Opinion | American Jews Just Don’t Get It

Reactions to the embassy move to Jerusalem show how little they understand Israelis.
By | Jul 09, 2018
2018 July-August, Israel
us embassy jerusalem

In the late spring of 1967, I was a 17-year-old high school student about to graduate from the Hebrew Institute of Long Island. But instead of dreams about prom night, what occupied my mind—and I expect those of most American Jews—was the “second Holocaust” in the making. After aligning with Syria and Jordan, blockading Israel’s Red Sea, kicking out United Nations peacekeeping forces and moving his vast army and air force into the Sinai, Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser had declared that the time had come to “annihilate the State of Israel once and for all.”

It seemed likely. Our enemies had double the planes and tanks and almost 100,000 more soldiers. In Tel Aviv, rabbis of the chevra kadisha (burial society) were busy consecrating public parks to be used as cemeteries, and warehouses had stockpiled enough body bags to accommodate 40,000 casualties.

And then came the miracle: the lightning preemptive strike that not only eliminated the military threat but brought the magic news that Jerusalem was back in Jewish hands for the first time since the days of the Maccabees.

I will never forget the stunning and absolute joy that I, a young American Jew, felt at that news. I trembled, I cried and I sent up a prayer of deepest thanksgiving to the God of my fathers.

More than 50 years later, a similar joy enveloped me as the U.S. Embassy finally moved to Jerusalem. This is the key element missing from nearly all American and international coverage of the move—and without it, no observer can grasp the magnitude of what has changed. For Israelis, the embassy’s relocation was not simply logistical. It was a full-throated rejection of a decades-long Arab campaign of vicious historical revisionism, which seeks to promote the absurd and obscene claim that the Jewish people never had any connection to Jerusalem. Just recently, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s senior advisor Mahmoud al-Habbash was quoted in the Algemeiner calling any Jewish connection to the holy city “an imperialist myth that exploited and distorted history and the holy sites in order to advance and justify imperialist projects.”

That Muslims should claim exclusive ownership of the capital of the Kingdom of David, settled by Jews continuously since 1007 BCE, is as ugly a piece of cultural appropriation as is imaginable. Nevertheless, the lie has made enormous inroads, as evidenced by the December 21 UN vote in which 128 nations condemned the U.S. decision to move the embassy. (Rest assured, they were not all doing this out of concern for the prospects of a two-state solution.)

With the move, on the timely anniversary of Harry Truman’s recognition of Ben-Gurion’s Declaration of Independence, the U.S. has rekindled the light of truth in the midst of the lies which are the real obstacles to peace in our region. The recognition of the religious, moral and historical right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, and to Jerusalem as her eternal capital city, must be the foundation for any authentic, lasting peace agreement. Moving the embassy was a true move toward peace.

The attempt of Hamas, a terror organization whose entire existence is based on hate-filled lies, to destroy our joy by busing terrorists to the Gaza border with knives, axes, guns and grenades—in an attempt either to cross and inflict murder and mayhem on us, or to achieve a public relations coup in their martyrdom—was not surprising.

What was shocking and demoralizing, however, was the ease with which the second goal was achieved. Many American Jews automatically sided with our enemies, mostly out of their blind hatred of Donald Trump.

As J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami put it: “The opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem…should be a moment of celebration.” Unfortunately, he went on to say, he and his friends cannot celebrate because of the “manner and timing” of the event, which he sees as “designed to advance the agenda of [the] right wing.” Yes, if only President Barack Obama had moved the embassy, and John Kerry had made the speeches with Abbas, instead of Christian Zionists and a Chabad rabbi. Alas.

The president of the Union for Reform Judaism rode the horse of social justice, crying for the poor Hamas terrorists shot down before they could accomplish their agenda: “We are alarmed, concerned and profoundly saddened by the growing number of Gazan dead and wounded.” And IfNotNow, an organization that began out of “moral anguish” during Israel’s attempt to stop Hamas rocket fire from Gaza during the 2014 Protective Edge war, had this to say via a tweet: “We condemn the Trump administration for opening the Embassy of Occupation, for celebrating while Palestinians were being massacred just miles away, and for blaming Palestinians for their own deaths.” Individually tweeting Jews were just as bad: @christinajduv tweeted, “I am very proud to be Jewish, but I am completely ashamed of what’s going on in Israel.”

I’m also ashamed. Not for the first time, this ugly discourse has made me feel ashamed to be an American Jew.

I am not alone.

According to the June 2018 American Jewish Committee survey of American and Israeli Jewish opinion, the world’s two largest Jewish communities are deeply divided, with religious observance correlating with most of their differences concerning President Donald Trump, U.S.-Israel relations, Israel’s security and peace process policies.

Perhaps a divide is inevitable. But can we not at least bond over the joy of having Jerusalem recognized and celebrated as our eternal capital? As our soldiers sang when they reached the Kotel in June 1967: “This is the day the Lord has wrought. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Naomi Ragen is a novelist and playwright living in Jerusalem.

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