Embassy Move Provokes Fear of Violence, Triumph of Recognition

President Donald Trump visited Jerusalem’s Western Wall in May | Matty Stern/U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv via JNS.org

Although most issues within the Jewish community — and the political sphere — are faced with polarizing debates, the American Jewish community appears to be relatively united over news of the past week.

President Trump’s landmark decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the plan to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has been supported by most of the Jewish community.

The announcement fulfills one of Trump’s campaign promises. Trump officials said they hope the relocation will take three to four years, but the logistics may require twice that time, according to some news reports.

Many welcomed the announcement in Philadelphia, Tel Aviv’s sister city, which hosts all 86 embassies in Israel.

Naomi Adler, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, reiterated the Jewish Federations of North America’s statement welcoming the recognition, as well as “the affirmation of a two-state future negotiated between the parties in which Israelis and Palestinians live side by side, with secure and recognized borders.”

“There’s no question that Israel’s capital deserves the same recognition and respect as any other nation in the world,” Adler said. “Our community shares a broad and strong connection to Israel and works with us all the time to make sure that it’s as strong as possible.”

She hopes the resolution spurs further conversations toward peace, like the recent Memorandum of Understanding between the state of Pennsylvania and Israel that was heralded as ushering in a new era of trans-Atlantic business development.

“Jerusalem holds a very special place in the hearts of billions of people of differing faiths,” she added, “so we hope and pray for peace in Jerusalem and in Israel.”

Lee Bender, co-president of the Greater Philadelphia chapter of the Zionist Organization of America, echoed the sentiment.

“Let’s be real: Jerusalem is Israel’s eternal, ancient, modern and actual capital and has been the capital for over 3,000 years,” he said. “Humiliating Israel by being denied its sovereign rights to determine its own capital — it corrects a historical wrong.”

Bender said the ZOA’s “unofficial mantra” declares that Israel wants peace, but rights and security come first. This declaration is an expression of that, he said, and it’s about time.

Security has been discussed as a major risk with the embassy move, as heated tensions over the sovereignty of the city intensified this week, steering farther from peace negotiations.

But Bender believes the risks of security are no different than they are in the heavily populated Old City now.

“Every embassy in the Middle East has to be protected and will be protected,” he added. He believes this shouldn’t prevent Arab leaders from going forward with peace talks, though Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas canceled his meeting this week with Vice President Mike Pence.

“Relocating the embassy to Jerusalem does not in any way prejudge the outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process,” read a statement by AIPAC, “to include establishing two states for two peoples and resolving Palestinian claims to the eastern portion of the city and the disposition of holy places.”

Still, a handful of organizations, including J Street — the self-described “pro-Israel, pro-peace” group that has long fought any discussion of Jerusalem outside of a final peace deal — denounced moving the embassy.

“As an organization, we agree in general that we do recognize that Jerusalem can and should be the capital of the Jewish state of Israel,” said Adam Steinberg, J Street’s deputy regional director of the New York region and Pennsylvania. “However, we do feel that that is one of those topics that needs to be discussed and addressed in a final negotiation.”

Steinberg said this no longer makes the United States an “honest and credible broker” to negotiate peace talks, as it supports one side over the other.

“By shifting the status quo without there being a mutual agreement, we worry about the kind of tensions that can inflame among the Palestinians,” he said. And those tensions have already begun to surface.

Among denominational groups, the Orthodox Union and the umbrella groups representing the Conservative movement released statements lauding the president’s move. The Reconstructionist movement, however, expressed concern over the impacts of the timing of the president’s decision.

“Our concern is that this abrupt disruption of the diplomatic status quo by the U.S. on this unusually sensitive and explosive issue may lead to dangerous unintended consequences, including renewed escalations of violence and terrorism,” read a statement by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote.

Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs urged Trump to move forward with peace talks.

“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,” he wrote. “Additionally, any relocation of the American Embassy to West Jerusalem should be conceived and executed in the broader context reflecting Jerusalem’s status as a city holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.”

Bender pointed out that it’s no coincidence the declaration took place days before Chanukah, calling it a “divine correlation.”

“[This decision] could have been made at any point in 22 years — it’s coming now,” he said. “The message of Chanukah is the rededication of Jerusalem.”

He’s proud the ZOA and many other Jewish organizations have finally agreed on something for a change.

“We pray for Jerusalem all the time,” he said. “Jerusalem is in the heart of the Jewish people.” 

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