“It’s not important what the goyim say. What’s important is what the Jews do.” Ben Gurion’s inelegant aphorism seems more relevant than ever, as Israel is dragged into violence by the act of a foreign leader.
Jerusalem was rebuilt as a Jewish capital by the endeavor and courage of the Jewish people. The fact that Jerusalem is the seat of government for the State of Israel is acknowledged as a practical reality in daily visits from foreign heads of government and ministers.
This week’s events have not advanced the welfare of Jerusalem, the State of Israel, or the Jewish people one iota. They have not enhanced the international legitimacy of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. It is all symbol and no substance. Behind the fanfare, Trump actually signed again the waiver yesterday to prevent the embassy moving for another six months. Meanwhile, Trump’s speech has united every other significant world leader in opposition to recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, outside the context of a conflict ending agreement with the Palestinians.
Its most tangible effect is to inflame anger among Palestinians and Muslims around the world. This does not serve the interests of the Israeli public or the Jewish diaspora. It has needlessly increased the risk of violence.
This, of course, was entirely predictable. The important questions are why Trump did it, and why Israel’s leadership is once again being dragged along by the initiatives of others, rather than moving proactively to advance Israel’s interests.
Trump’s speech was first and foremost a performance for his supporters, to show he is delivering on a campaign promise that was made not for the benefit of Israel, but his own political purposes. This comes against the background of a shambolic year of frustration in the White House, and the Russia investigation which is closing in on his family and associates.
It also serves a broader political agenda, which is to make Muslims angry. Confrontations with the Islamic world serve Trump’s domestic political interests, by stoking xenophobia, isolationism, and fear.
It is not only Trump that benefits from angering Muslims. Radical anti-Western Islamists benefit too, including Hamas and Iran. They will be delighted at the opportunity to promote anger in the Islamic world against Israel and the West, and to discredit Arab leaders that are interested to improve relations with Israel.
Hamas in particular are leaping on the opportunity to incite violence in the West Bank and seize the initiative from Abu Mazen.
Who else benefits politically from an escalation in violence? Typically, the Israeli right gain ground when violence and fear increase. Members of the current coalition have been losing support lately against the backdrop of the corruption allegations facing Netanyahu.
No Israeli leader could tell a US President not to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. But they could have found a way to send a message that says: Mr. President, this is not what we need from you right now. Keep this gift for the Jewish people in your pocket, for when it can be used to facilitate the peace process you wish to advance, in which both sides will have to face difficult compromises.
As it is, we are not only facing the violent consequences of Trump’s intervention, but the US has thrown away a card that could have been of use in advancing peace in the future.
Now, as Palestinians clash with Israeli security forces, we are in a situation that could spiral out of control. We know how it begins, but not how it ends.
This is not what Jewish sovereignty looks like, for Israel to be dragged by outside forces into a confrontation that harms its security and interests. It is high time that Israel had a leadership that reaffirms the true meaning of Zionism: that the fate of the Jewish people, and the Jewish state, should not be placed in the hands of others.