For Jews around the world, the opening of the U.S. embassy to Israel in Jerusalem should have been an occasion for jubilation and pride. And while for some it was, many of the rest of us watched the ceremony feeling a combination of nausea and cognitive dissonance.
There were at least three reasons to feel ill.
The first and most obvious is that the ceremony took place yesterday against the backdrop of carnage in Gaza.
While American and Israeli officials congratulated themselves in Jerusalem, denizens of the open-air prison which Israel continues to occupy (through its control of air, sea, and land routes out of Gaza and even of its population registry) were being shot to death by the dozens.
Yesterday was the single bloodiest day in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the 2014 Gaza war. By evening local time, the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza reported that 58 Palestinians were killed and more than 2,700 were wounded. The dead purportedly included several minors.
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While some Gazans were heeding calls to breech the separation fence, the use of live rounds against unarmed protesters is an offense against both law and morality.
It would be a mistake to view the simultaneous events in Jerusalem and Gaza as unrelated, with the latter merely spawning unfortunate optics for the former. Predictably, Israeli Foreign Ministry officials were eager to deny any causal relationship. But while the Gaza protests likely would have occurred without Trump’s moves regarding Jerusalem, Palestinians have made clear that the perception the U.S. has stolen Jerusalem from them is one of the grievances animating their protests.
Second, the claims of the ceremony participants to want and even to be acting in the pursuit of peace strained credulity to the breaking point. Over and over again throughout the fête, the audience heard proclamations of the desire for peace and particularly the exhortation of Psalm 122, to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem."
At the very least, however, it is clear that President Donald Trump has subordinated any interest in peace and landing the “Deal of the Century” to a desire to fulfill campaign promises to evangelicals in his base and wealthy conservative Jewish donors like Sheldon Adelson.
Successive presidents, Democrat and Republican, had signed the waiver provided in the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act because they prioritized avoidance of violence and maintaining the American role as an honest and effective broker of Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Trump did not simply break with his predecessors. After witnessing the consequence of his move – the complete rupture of U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority – his administration upped the ante and accelerated the embassy move date to May 14, the day before Palestinians observe the commemoration of their national tragedy, the Nakba.
If, by the time Ethiopian-Israeli singer Hagit Yaso wrapped up the ceremony with "Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu” (“Peace Will Yet Come Upon Us”), you felt you were being gaslit: there was no need to question your sanity. You were not alone.
Third, the passion with which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, and other Israeli dignitaries embraced Trump and conservative evangelicals was stomach-churning for many American Jews.
Known for our progressive politics, which for many are driven by our Jewish values, the vast majority (77 percent) of American Jews disapprove of President Trump. The same American Jewish Committee poll which documented the extent of our community’s antipathy to Trump found that only 16 percent of American Jews supported moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, absent progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
The fact that the Congressional delegation that attended yesterday’s ceremony was composed solely of Republicans speaks volumes. Couple that with the religious officials who offered benedictions: a Chabad rabbi, hardly representative of U.S. Jewish community demographics, and two evangelical pastors – John Hagee and Robert Jeffress – so beyond the pale for their bigoted views that they have been disavowed (and even condemned) by past Republican presidential candidates.
Israelis should realize what is at stake.
Donald Trump will not be the American president forever. With Benjamin Netanyahu aligning Israel wholeheartedly with Trump and the Republican Party (for more evidence, see their collusion in killing the Iran nuclear deal), he endangers the sustainability of Israel’s most precious alliances. Progressive American Jews may lose their patience and bipartisan American support for Israel could become a thing of the past.
The nausea felt yesterday could yet develop into a deeper aversion.