'Thus Says the Lord': Religious Tune at Jerusalem Embassy Opening Drowns Out Protests

Only smartphones’ push notifications told about the rising death toll at the Gaza border, with the U.S. Embassy’s opening ceremony taking on a festively religious tone suited to please attending Jews and Christians alike

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks past the dedication plaque after the ceremony at the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, May 14, 2018
\ RONEN ZVULUN/ REUTERS

About 800 people gathered Monday in the courtyard of the new U.S. Embassy, the former consulate, in south Jerusalem's upscale Arnona neighborhood for the historic opening ceremony. While some on hand were apprehensive as the death toll at the Gaza border rose, the general atmosphere was one of excitement. 

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Seated in the front row beside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara were the close kin —  and advisers — of U.S. President Donald Trump: Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner. The president, for his part, addressed the audience via satellite.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks as U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman listens during the opening ceremony of the new US embassy in in Jerusalem, Monday, May 14, 2018. Amid deadly clashes along the Israeli-Palestinian border, President Donald Trump's top aides and supporters on Monday celebrated the opening of the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem as a campaign promised fulfilled. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
Sebastian Scheiner/AP

Members of the U.S. delegation included Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Seated next to them were Republican billionaire donor Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam; the Adelsons' presence in the front row symbolized the weight of their role in pushing for to the embassy's opening.

Israeli cabinet members, party heads — including opposition leaders — lawmakers and other officials filled the next rows, while behind them were the real stars of the event: Dozens of delegates from across the United States, many of them religious Republicans — Jews and Christians alike — who came a long way to witness an event that for many of them represents the way to salvation. The content of the ceremony clearly reflected this narrative, with pastors speaking alongside rabbis.

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"May God bless you and the United States of America," Trump told the crowd on the monitor, adding that his country was still committed to the status quo at Jerusalem's holy sites, and to peace and mediation between "Israel, the Palestinians and all their neighbors."

US President's daughter Ivanka Trump unveils an inauguration plaque during the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018
\ RONEN ZVULUN/ REUTERS

Describing Jerusalem as "a city of peace," President Reuven Rivlin said "all its residents of all religions and communities share the city together." Meanwhile, the song playing was one carefully chosen to suit both groups of believers: "Hallelujah."

Kushner added that "Jerusalem must remain a city that brings people of all faiths together." He mentioned his grandparents, who survived the Holocaust, and ended his speech with "God bless you." The embassy's plaque was unveiled by Ivanka Trump.

The event was hosted by the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, one of the most prominent supporters of the move. Upon taking the stage, Netanyahu embraced Friedman and patted him on the shoulder.

"This is history," Netanyahu declared. "President Trump made history. We are all excited. It reminds me of my childhood. I grew up here. I used to walk here in the fields. This is where the border was and it was already dangerous. This is the day that will be engraved in our collective national memory for generations to come."

Sheldon Adelson is seen ahead of the dedication ceremony of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, May 14, 2018
MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP

Throughout his speech, Netanyahu switched between Hebrew and English. He added biblical elements later on with a brief history of the Jewish people in Jerusalem. "The Temple Mount is in our hands," he said, to which the audience — Christians and Jews alike — burst into applause, recognizing this quote from Israel's victory in the 1967 Six-Day War. Netanyahu, who is very familiar with this type of audience, enjoyed several rounds of loud applause throughout his address.

"Thus says the Lord, 'I will return to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the City of Truth,'" Netanyahu said in conclusion, quoting a verse from the Book of Zekhariah, which some Christian denominations interpret as a reference to Jesus. Netanyahu spiced up his speech with own Shehecheyanu, a Jewish prayer to celebrate special occasions.

Right after Netanyahu, evangelical pastor John Hagee urged the audience:  "Can we all shout Hallelujah?" The songs "God Will Grant Strength to His People," ("with the help of God," added singer Hagit Yaso) and "Peace Will Come to Us" were the artistic segment that followed.

In complete contrast to those sentiments, demonstrations and arrests outside the compound could be learned of with the help of push notifications on smartphones. At the ceremony, only the speakers, the music, the applause and, on occasion, the chirping of birds was heard.

Israeli and American officials attend the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018.
MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP