U.S. Jewish Groups Divided in Reactions to Trump's Jerusalem Announcement

Mainstream and right-wing organizations welcome Trump's announcement that U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital, while left-wing groups bemoan decision

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U.S. President Donald Trump speaks while making a statement on Jerusalem in the Diplomatic Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017.
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks while making a statement on Jerusalem in the Diplomatic Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. Credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The largest mainstream and right-leaning Jewish groups welcomed U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement that the United States will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, while groups on the left expressed regrets.

“Today’s action by @POTUS is an important, historic step for which we are grateful. We urge the president to quickly relocate our embassy to Israel’s capital,” the American Israel Public Affairs Committee tweeted moments after Trump’s speech Wednesday, using the acronym for “president of the United States.”

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But the Reform Jewish movement, the largest in the United States, called Wednesday’s announcement “ill-timed but expected.”

The announcement, said Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs on behalf of the organizations of the movement, “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 while we share the President’s belief that the U.S. Embassy should, at the right time, be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, we cannot support his decision to begin preparing that move now, absent a comprehensive plan for a peace process.”

Jacobs also said that the White House should not undermine efforts toward making peace between Israel and the Palestinians by “making unilateral decisions that are all but certain to exacerbate the conflict.”

Here’s how reaction broke down among various Jewish and pro-Israel groups.

The 'mainstream'

Malcolm Hoenlein, president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, 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 Wednesday in an address at the launching of the Lobby for the Protection of the Mount of Olives in the Knesset.

The Conference of Presidents includes more than 50 Jewish organizations across the range of ideologies, and seeks consensus on U.S.-Israel affairs.

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 American also welcomed the president’s announcement without reservations.

The right

The Republican Jewish Coalition praised the president for his announcement of a “significant change in U.S. policy” by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announcing a plan to begin the process of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

“President Trump is doing what he does so well: recognizing the reality on the ground. No more false news — Jerusalem is Israel’s capital,” Norm Coleman, the RJC’s national chairman and a former Minnesota senator, said in a statement.

The RJC will run a full-page ad in Thursday’s edition of The New York Times thanking Trump for his decision.

Mort Klein, head of the Zionist Organization of America, told Jewish Insider on Wednesday, “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 Simon Wiesenthal Center said that with his announcement, Trump “will right a historic wrong.”

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, called the announcement “a bold, courageous move that is long overdue, and is especially significant coming from Israel’s closest ally. Both Jews and Christians around the world have prayed for this day, which rights a historic wrong by affirming to the world that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people.”

The left

The Jewish Democratic Council of America released a statement by its chair, former Rep.Ron Klein of Florida, saying it too believes that “Israel’s capital is Jerusalem” and that 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 left-wing Mideast policy group J Street said in a statement that the change of U.S. policy on Jerusalem will undermine Middle East peace efforts and could lead to violence.

“Israel’s capital is in Jerusalem and it should be internationally recognized as such in the context of an agreed two-state solution that also establishes a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem,” J Street said. “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. “That is why, since 1967, all administrations have maintained that the final status of the entirety of Jerusalem is to be decided by negotiations, and have avoided any actions that could be interpreted as prejudging their outcome.”

J Street said the decision “could seriously undermine the administration’s stated commitment to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict while potentially threatening Israel’s security and alienating Arab regional partners.”

The New Israel Fund, which raises funds for progressive Israeli NGOs, called the president’s decision to begin the process of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem “a dangerous, reckless, and irresponsible move by a dangerous, reckless, and irresponsible American president,” adding that “Israelis will be the ones to pay the price.”

Similar caution was expressed by Ameinu, the progressive Zionist group.

IfNotNow, an anti-occupation and anti-Trump organization, condemned the decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu both know that any change to an already untenable status quo in Jerusalem has the potential to spark deadly violence. Yet they continue to capitulate to the political whims of the far right, advancing extremist policies, with no care about the impact on the lives of everyday Israelis and Palestinians,” the group said in a statement. “Trump’s choice to recognize Jerusalem as the capital plays right into the hands of these extremists who support the indefinite and violent occupation of millions of Palestinians.”

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