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On the Recognition of Jerusalem

When President Ronald Reagan decided to visit the cemetery of Nazi soldiers buried in Bitburg, Germany, Israel’s Prime Minister, Shimon Peres said at the time, “A friend is a friend.  And when a friend makes a mistake, a friend is still a friend and a mistake is still a mistake.”


I open with this because the converse is also true.  When a public official with whom you may disagree on a number of issues does something you agree with, and which you believe to be right, you should give that person credit for doing the right thing.


President Trump’s decision to implement policy approved by the United States Congress on numerous occasions affirming that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel was the right thing to do.


Without going into excessive detail or too thorough a recounting of history, it is important to note that Jerusalem has always had a special place in the history and heart of the Jewish people.  Mentioned in the bible 669 times, the ties go back over 3,000 years, to the time of King David who made it his capital.  It was the site of the Temple first built by King Solomon in the 10th century, BCE.  From that time until it was destroyed in the year 70 CE by the Romans, it was the place where Jews came and made a pilgrimage on the festivals and other special occasions.


And so the only time and the only nation for which it served as the capital city was during the time that Jews were sovereign in the land of Israel.  The long line of foreign invaders – the Romans, the Mamalukes, the Crusaders, the Turks, and others captured and occupied Jerusalem – but none of them ever established Jerusalem as their capital.


The Koran makes no explicit mention of Jerusalem, nor was there any Arab claim to Jerusalem expressed until Jews started to rebuild the city in the last century.


Jerusalem is the direction we turn when we pray, and our prayers express the hope that Jerusalem will be rebuilt and that we will return to it.  There are many more things to cite in our liturgy and customs we observe which demonstrate the long association of the Jewish people and the city of David.


As a result, when Israel became an independent nation in 1948, it was clear that Jerusalem would be the capital of Israel.  The Knesset, its parliament, as well as the office of the President, Prime Minister, the Supreme Court and other government offices were all placed there.  Like any sovereign nation, it choose where its capital would be.  But unlike any other sovereign nation, it was denied the ability to do so uncontestedly.


Israel is the only country in the world where other nations do not set up their embassies in its capital.


We forget that between 1949 – 1967 when Jerusalem was captured and occupied by Jordan, Jews were denied access to their holy sites.  Jewish synagogues and cemeteries were destroyed.  Jews were evicted from the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem – There were no UN resolutions condemning Jordan for their blatantly obstructionist and destructive acts.


Unlike other rulers of Jerusalem, Israel has protected the holy sites of all religions.  When people say they want to ensure that Jerusalem will be open to all faiths, they must recognize that the only way that will happen, and the only time that all have been ensured equal access is when it is administered by Israel.   A tell-tale sign of the Arab effort to rewrite history, is when Mahmud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority in his speech last year at the United Nations Abbas deliberately made reference only to Muslim and Christian connections to Jerusalem.  Unlike Jews, Israelis and Christians, who speak of the ties of all three monotheistic faiths to the city, he inexplicably and consciously omitted any mention of the historic Jewish connection to the Holy City of Jerusalem.


So I applaud President Trump for doing what he did.  It is a response to the efforts to deny Jewish ties to Jerusalem.  It is reminiscent of the historic, courageous and defiant act taken by President Harry Truman when he went against the advice of the State Department and his advisors by recognizing the State of Israel in 1948 within 11 minutes of its becoming a country.


I have no sympathy for the “opinionators” who pontificate that the President’s act will lead to violence and demonstrations in Arab streets and Arab cities.  Let us keep in mind we are not talking about spontaneous demonstrations in free and open societies.  Nothing happens in these tightly controlled countries unless the dictators and autocratic rulers allow it to happen, and decide that they want it to happen.  It is why schools were cancelled by the authorities on Thursday in various Arab cities.


And since when should American foreign policy be held hostage to or dictated by the threat of violent temper tantrums?


When the United States adopted the agreement with Iran, something opposed by the government and people of Israel, there was no call for violence in the streets of Israel.


When the United States did not veto a one-sided resolution which stated that Judaism’s holiest places in Jerusalem were to be considered “occupied territory” there was no call in Israel for “days of rage.”


When Unesco adopted ludicrous statements denying historic ties between the Jewish people and Jerusalem, no one threatened to pour into the streets or commit acts of terror.


To be held hostage to the threat of violence is to encourage extremism and to reward terrorism.  This bold act helps to set the course right and to repudiate the threat of violence as a means to achieve goals.


As for those who say this act is a setback to the peace process – I ask:  what peace process?  There is no peace, and there is no process.


To those who say the issue of Jerusalem should have been reserved for final negotiations this eliminates the fantasy that Jerusalem will be severed from Israel or that it will not be the capital of the Jewish state.  It conveys an important message that while borders are yet to be determined, along with a myriad of other issues, Jerusalem is not up for grabs.


And to those who question the timing:  President Trump merely corrected something that should have been done 70 years ago when Israel became a nation, or 50 years ago when the city was reunited.


Thousands of years ago the Psalmist wrote words which express the centrality of Jerusalem, “If I forget thee O Jerusalem, may my tongue cleave to my mouth and my right hand cease to function.”   He expressed a love that continues to this day.  Let us continue to express our age old prayer for the peace of Jerusalem.


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Stuart Weinblatt

Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt is the President of the Rabbinic Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America. From 2009 - 2014 he served as Director of Israel Policy and Advocacy for the Rabbinical Assembly.
Rabbi Weinblatt is the rabbi of Congregation B'nai Tzedek in Potomac, Maryland, a vibrant Conservative synagogue of 650 families he founded in 1988, along with his wife and a handful of families.