Connecticut’s Jewish community leaders react to President Trump’s proclamation
On Wednesday, Dec. 6, President Donald Trump signed a proclamation recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but emphasized that he was not pre-empting negotiations over the final status of the city.
“It is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” Trump said in a televised address from the White House, with Vice President Mike Pence standing behind him. “While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. I today am delivering.”
Trump in the proclamation also directed the State Department to start planning the relocation of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The president said the decision should not impinge on efforts led by his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, to bring about a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Trump said the proclamation does not presume the outcome of Jerusalem’s status in negotiations.
“We are not taking a position on any final status issues, including the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem,” he said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who welcomed the announcement, has said repeatedly that Jerusalem will remain undivided as Israel’s capital. Palestinian officials hope to establish the capital of a Palestinian state in the city’s eastern sector.
Trump also made a point of urging the preservation of the status quo on the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam. The controlling authority on the Temple Mount now is the Muslim Waqf, and Jews are forbidden to pray on the site.
How did the organized Jewish community react to the announcement?
The largest mainstream and right-leaning Jewish groups welcomed President Donald Trump’s announcement, while groups on the left expressed regrets.
Here’s how reaction broke down among various Jewish and pro-Israel groups.
Malcolm Hoenlein, president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which includes more than 50 Jewish organizations across the range of ideologies, and seeks consensus on U.S.-Israel affairs, said Trump was doing “the right thing.” “When President Trump visited the Western Wall and made a declaration recognizing Jerusalem as holy to the Jews after the denunciation of UNESCO, there was not even one warm-up, not one demonstration, because when you do the right thing, you do not have to ask questions, you just do it,” Hoenlein said in an address at the launching of the Lobby for the Protection of the Mount of Olives in the Knesset.
The Anti-Defamation League called the step “important and long overdue,” but urged all parties “to work together to reduce tensions and create conditions conducive for the rapid resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations leading to a two-state solution.”
AIPAC said that it has long supported an “undivided #Jerusalem” as the “historic, current and future capital of Israel.”
“Relocating the embassy to #Jerusalem does not in any way prejudge the outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian #peace process, to include establishing two states for two peoples and resolving Palestinian claims to the eastern portion of the city and the disposition of holy places,” AIPAC tweeted.
The American Jewish Committee, Hadassah and the Jewish Federations of North America also welcomed the president’s announcement without reservations.
The Republican Jewish Coalition praised the president for his announcement and ran a full-page ad in the New York Times thanking him. And the Simon Wiesenthal Center said that with his announcement, Trump “will right a historic wrong.”
Mort Klein, head of the Zionist Organization of America, told Jewish Insider, “I am pleased that after 22 long years since the embassy bill passed that Trump is going to be finally recognizing the obvious. I am disappointed that he is signing a waiver two days after the deadline. I would have preferred he take the existing consulate or another government-owned building, put a sign on it and say this is the embassy, immediately.”
The announcement, said Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs, affirms that “Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people and the State of Israel.” However, said Jacobs, the White House should not undermine efforts toward making peace by “making unilateral decisions that are all but certain to exacerbate the conflict.”
The Jewish Democratic Council of America released a statement saying it too believes that “Israel’s capital is Jerusalem” and that the United States “can and should move our embassy to a location in Jerusalem under undisputed Israeli sovereignty.” But it quickly pivoted to charge that the Trump White House “has neglected efforts to meaningfully support peace between Palestinians and Israelis.”
The Middle East policy group J Street said in a statement that, “In the absence of that final agreement between the parties on the city’s status, blanket recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is premature and divisive,” J Street said in a statement.
The New Israel Fund called the president’s decision to begin the process of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem “a dangerous, reckless, and irresponsible move.”
We asked Connecticut’s Jewish community leaders where they stand on the President’s proclamation. Here is what several had to say – including a brief analysis of the proclamation by one of Connecticut’s foremost Middle East experts, Dr. Donna Divine.
Donna Robinson Divine
Morningstar Family Professor of Jewish Studies and Professor of Government, Emerita
President of the Association for Israel Studies
Affiliate Faculty, University of Haifa
(The author of three books including Exiled in the Homeland: Zionism and the Return to Mandate Palestine, Dr. Divine has held visiting appointments at Yale, Harvard Hebrew University and the University of Sydney, as well as fellowships from the National Endowment of the Humanities, the Mellon Foundation, and several Fulbright grants. She is a resident of West Hartford.)
Some quick thoughts. It is a long overdue move. A mark of sovereignty is the capacity to designate a capital city. Nothing the President did with his declaration of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital precludes any of the principles of the Oslo Accords and the expected discussions concerning the possibility of part of Jerusalem becoming the capital of a Palestinian state should it ever be established.
Whatever the President’s motivations, the timing of the declaration has some important consequences.
First, it dismantles the UN Resolution  passed in the last months of President Obama’s second term which declared even the construction around Jewish holy sites, like the Wall, illegal. It restores some balance to recognizing the reality of Israel as a Jewish state.
Second, it comes at a time when many of the Arab states are more concerned with Iran than Israel.
Third, it says, implicitly, something profound about the so-called peace process that most pundits and even experts are unwilling to recognize or have forgotten. No American or foreign initiative has ever moved Palestinians and Israelis into a peace process. From the very moment of Israel’s founding, there have been many efforts to bridge the gaps or forge a plan to bring the parties together. Only after the Palestine Liberation Organization suffered defeats in Jordan, Lebanon, and then was marginalized in the 1980s by the Iran-Iraq War, did it embrace the idea of a political process. Even then, it was difficult to give up the idea of resistance, namely some sort of violent response to Israel’s existence or what it termed its occupation of Palestinian lands. The reason for this derived from trying to forge a Palestinian consensus among very different movements with very different ideologies. Resistance, the leaders thought, could go hand in hand with diplomacy. That strategy played out in the Second Intifada because there were funds from other Middle Eastern countries to pay for the violence. Now, funds in the region are tight and stretched to pay for fighting in more lands. The Palestinian plight is no longer the major problem for the region nor a major priority.
Fourth, unlike the diplomatic activity set in motion by President Obama, this declaration signals that time may not be on the Palestinian side. If they continue to insist on favorable parameters even before entering negotiations as they did during these past eight years, developments on the ground will not stop but may very well bypass Palestinians.
Finally, this declaration moves Jerusalem from heaven to earth. As long as Jerusalem is a symbol and myth of spirituality and grandeur, Israel has no right to claim it. President Trump has recognized the real Jerusalem that is firmly planted on the ground, the one that Israelis – Jews, Christians, and Muslims – live in and with.
Rabbi Daniel Cohen
Congregation Agudas Sholom
We are grateful for this week’s historic decision by the United States. The decision is more than an important benchmark – it is a milestone that corrects an historical wrong. Until today, Jerusalem was the only capital city in the world that the United States neither recognized nor declared as the location of its embassy.
While expressing its position on Jerusalem, the United States recognized that any agreement on the final status of Jerusalem must be reached directly by the parties. The U.S. reasserted its commitment to peace between Israelis and Palestinians. These actions in no way preclude future negotiations.
We hope and pray that in the days ahead, this decision will be a catalyst to a lasting peace and the vision of the Temple Mount as a “house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7).
We never forget Jerusalem. As King David says, “If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill” (Psalms 137:5), and as Isaiah states, “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her vindication shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch.”
In light of this week’s developments, I am reminded of a story about the first Chief Rabbi of Palestine, Rabbi Abraham Kook. After the Balfour Declaration, Rav Kook was invited to a ceremony expressing gratitude to Britain. He said: “I am not coming to thank Britain. They did not give us something which belonged to them, for the Land of Israel was already ours. Rather, I am coming to bless Britain, since anyone who helps the Nation of Israel is deserved of blessing.”
America deserves our thanks and our blessing. God bless America.
This week, we celebrate Chanukah, which marks our renewed commitment to our faith and Torah. It celebrates the courage of the Jewish people and God’s grace, miracles of old and miracles in our time. The holiday celebrates the power of light over darkness. Jerusalem embodies this vision not only for the Jewish people but humanity. God willing, we will merit a time in our days when the light of Zion will be renewed and herald a time of peace for all mankind.
President and CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford
President Trump’s official recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his plan to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem are consistent with a bipartisan commitment made in 1995 when Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act. Our relationship with Israel and with Jerusalem as its capital has existed for more than 3,000 years. Jerusalem has been home to the Knesset, the Israeli Supreme Court, and the nation’s prime minister and president for decades.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford is a strong supporter of Israel and also of peace. We welcome the affirmation of a two-state future negotiated by the Israelis and Palestinians in which all people can live side by side with secure and recognized borders. Worldwide reaction to the president’s announcement has been mixed. We hope that Israeli and Palestinian leaders will act in the best interests of their people and take meaningful steps to ease tensions and advance the cause of peace. We reaffirm our own commitment to support efforts that hasten the realization of peace, security and prosperity for both Israelis and Palestinians.
The Jewish Federation through its Community Relations Council will continue to monitor developments. The council seeks to fairly present a range of opinions that reflect our community’s views and to promote civil discourse on this and other strongly held positions. We continue to mobilize our community against the movement to delegitimize Israel and against antisemitism.
Rabbi Elisha Paul
Head of School
Jewish High School of CT
On the day of the historic announcement recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, I asked our Jewish High School students to concentrate and focus on two of the 19 parts of the Amidah prayer, one in the middle that emphasizes our fervent hope of returning to Jerusalem and the concluding one that stresses our plea for peace for the Jewish people and the world.
As a proud religious Zionist who is a parent of three children who are living in Israel, including one member of the IDF, I reacted to President Trump’s official recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel with mixed emotions. I was elated at the validation by the government of the United States of all of the collective hopes of Israel and the Jewish people and was grateful for this courageous gesture.
At the same time I was filled with anxiety as I sent text messages to my children to be careful and steer clear of the old city for the next few days following the announcement. Being safe is one of the highest mitzvah priorities in the Torah and knowing the absurd but predictable response of planned days of rage by the Palestinians filled me with concern.
Ultimately, I am not upset about the announcement to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem but I wish it was done a little more discreetly and quietly.
Rabbi Yitzchok Adler
Beth David Synagogue
For a religious Zionist, the Trump announcement was old news. Since the establishment of the State of Israel, Jerusalem has been its capital. Progress is not measured by definitions, it is measured by application. Virtually all pilgrims and visitors have experienced Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal capital; and for Israelis, it has never been a question.
My fear, a concern shared by many, is that the purely political statement issued in Washington will result in the damage and destruction of property and may result in the loss of lives. Those opposed to direct negotiations between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors have been given fuel, and those in favor of negotiations have been set back.
Rabbi Greg Wall
Beit Chaverim Synagogue
It is surprising to me that the announcement by the White House, confirming a law passed by Congress in November of 1995, was met with such outrage and rancor.
The Jewish people have known that Jerusalem has been the heart and soul of Israel for millennia. It is a shame that the City of Peace has become a political issue, or even worse, seen as a pawn in international diplomacy. No announcement from any politician, in any country, is needed to recognize the right of Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem any more than a person needs outside recognition of ownership of their own heart. The peace process is dependent on this.
This week marks the festival of Chanukah, when Jews commemorate a miraculous victory when faced with political and military pressure from the great powers of the world to abandon their Jewish worldview and spiritual practice. They held their Jewish legacy above all, and once they regained their freedom they immediately restored the Temple in Jerusalem.
No amount of revisionist history will erase that fact from our minds, no matter how many rooms full of children are taught that the Jewish history of Jerusalem was fabricated by “the Zionist Entity.”
Even sadder is the fact that Jewish children are being taught the same on college campuses across the country.
One month ago, I was honored to stand under the chuppah at the wedding of my son, and sing the words,
“Im eskacheikh, Yerushalayim, tishchakh yemini; Tidbak l’shoni l’cheiki im lo ezk’reikhi, im lo a’aleh et Yirushalayim, al rosh simchati.”
“If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither; let my tongue stick to my palate if I cease to think of you, if I do not keep Jerusalem in memory even at my happiest hour.”
And lest we forget, at the most joyous moment in life we break a glass to remind us.
We must not let Jerusalem, the heart of the Jewish people, be turned into a political issue.
I pray for peace three times a day, and am confident that Israel will be able to make peace with all its neighbors, and the City of Peace will continue to be a place where Jews, Muslims, Christians, and people of all faiths can respect its history and taste its spiritual delights.