millennia. It is the source of our strength, the place where our people was formed, where the Bible was written. Jews lived free and made pilgrimage to Jerusalem for a thousand years. Our national existence changed the world and led to the creation of two other great faiths…The world’s superpower finally did the right thing, and we opposed it – not on the principle, but on the timing…Now is the not the right time? Two thousand years later and it is still not the right time? As if there is a peace process that the Palestinians are committed to and pursuing with conviction.”
Natan Sharansky, chairman of The Jewish Agency for Israel, offered his take on the situation: “When the leader of a superpower recognizes Jerusalem, first you have to welcome it, then offer disagreement.”
Whether you like Trump or not, whether you like Israeli pluralism policy or not, whether you worry about the effect of the proclamation on the peace process and whether you think the US government is distancing itself and Israel from the rest of the world, you have to be happy that the US is embracing a reality that has existed for a long time.
There may be a long way to go in achieving your personal vision for the role that Jerusalem should play in the world or peace in the region, but this decision is a huge step in granting the recognition Israel has long deserved from its chief ally. Let’s show some rare unity and welcome the recognition for what it is.