In early December, after President Donald Trump had made good on his campaign promise to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel (with or without moving the US embassy over), Reform clergy Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, announced that Reform Jews—all 16 North American Reform organizations and affiliates, “cannot support his decision to begin preparing that move now, absent a comprehensive plan for a peace process.”
“While the president took the right step in announcing that he would sign the waiver, as have his Republican and Democratic predecessors, the White House should not undermine these efforts by making unilateral decisions that are all but certain to exacerbate the conflict,” Jacobs warned.
There were other critical voices from the Jewish American left, including the usual suspects: New Israel Fund CEO Daniel Sokatch who suggested “President Trump many not understand what’s at stake here, but we do. Moving the embassy risks igniting the tinderbox of anger, frustration and hopelessness that already exists in Jerusalem”; and J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami, who was certain that “the effect of moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem prior to a negotiated agreement will be to anger key Arab allies, foment regional instability and undermine nascent US diplomatic efforts to resolve the larger conflict.”
Over at the Conservative movement, hundreds of members signed an open letter attacking their movement’s support for the Trump declaration. The movement’s statement celebrated the fact that “in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and planning to move the American embassy to a location under uncontested Israeli sovereignty, the US government acknowledges the age-old connection that Israel and the Jewish people maintain with the holy city.”
But several hundred rank and file Conservative Jews rebutted: “We believe that support for President Trump’s announcement is both politically shortsighted and morally unsound. It has already cost the lives of several Palestinians and will surely cost more. […] JTS and USCJ should neither be ‘heartened’ by nor ‘applaud’ a decision that will lead to violence, further entrench the occupation, and damage prospects for peace.”
A group of rabbinical students of the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary of America and the Solomon Schechter Rabbinical Seminary wrote from Jerusalem to express “our deep concern and unease following the current US administration’s reckless decision to formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city outside the context of just and respectful negotiations for peace with Israel’s Palestinian neighbors.”
But as time moved on and the Middle East had not ignited tinderbox-fashion as promised, and it turned out the vast majority of Arab states were not going to go beyond a faint lip service to the “Palestinian” cause, the media began to report on other voices in the Reform and Conservative movements and elsewhere in the Jewish American left, that openly rejoiced in Trump’s declaration.
Ammiel Hirsch, senior clergyman of the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York, wrote last week: “The world’s superpower finally did the right thing, and we opposed it – not on the principle, but on the ‘timing.’ 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.”
Hirsch reminded fellow liberal Jews of the “critics who accused the civil rights movement of moving too quickly,” and of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s response: “The time is always ripe to do what is right.”
“In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, King wrote: ‘For years now I have heard the word ‘wait’ … that [our] action … is untimely. This ‘wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ We must come to see that justice too long delayed is justice denied,” Hirsch reminded his fellow Jewish liberals.
Incidentally, about one week after his rejection of the Trump declaration, Rick Jacobs had a change of heart, perhaps because of the raging attack on him by his biggest ally in the war over the Kotel real estate, Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, who told Israel Radio: “The Reform response to the recognition of Jerusalem was terrible,” adding, “Everything that comes out of Trump is bad, from their perspective. When the leader of a superpower recognizes Jerusalem, first you have to welcome it, then offer disagreement. Here it was the opposite.”
A more politically correct Jacobs later said in a Shabbat sermon, “Now that the decision has been made, our Movement stands in solidarity with this recognition. Jerusalem is, in fact, the capital of Israel. That is how it should and must be. The President was correct in noting that a sovereign state is entitled to name its own capital. And his act of formal recognition was a powerful repudiation of the efforts of those who would promulgate the lie that Jewish attachment to key areas of Jerusalem is only a myth.”