Arabia, Jerusalem and Rome
This week President Donald Trump made a landmark speech in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, addressing leaders of 50 Arab and Islamic countries. He said that he was there to address the three monotheistic religions. His first stop was Saudi Arabia, which is home to Mecca and Medina, holy to 1.5 billion adherents to Islam. His next stop was Jerusalem, the seat of Judaism and then followed by Rome at Vatican city.
The idea of the three main monotheistic religions coming together to fight murderous terror in the name of religion seemed to be quite ground breaking. Trump exhibited great courage by bringing together Muslims, Jews and Christians in this volatile world.
From Jerusalem, Trump will go a couple of miles down the road to the town of Bethlehem, which is administered by the Palestinian Authority and is by tradition believed to be the place where Jesus was born. However, the trip to Bethlehem is more of a diplomatic gesture by Trump, to give the Palestinians confidence that they can and will eventually achieve a peace agreement with Israel.
I hoped that Trump’s visit to Jerusalem would not be another exercise in evenhandedness, and today Trump, in an unprecedented move, for the first time, the President made an official visit to the Western wall. There was some controversy that Prime Minister Netanyahu would not be present and Trump would have a ‘personal visit.’ But there was no escaping the optics, the wall to wall coverage on global television, definitely changed the narrative, perhaps in a subliminal way that the Western Wall is Jewish and Israeli territory.
Last summer I visited the home of Roman Antiquities, the Forum. In a very prominent spot, opposite the Roman Senate, stands the Arch of Titus, the General who destroyed the second Temple and forced the Jews to flee Jerusalem. Titus then became the Emperor and two years later the Arch was erected.
The Arch depicts the Menorah from the Temple being paraded in front of the senate to show how Rome struggled but eventually triumphed and defeated the Jewish people. The Menorah was brought by Jewish slaves to Rome, never to be seen again. This was more or less the end of Jewish sovereignty. The Arch is the testimony of the Temple and Jewish life in the land of Israel. Even better than documents on paper, it stands there written in stone never to be replaced.
For thousands of years the Jews remembered and recited the ancient Psalm 137: “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget [its skill]. May my tongue cling to my palate, if I do not remember you, if I do not bring up Jerusalem at the beginning of my joy.”
It wasn’t until the 1967 Six-day war that the Old city of Jerusalem returned to Jewish hands and the Western Wall was liberated.
And this leads us to Trump’s third leg of the monotheistic tour. It was from Rome where western civilization began its demonization of Judaism and Jews, leaving the Jews in a very inhospitable world. Persecution and murder for 2000 years.
Israel has come a long way and has become increasingly accepted throughout the world, but somehow the issue of Jerusalem is still unsettled and Western Europe exhibits outright hostility towards Israel.
The explosive issue of Jerusalem cannot be resolved for quite some time, the world should not think that Israelis and Palestinians have the same national claim and even a religious claim to Jerusalem.
The world has already unfairly accepted that Jerusalem will be the Palestinian capital and they didn’t even have to make any compromise. It is already accepted that they have a right and a claim to half the city, including the Old city, while Israelis have no recognition of even their claim to West Jerusalem. Many foreign consulates to the Palestinians base themselves in East Jerusalem, whereas all foreign embassies to Israel are based in Tel Aviv and Herzliya and none in West Jerusalem.
So you see there is a double standard, where the international community accepts the notion that a Palestinian state will include Jerusalem while Israel has to fight to have its capital and its holy places recognized. It is also a double standard when you figure that this trip is supposed to be about the three religions based on monotheism. Islam, the youngest of the three, emerged in Arabia, Christianity became a global religion through Rome, hence why Trump is visiting these places, formative to the two religions. However, when it comes to the oldest religion, Judaism, with its roots in Jerusalem and the land of Israel, a dispute and question mark still looms, even though for Jews, unlike Christianity and Islam, Jerusalem is essential to their identity. Judaism without Jerusalem would be unrecognizable. For thousands of years the conclusion of every Jewish wedding includes the groom breaking a wine glass, to remember, that even at the most joyous moment in one’s life, Jews remember the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
It is at the height of disrespect to deny the Jews this self evident tenet of their faith. Perhaps a lot of it is connected to ill will towards the Jewish people. There are also people who are victims of propaganda. Until the Palestinians, the Islamic world and the Europeans recognize and respect the ancient Jewish faith on which monotheism is based there will not be peace in the world.
President Trump, don’t forget Jerusalem!