It was an unusual week in the history of Jerusalem. Simultaneously, nothing changed; and everything changed.
What changed was 70 years of US diplomacy and international consensus on the status of Jerusalem. What changed was belief in the possibility of a genuine 2-State solution. What changed was that Donald Trump was, for once, telling us the truth.
As he said in his speech, “this is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality.”
That “reality” of Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital city was also acknowledgement of decades of failed American diplomacy.
American failure to end the occupation; American failure to reverse the dispossession and theft of Palestinian land; American failure to stop Israel annexing East Jerusalem.
All of which meant that when Trump finished making his speech nothing had actually changed.
And there’s more to Trump’s truth telling. The President confirmed to the world that Israel does what it wants and gets away with it.
There’s been no diplomatic or trading cost to Israel for maintaining the occupation or building the Settlements; no cost for besieging Gaza; no cost for pursuing a slow-motion ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from East Jerusalem.
But now this is all so much clearer to see and to explain. This new era of “reality” is exactly what was needed to change the dynamic of Palestinian solidarity.
In January, as Trump was about to take office, I wrote that his presidency would create opportunities on Israel/Palestine:
Opportunity to cut through years of political denial. Opportunity to show people what should have been obvious years ago. Opportunity to shine a spotlight on the hypocrisy of so much of Jewish communal discourse.
Well, 12 months on Trump and our Jewish communal leadership are not disappointing me.
Trump, Kushner, and Friedman aren’t even pretending to be ‘honest brokers’. Instead, they’re playing to their core constituencies and financial backers – the Christian Zionists with their ‘end times’ apocalyptic obsession with Jews and Jerusalem, and the Jewish Zionist Right who have not the slightest intention of ever allowing Palestinian self-determination.
If the Jerusalem announcement is the curtain raiser to Trump’s idea of “a great deal for the Israelis and a great deal for the Palestinians” then it certainly tells us a lot. Israel’s unilateral ‘facts on the ground’ will be rewarded and the consensus over the shape of a 2-State solution is now dead.
This may make things look bleak to those clinging to the idea that 2-States still stood a chance. But peddling that fiction has been holding back an honest understanding of the situation for years.
The U.K. Jewish leadership response
The response to Trump from the U.K.’s most recognised Jewish leadership, the Board of Deputies and the Chief Rabbi, lacked anything approaching historical honesty, common sense or moral integrity. This is nothing new. But the new Jerusalem “reality” is going to make this kind of hypocrisy exposed to the scrutiny it deserves.
The Board welcomed Trump’s move adopting his same narrative of “reality” but with an added insult of its own. It described those who see Jerusalem differently to the way it does as simply displaying “post truth petulance”.
Just like Trump, the Board displays a shocking lack of awareness that any other perspective might exist or have the slightest validity.
“It is bizarre that this decision should be seen as remarkable,” said the Board’s statement.
But what’s really “remarkable” is how adherence to Zionism has shut down Jewish sensibility to the world around it and skewed understanding of our own history and religious development. It leads to a sentence in the Board’s statement such as this: “Jerusalem has been the spiritual centre of Jewish life for 3,000 years.”
I’m not doubting the Jewish connection to Jerusalem. That would be equally ahistorical. But there is really no room for Muslim or Christian religious claims in this statement or a recognition that Palestinians have lived in this place for a 1,000 years or more.
For the Board of Deputies, there was and is and will be, only us. Everyone else is just a footnote to our eternal presence in the eternal city of the eternal Jewish people.
May I remind the executive of the Board of Deputies that the Law of Moses was given to the people outside of the Land during 40 years of wandering? Perhaps I can interest the President and Vice President of the Board in a copy of the Babylonian Talmud? Would all of the Deputies like a heritage tour to Cordova in Spain? Or Vilna in Lithuania? Or Lublin in Poland? Or New York City for that matter?
Here’s a question I’d like to ask the Board of Deputies of British Jews: Were the last 2,000 years of Jewish history really just an aberration, a detour from our true national story? Or has it been our ‘Exile’ and dispersal that’s actually made us who we are?
Narrowness of thinking
Chief Rabbi Ephriam Mirvis was no better than the Board of Deputies in the narrowness of his thinking. Here’s his Facebook post from Wednesday night.
“#Jerusalem has always stood as the eternal capital of the Jewish world and, together with millions across the globe, I have long dreamed of seeing the city universally recognised as the capital of the only Jewish State. I pray that all declarations in this regard will advance the cause of peace in the region.”
Hard to believe that the Chief Rabbi seriously believes that Trump’s announcement will herald “peace in the region”. Switch on the TV news and look what’s happening right now Rabbi Mirvis. And it’s not as if we were not warned that this would be the result.
For years our Jewish leadership has proclaimed its support for the 2-State solution while consistently undermining any chance of it ever happening.
When did the Board of Deputies ever condemn Settlement expansion or the denial of Palestinian rights or freedom of movement in their own land? When did the Chief Rabbi ever speak up against Benjamin Netanyahu’s mantra that Jerusalem was the “eternal, indivisible capital of the Jewish people”. When have our Jewish communal leadership ever attempted to prepare us for the necessary compromises of a peace agreement?
Well, time’s up. You blew it. You abdicated political and ethical responsibility to lobby for 2-States and soon you will find yourselves defending apartheid and injustice without the cover of a peace process to protect your reputation.
The new reality
Thanks to the injection of “reality” things can start to change. The opportunities that could be seen at the start of the year can now be grasped.
On Wednesday night as Trump made his Jerusalem speech I was interviewing Sami Awad, the Executive Director of the Bethlehem based Holy Land Trust at a gathering in Manchester organised by Amos Trust.
Sami’s work has non-violent resistance and justice at its heart and the practical aim of building the resilience of his community. That evening he was full of wisdom and hard won insight.
The following day on Facebook Sami wrote this about the reality that should guide our thinking from now on.
“We believe that peace and justice in the Holy Land and the centrality of Jerusalem as the heart of three beautiful religions and two peoples, will not be realised in the diplomatic hallways of D.C., or the United Nations, or by one side forcing its will on others.
“It is only through a commitment to recognising and honouring the full equal rights of all peoples in the land and building a new joint vision for the future that is founded in the principle of non-violence, justice, equality, and healing, will we be able to move forward in real peace.”
This is what justice, peace and reconciliation has to look like in Jerusalem and all across the Holy Land. Trump has just made this a whole lot easier to see and a whole lot easier to work for. Political and communal leaders may struggle to adapt but the rest of us can get on with it. This is the truth that needs telling, this is the reality we must work towards.
This post first appeared on the Patheos site.