At face value, President Donald Trump’s declaration last week that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel had many in the community wondering, “So, nu? Of course, it’s the capital!”
For Jews, the ancient city has been considered the capital of Israel — and by extension, the Jewish people — at least since the time of King David, some 3,000 years ago.
But modern geopolitics have complicated the claim to Jerusalem, which was designated a special international zone at the time Israel became a state in 1948. Indeed, Jews, Christians and Muslims all claim holy sites and history in Jerusalem, which has made political jurisdiction over the city a controversial issue for more than half a century.
Trump’s announcement on Dec. 6 upended the status quo, sending shockwaves throughout the global political establishment, which generally criticized the move. In Los Angeles, community leaders and others expressed a range of opinions. Some view Trump’s announcement as a blow to the peace process, ignoring Palestinian claims to the city and thus further entrenching both sides in the current stalemate. But many others are elated, seeing a long overdue reckoning in Trump’s bold announcement. Here they are in their own words, edited for length and clarity.
For the Jews, it is never the right time.
In March of 1948, as President Harry Truman was grappling with the issue of whether to recognize a Jewish state, his secretary of state, George Marshall, threatened to resign over the matter. Marshall warned the president that such a precipitous move would engulf America in a war and enrage the Arab world, thereby handing over the oil-rich Middle East to the Soviets on a silver platter. Eventually, Truman ignored Marshall’s advice and recognized the Jewish state when it was declared. And Marshall decided not to resign. Israel, which will soon celebrate her 70th birthday, went on, despite Arab hostility and conflict, to be one of the great achievements in the whole history of nation building.
The catchphrase, “This is not the right time,” has been used often in Jewish history. It was used against Moses by the “elders” who refused to accompany him to confront the Pharaoh. They were wrong! The leaders of both the Orthodox and Reform movements used it when Theodor Herzl came to them with the idea of establishing a Jewish state, and they were wrong, too!
So, kudos to Trump for seizing the moment and righting a historic wrong by becoming the first president to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance
While the Israeli-Palestinian issue is not a high priority in the Arab world today with all the other turmoil engulfing the region, not even the Trump administration’s closest allies support this move. Jerusalem is an issue that still resonates strongly across the Arab and Islamic world. If the president only recognizes Israel’s claim to the city, and does not distinguish between West and East Jerusalem, his decision will be universally condemned in the region and globally. Close allies like Jordan will be vulnerable to blowback domestically.
Once again, the United States is isolated globally with no clear strategic gain. And it risks inflaming regional tension and increasing anti-American sentiment. The result is a boon for extremist forces and countries like Iran, unfortunately.
Dalia Dassa Kaye, director of the Center for Middle East Public Policy and senior political scientist at Rand Corp.
If one declared Athens the capital of Greece or Rome the capital of Italy, the reaction would be, “No kidding — we’ve known that for thousands of years.” Well, Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel since King David, who flourished around 1,000 B.C.E. To say it out loud should evoke yawns, not yells. But there are political realities, of course, and an unfortunate interruption in Jewish sovereignty. (As the great Shai Agnon put it, “Like all Jews, I was really born in Jerusalem, but the Romans stole my cradle.”)
So, yes, I acknowledge that the timing and tactics could have been improved. And some who are genuinely pro-Israel (along with many who are not) wish it had not been done for prudential reasons. But American presidents, including the current president’s predecessor, have been saying an undivided Jerusalem is the capital of Israel for a long time. Now it has been made official. Somewhere under the earth of that ancient, sacred city, King David sleeps a little more soundly tonight.
Rabbi David Wolpe, Max Webb Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple
In essence, the U.S. politically recognized West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He left the status of East Jerusalem open. Did this hurt the peace process?
I am not aware of a current peace process. During the past 20 or so years of a sporadic “peace process,” Israel has suffered incessant terrorism and intermittent wars with Hamas and Hezbollah, even without Jerusalem being politically recognized. Hamas now has announced that the gates of hell are open. I have lost count of how many times Hamas has announced the opening of the gates of hell. Palestinians are demonstrating, and things may get violent.
Sadly, the Palestinians have gone on rampages over far less serious issues. In reality, they are militating for a nation of their own on the 1949 armistice lines, not over the symbolic status of Jerusalem. Every perceived offense is an opportunity to continue that struggle. Israelis are somewhat inured to Palestinian threats.
For sure, the Palestinians have lost political ground. The president has messaged the Palestinians: Time is not on your side. If you want your own capital in Al Quds, you had best move quickly into a real process for peace.
Jerusalem, even if only West Jerusalem, is the capital city of Israel. That is a fact. Admitting the reality of things often cuts through neurotic obsessions and moves people through grieving and into resolution.
Rabbi Mordecai Finley, co-founder and co-CEO, Ohr Hatorah
All Jews who love Israel recognize that Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish state. For me this has never been a question.
Our people’s yearning for international recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is as old as the state itself. Our yearning at last has been addressed by President Donald Trump’s proclamation.
As satisfying as this is, there was something significantly missing in Trump’s address — recognition that Jerusalem also is the capital of a future Palestinian state. Had the president said that, world reaction would be magnanimous and I believe positive, and there would be less risk of violence against Jews, Americans and Palestinians.
Now that Jerusalem has been so recognized, I would hope the United States and Israel would be able to say publicly that East Jerusalem can one day be the capital of a Palestinian state in an end-of-conflict negotiated two-state solution. Only a two-state solution can address the long-term security needs of the State of Israel, preserve its Jewish character and sustain its democratic system of government.
I hope the needle has been moved in a positive direction as a consequence of Trump’s proclamation. I also hope there is a secret strategic plan that the United States has developed to bring about a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
I pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
Rabbi John Rosove, senior rabbi of Temple Israel of Hollywood, national chair of the Association of Reform Zionists of America, and past co-chair of the Rabbinic and Cantorial Cabinet of J Street.
The president’s strong statement made America’s position clear for the world, acknowledging the reality that Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel since the country’s declaration of independence nearly 70 years ago. From Israel’s founding, Jerusalem has been the location of the country’s parliament, the Supreme Court, and the residence of both its president and prime minister.
Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for some 3,000 years. We have been praying “Next year in Jerusalem” for many centuries, and Israel’s national anthem ends with the word Jerusalem. It is at the heart of our past, present and future.
We praise the president’s statement that this action is a step to advance the peace process and that Jerusalem will remain the heart of three religions, which will continue to worship their religion freely.
Shoham Nicolet, CEO, and Adam Milstein, chairman, Israeli American Council
For decades, the Anti-Defamation League has called on the United States — and the entire international community — to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. And yet this important and long overdue step should not preclude the imperative of peace negotiations, including discussions over the final status of Jerusalem. We urge the U.S., Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the international community to work together to reduce tensions and create conditions conducive for the rapid resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations leading to a two-state solution.
We recognize that this is an enormously sensitive and volatile issue, and we call on the Trump administration to implement this new policy in a careful and thoughtful manner in consultation with regional leaders.
We also hope that all parties emphasize the fact that this announcement does not diminish the recognition of, and respect for, the Muslim and Christian connections to the holy city.
Amanda Susskind, regional director Pacific Southwest Region, Anti-Defamation League
Given that the current U.S. consulate, built in the early 21st century, is a literal fortress overlooking East Jerusalem, the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who was paying attention. That being said, I believe that we are living in historic times. What is perceived as a tunnel of darkness can also be a birth canal. And, like the twins Jacob and Esau, we are battling inside the womb. Israel and Palestine are shadow characters of each other. But what if, instead of perceiving the shadow as an enemy, we view each other as mutual vehicles for redemption? What if this stunning announcement regarding Jerusalem ends up breaking the waters of reconciliation?
Prayers and blessings have a place, even in the midst of politics. May the U.S. and Israel find peace in their special relationship, and may our sisters and brothers of Palestine find statehood speedily in our time. May all three elevate their nations to the true ideals of democracy and self-determination. And may the shared holy ground of Jerusalem become the inspiration for a rebirth of freedom for all.
Rabbi Lori Shapiro, rabbi and founder of the Open Temple
This is a historic moment for the State of Israel and the Jewish people worldwide. Recognizing Jerusalem as our capital is a reflection of reality that dates back to the time of King David. Although we don’t need anyone to endorse our history, the fact that the United States government finally has stated its recognition of Jerusalem as our capital is the support that Israel deserves. There is no other country in the world that has had its capital challenged, except the State of Israel.
President Donald Trump’s recent statement supports what we all know is true: Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people. The recognition by the U.S. government of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital should not in any way affect the peace process if, indeed, the other side really is interested in peace. The American government is not proposing to move its embassy into East Jerusalem. West Jerusalem, where the U.S. Embassy will be built, always has been acknowledged as Israel’s territory.
May we all pray that Jerusalem will be the city of peace that our biblical prophets envisioned.
Rabbi Elazar Muskin, senior rabbi of Young Israel of Century City and president of the Rabbinical Council of America.
Yes, Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel; it always has been the capital, whether it was recognized by the United States or not.
President Donald Trump’s announcement would have been more significant had he used it to strategically advance his stated goal of an “ultimate deal” leading to peace between Israel and the Palestinians by, for instance, also recognizing East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. This was a missed opportunity to advance a comprehensive peace plan rather than just make a largely symbolic gesture that benefits only one of the parties.
Rabbi Laura Geller