JERUSALEM — Avihu Mizrachi Minagen generally steers clear of politics, but he applauded President Trump’s vow to move the U.S. Embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv and his declaration that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.
“I think it’s wonderful because it strengthens Jews’ historical, cultural and religious claims to Jerusalem at a time when Muslims are trying to deny then,” Minagen said in the men’s shoe store his family has run in the heart of West Jerusalem for the past 86 years – 17 years longer than Israel has been a country.
Trump made his announcement on Wednesday (Dec. 6), ignoring pressure from world leaders who said the move would further incite an already volatile region and make it harder to restart peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
Among Israel’s large non-Jewish population — the 19 percent that is predominantly Muslim but also includes Christians and Druze — the response was decidedly negative.
Minhagen’s reaction was common among Jews in Israel — for many of them, the declaration recognizes what has been true for them for thousands of years.
“The roots of the Jewish people are right here,” Minagen said, gazing to the east. “The Western Wall, the Temple Mount. I’m glad the American president acknowledges this.”
That acknowledgment, which Trump delivered in a speech from the White House, has spurred a wave of speculation about its political and religious ramifications.
Trump called the planned relocation of the U.S. Embassy “a long overdue step to advance the peace process.” The relocation follows approval from both the House and the Senate.
The U.S has never before recognized either Israeli or Palestinian sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem, which the United Nations envisioned as an international city. After Arab armies attacked the fledgling Jewish state in 1948, Israel seized control over West Jerusalem while Jordan seized control over East Jerusalem. In 1967, after the Middle East war, Israel extended its control over East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
David Rosen, an Orthodox rabbi who is the international director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, expressed doubt that Trump’s directive will change the religious status quo in Jerusalem. “Israel is already in control of Jerusalem and has done its best to maintain the principle of freedom of access for all religions.”
But Muslim leaders and Islamist groups warned of more discord and violence.
Meanwhile, Jews around the world debated whether the U.S. declaration of sovereignty and the embassy’s relocation was a good thing or a bad thing.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called Trump’s speech “a landmark in the recognition of the right of the Jewish people to our land, and a milestone on our road to peace — peace for all the residents of Jerusalem, and the whole region.”
In contrast, the U.S.-based Reform movement, the largest stream of Judaism in the U.S., called Trump’s announcement “ill timed.”
“It affirms what the Reform Jewish Movement has long held: that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. Yet … we cannot support his decision to begin preparing the move now, absent a comprehensive plan for a peace process.”
Any relocation of the American Embassy “should be conceived and executed in the broader context reflecting Jerusalem’s status as a city holy to Jewish, Christians and Muslims alike,” its statement continued.
As for the Holy Land’s Christians, in a letter to Trump, patriarchs and bishops expressed their hope that the U.S. “will continue recognizing the present international status of Jerusalem. Any sudden changes would cause irreparable harm.”
The Christian leaders predicted that Trump’s actions will lead to “increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, moving us farther from the goal of unity and deeper toward destructive division.”
Thabet Abu Rass, the Muslim co-director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, which strives for Arab and Jewish equality, called the announcement “a historic mistake.”
“Jerusalem isn’t just a religious city. It is a symbol of statehood for Palestinians. This move will only inflame Arab-Jewish relations,” he predicted.
Despite the historic announcement, the streets of Jerusalem were almost empty Wednesday night as a cold rain and strong winds kept most people indoors.
Yossi Hadad, the owner of a jewelry store in the city center, said Trump only confirmed what he and other Jews have been saying all along.
“The Torah, Jewish texts and archaeological excavations all come to the same conclusion: that Jerusalem is a Jewish city. All we seek is that acknowledgment, with the understanding that Muslims and Christians belong here, too.”
— by Michele Chabin | RNS