What happens when politics meets reality? We will find out next week when President Trump visits Israel which just happens to coincide with the reunification of Jerusalem after the Six-Day War. Here’s my guess. Politics will forget history and reality will give way to theory.
Let’s start with history: We lost Jerusalem in 70 CE. Rome destroyed the city and slaughtered or enslaved every resident. On its ruins, the emperor Hadrian built Aelia Capitolina. The only Jews allowed in were slaves, and the name “Jerusalem” survived only in our prayers, from which we beseeched G-d three times a day to rebuild her.
When Rome reinvented itself as the Christian Byzantine Empire (4th century), they brought back the city’s name, but not its Jews. In 638, the Arabs captured the city and permitted Jews to return. But as for the city’s crown, where Rome had built a pagan temple to Jupiter, later supplanted by a Byzantine church, the Muslims now built the Dome of the Rock.
In 1099, blood flowed through its holy streets, thanks to the Crusaders. A century later, Saladin captured her. In 1250, the Egyptian Mamluks (soldier-slaves) took over. In 1516, the city fell to the Ottoman Turks who encouraged Jews exiled from Spain to settle. By the mid-19th century the city was so crowded that some Jews suggested moving outside its protective walls. Soon many enclaves sprouted up, and a ‘new’ Jerusalem was born.
World War I saw the British take over, but in 1948 when they left, the Old City fell to the Jordanians. The men were taken as prisoners to Jordan, all others forced out, some 60 Jewish synagogues vandalized (many turned into animal stalls or latrines), and its 2,500-year-old Jewish cemetery tombstones broken up for paving stones and buildings. For 19 years, the real Jerusalem, the Old City was cut off by minefields and barbed wire. Then in June 7, 1967 (28 Iyar 5727) Israel recaptured the Old City.
Unfortunately, reality met up with politics: what we usually call facts-on-the-ground did not sway the majority of UN member states who refused to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Hence, foreign embassies were located in Tel Aviv. Imagine, Israel is the world’s only country whose declared capital is denied by the international community.
To change that, the U.S. Congress (in 1995) mandated moving its Embassy to a ‘unified’ Jerusalem. Our last four Presidents, beginning with George W. Bush pushed off implementing the law for ‘national security’ reasons. President Obama’s final waiver will expire this June.
You’ve just met the theory, national security: The argument against moving the embassy, embraced by the establishment, is that it would undermine U.S. diplomacy. The ‘official experts’ also warn that if America went out on a limb unilaterally recognizing Jerusalem, when no other country did, it would lead to anti-American terrorism.
Guess what! America is already a target. Remember 9/11! Even more extraordinary is that last month Russia recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Do you know what happened? NOTHING! No explosions in Moscow and Russia’s diplomatic role in the Middle East has not been diminished. Indeed, Moscow’s move has been ignored because it disproves the mayvens predictions of mayhem.
To be sure, Russia meant Western Jerusalem. Even so, it shifted the discussion. Should the U.S. be less pro-Israel than Putin? Recall that at the outset Donald Trump was the Israeli right’s messiah. He promised to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and toss out the two-state solution. But lately, Israel’s love affair with Trump has gone from ecstasy to agony. Especially after Trump’s reported faux pas of revealing Israeli intelligence secrets to the Russians.
Yet Jews, forever hopeful, are crossing their fingers (is that even allowed?) that Trump will keep his campaign promise and relocate the embassy. So let us conclude with reality. 1) The Jerusalem charade must stop. Moving the embassy would actually improve the prospect of peace. It would end the perverse dynamic that every time the Palestinians say “no” to an offer, the international community demands a better deal on their behalf. Relocating the embassy would demonstrate to the Palestinian Authority that ‘rejection’ has a price. 2) It would correct a historic injustice. Others have come and gone, but we are not going away. Fact: No Arab or Muslim power ever claimed Jerusalem as its capital. But to Jews, Jerusalem is our country’s soul. 3) It cannot be American policy to recognize a capital, or not, based on how terrorists will react. 4) In the face of an American show of strength they won’t do much more than fume at the mouth. 5) America had better worry about a nuclear Iran, a recalibrated Turkey, an emboldened ISIS, and not the futile speeches of a weakened Abbas.
Since King David made Jerusalem the capital in the 10th century BCE, Jerusalem has been tugging at the heart of Jewish longing. It is so central that the memory of its destruction and the hope for its sovereign restoration are included in numerous Jewish customs and holidays.
Next week, 50 years after the city was reunified, Jews will do more than remember the holy city. They will walk on the cobblestone streets where the Prophet Zechariah proclaimed, “Old men and old women will once again dwell in the streets of Jerusalem…and the squares of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing in its streets.” In fulfillment, our children will play in Roman ruins, enjoy a laser show at David’s Citadel once inhabited by the Crusaders, pray in the Ramban’s 13th century synagogue, parade on Sultan Suleiman’s walls, march thru Jaffa gate where the British general Allenby proclaimed victory, and touch the Western Wall. And the best part! We will do all these and more not just on Yom Yerushalayim/Jerusalem Day, but every day.