You may have seen some stuff lately about Trump and Israel. Well, here’s my Jewish ass with some info for you.
Somewhat lost among all the other crazy shit happening in the news lately, our chief bloviating yam announced yesterday that he will officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and move the American embassy there from Tel Aviv. This is probably going to stir some shit up.
To ridiculously over-simplify the Israel situation, many of the borders in the Middle East are leftovers from assorted colonial powers, peace treaties after wars, and other arbitrary less-than-perfect solutions that end up creating groups of people who are technically in one country but want to be part of some other country or have their own country.
Ever since Israel in its current form was created after World War II, much of the Arab world has resented the creation of a country that was governed by a Jewish majority when they had not wielded that influence up to that point. Multiple wars were fought, but eventually many Arab countries came around to not hating Israel so much, or even cooperating with it.
But the situation with the Palestinians in Israel, and contested territories like the West Bank and Gaza Strip, has continued to be a mess. I’m not going to give you a whole history lesson on them, because that would be way too much typing. But basically, Palestinians and Jews both lived in Palestine/Israel before it was turned into Israel, and ever since then they’ve been fighting over whether the Palestinians should get a piece of the country of their own.
Now, something you have to understand about us Jews, we’re not exactly a unified bloc. In Israel, you have a mix of moderate/secular Jews, and extreme hardcore Orthodox Jews, who tend to be hard-line anti-Palestinian. While there have been relatively moderate Israeli governments in the past, Israeli politics in the last 10 years have become increasingly dominated by the Orthodox hard liners. They do things like build Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which the Palestinians see as occupying their land.
Outside of Israel, Orthodox Jews are very much in the minority. Most Jews in the US and other places are generally not particularly religious. Being Jewish is much more a cultural identity that happens to be tied to a religion. We might go to services some times, mostly for major holidays, and our day to day lives are not dictated by religion. But we consider ourselves a religious minority, and therefore we push back against the conservative Christian type politicians who want to make laws based on the morality they believe is dictated by their religion. We don’t want the laws of the land to be dictated by some religion other than our own, and generally want laws to not be based on any religion at all. When conservative Christian types say shit like, “America was founded on Judeo-Christian beliefs,” that makes our skin crawl, because we don’t want to be associated with that shit at all. When it comes to Israel, we very much want it to exist, but we tend to be more moderate than Orthodox/right wing Israelis, and are more open to a 2-state solution.
So...Jerusalem. Judaism, Islam and Christianity all claim Jerusalem as a holy city. It is the holiest city for Judaism and Christianity, and the third holiest for Islam. Everybody wants it. But the city of Jerusalem was split up after the 1948-49 Arab-Israeli war. East Jerusalem was not technically part of Israel, and its status is still very much in dispute. Israel’s claim to East Jerusalem is not internationally recognized, but Orthodox hard-liners believe the city should be 100% Israeli controlled. Palestinians want at least East Jerusalem for themselves, and a bunch of other crap is disputed about it. For reference, the population of Jerusalem is roughly 65/35 Jewish/Muslim, with maybe a few percentage points split off each of those numbers for Christians.
Because both sides in the conflict claim Jerusalem as their own, since the creation of Israel as a country, no American president has taken a stance that one side or the other is the sole owner of Jerusalem. The US has always tried to be the mediator between the two sides and come up with a solution. Doesn’t matter which party you’re talking about. While we are a staunch ally of Israel, we have always been the lead mediator.
The Trump administration made solving the Israel problem one of its campaign promises. What you have to understand about Israeli sovereignty and how it plays to different groups in US politics, is that when a politician (usually Republican) sides with the Israeli Orthodox hard-liners, while that appeals to a small subset of American Jews, who it’s really targeting is conservative Christians. American conservative Christianity likes to claim Judaism as a like-minded religion (“Judeo-Christian beliefs”), and is content to have right-wing Orthodox Jewish Israel come out ahead in any Israel-Palestine conflict. Most of us less-religious American Jews are life-long Democrats, and see that Israel is more likely to have long-term peace if Palestinians have somewhere of their own so they quit blowing shit up.
Ok, that’s the background. Phew.
As of yesterday, there were no active Israel-Palestine peace talks. There also wasn’t much of any active fighting. It’s basically status quo, neither side is talking to each other. But even though there are no active negotiations, Trump decided to declare Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel, not Palestine, and to legitimize Israel’s sole claim to Jerusalem by moving the US embassy there.
Team Trump says this is a “recognition of reality,” but the reality is that Jerusalem is very much in dispute. It’s not like a bunch of other countries have embassies in Jerusalem and the US is following suit. The US embassy in Tel Aviv is one of 86 embassies there. There are zero embassies in Jerusalem.
In the context of the Israel-Palestine conflict, this is essentially the US taking Israel’s side on a key point of contention between Israel and Palestine, waaaaaaaayyyyy more than any previous US president has ever done, and a giant double middle finger to the Palestinians, and their supporters throughout the Arab/Muslim world.
This move might play well to the Israeli Orthodox hard liners, and American conservative Chrsitians, but in terms of being a good way to jump-start talks between Israel and Palestine, this is like throwing a brick through Palestine’s front window and then saying, “ok, now that I have your attention, let’s negotiate on who gets to clean up this broken glass.”
The reaction from the Arab/Muslim world, is, to put it lightly, predictable.
Here’s the full security message from the U.S. embassy in Israel:
With widespread calls for demonstrations beginning December 6 in Jerusalem and the West Bank, U.S. government employees and their family members are not permitted until further notice to conduct personal travel in Jerusalem’s Old City and in the West Bank, to include Bethlehem and Jericho. Official travel by U.S. government employees in Jerusalem’s Old City and in the West Bank is permitted only to conduct essential travel and with additional security measures. United States citizens should avoid areas where crowds have gathered and where there is increased police and/or military presence. We recommend that U.S. citizens take into consideration these restrictions and the additional guidance contained in the Department of State’s travel warning for Israel, the West Bank and Gaza when making decisions regarding their travel.
I’m not going to theorize why the hell Trump decided this was a good move, and why it had to happen now. Like many Trump decisions, it seemingly came out of nowhere. All I do know is that it’s some kind of an attempt to fulfill a campaign promise, and it’s predictably stirring up all kinds of shit on an international level. But don’t think for a second that the majority of American Jews think it’s a good idea.
UPDATE FROM THE COMMENTS SECTION: