Embassy Opening Spurs Celebrations Across Atlantic

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the official opening ceremony of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Ron Dermer might have been the least well-rested among the hundreds of people gathered to celebrate one of the most historic dates on the Jewish state’s calendar, but Israel’s ambassador to the United States had a crucial task in front of him.

After having been on hand for the much-anticipated opening May 14 of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, the American-born Dermer was back in Washington, D.C., that night to give thanks to the American people and the chief executive who made the celebration possible, President Donald Trump.

“Today, May 14, 2018, less than six months after President Trump made America the first country” to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, “the United States moved its embassy to Jerusalem,” a beaming Dermer said from the podium at the Israeli Embassy’s 70th Independence Day Celebration. “This historic day certainly calls for a ‘Shehecheyanu.’”

Many in the bipartisan crowd, which included military attaches and officials from the foreign diplomatic corps in Washington, joined Dermer in reciting the Hebrew blessing traditionally made when experiencing new events.

The timing of the event — weeks after Israel’s official celebrations of Yom Ha’atzmaut in accordance with the Hebrew calendar — had been set well in advance of the embassy opening, coinciding with the English date of Israel’s declaring independence. But the events in Jerusalem had a poetic ring to them, coming exactly 70 years after President Harry Truman was the first world leader to recognize Israel as a sovereign nation.

“Today the alliance between the United States and Israel is stronger than ever,” Dermer said. “The great alliance … did not happen on its own.” It was, instead, the product of “countless individuals.”

Those honorees, whose accomplishments on behalf of Israel were written up in a commemorative book given to attendees, included such luminaries as the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson; Elie Wiesel; Michael Steinhardt; former presidents; and philanthropic families. Vice President Mike Pence accepted a medal on behalf of Trump, who couldn’t attend because First Lady Melania Trump was in the hospital.

The 70th honoree, Dermer said, was “the American people,” to whom “Israel owes a profound debt of gratitude.”

Turning to Pence, the ambassador lauded Trump and his administration.

“Thank you for putting an end to the appeasement of the Iranian regime,” he said, pointing to the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement negotiated under President Barack Obama. “Thank you for unapologetically standing with Israel at the United Nations. … Thank you for unequivocally backing Israel as we defend ourselves. … Thank you for having the courage and the wisdom for recognizing Jerusalem as our capital.”

Relocating the embassy amounted to nothing less, Dermer said, than “one small step for peace, and one giant leap for truth.”

The remarks echoed those made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other speakers at the embassy opening, which was attended by a 250-strong U.S. delegation that included the president’s daughter and son-in-law, White House advisers Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

In his address at the embassy, Kushner said that when Trump makes a promise, he “keeps it.”

“While presidents before him have backed down from their pledge to move the American Embassy once they were in office, this president delivered,” he said.

For his part, Netanyahu thanked Trump, who addressed the embassy opening by video, for “having the courage” to move the embassy, which Congress had mandated in a law passed way back in 1995.

“What a glorious day for Israel,” he said. “Remember this moment. This is history. President Trump, by recognizing history, you have made history. All of us are deeply moved, all of us are deeply grateful.”

Back in Washington, Pence addressed the constant security challenges Israel faces in the Middle East, although he didn’t mention the attempted storming of Israel’s border fence by Palestinians in Gaza that claimed dozens of lives when Israeli soldiers opened fire.

“Since Israel’s rebirth … there has hardly been a day when the people of Israel have … lived without war, or the fear of war or the grim reality of terror,” Pence said. “The United States and Israel have long stood together to confront the evil scourge of radical Islamic terrorism. And today, we renew our pledge to stand shoulder to shoulder as we drive that menace from the face of this Earth.”

Even among the many Democrats in the audience who have had deep policy differences with the Trump administration — such as arguing against the president’s pulling out of the Iran deal for fear that doing so would give the Islamic republic a free hand to pursue nuclear weapons — the mood was decidedly festive.

That unity in celebrating Israel’s independence and its strong relationship with the United States was also evident in the deeply Democratic city of Philadelphia, where Mayor Jim Kenney and Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) joined the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and students from the Perelman Jewish Day School to raise the Israeli flag at City Hall.

The half-hour event featured speeches from Kenney and Boyle, Jewish Federation President and CEO Naomi Adler, Jewish Federation Chair Susanna Lachs Adler and Congregation Mikveh Israel Rabbi Albert Gabbai. Harriet and Mark Levin raised the flag in honor of their son, Michael, who made aliyah, joined the Israel Defense Forces as a lone soldier and perished in the Second Lebanon War.

“We may have a wide array of views on the state of Israel and what needs to be done,” said Lachs Adler, “but on this we can all agree: After more than a century of commitment to our 70-year-old homeland, we remain dedicated to helping Israel to continue to evolve as an inclusive, resilient and peaceful society.” 

Staff writer Selah Maya Zighelboim and JNS.org contributed to this article.

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