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Dear URJ Biennial, please endorse Trump’s Jerusalem move

So many reasons the Union for Reform Judaism should endorse Trump's Jerusalem embassy move
Illustrative: Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni meets with President  of the Union for Reform Judaism Rabbi Rick Jacobs on June 26, 2017 (Courtesy)
Illustrative: Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni meets with President of the Union for Reform Judaism Rabbi Rick Jacobs on June 26, 2017 (Courtesy)

The Union for Reform Judaism is holding its Biennial in Boston this week. I know nothing about their governance procedures, but hope they pass — by acclamation — a resolution supporting President Donald Trump’s move recognizing “Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”

The resolution should affirm:

  • that Jerusalem, the Jewish people’s eternal capital, is Israel’s legitimate capital, because like every other sovereign state, it gets to choose its own capital city — and have that choice respected.
  • that the URJ, in the tradition of Reform Zionism and of presidential candidates going back to George McGovern in 1972 who have endorsed the idea, thanks President Trump for recognizing Jerusalem as the capital and encourages the immediate relocation of the American embassy to Jerusalem.
  • that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, should not be seen as questioning the two-state solution. In fact, recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli people’s choice affirms the Reform Movement’s — and Liberal Zionism’s commitment to a two-state situation in which both the Jewish people and the Palestinian people have opportunities for national self-expression — with international validation.
  • that, having long condemned terrorism as cowardly and counter-productive, the movement demands that terrorists should never be able to exercise a violence veto to block peaceful moves.

Such a resolution, even if accompanied by jokes about broken cuckoo clocks being accurate twice a day, would be good for our knees as Americans — and our hearts as Jews. Our knees — because constantly having a knee-jerk reaction of “no” to everything Trump does — even if we like what he did, undermines democracy. Those who mocked Republicans as the Party of No during Barack Obama’s presidency, should take any opportunity Trump offers to demonstrate that they oppose Trump on principle, not out of partisan pique. And our hearts because Jews, too, need some healing, and our love for Jerusalem has long united us.

Such a resolution would echo the many Democratic and Republican Platforms since 1972, which “recognized” Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and endorsed the Embassy move. And it would follow the overwhelming Congressional majority, which in 1995 voted to move the embassy to Jerusalem.

Moreover, such a resolution would be in the spirit of great Reform Zionists like the late Rabbi Eugene Borowitz, who, while insisting that Israel should never become a “sacred cow” immune from criticism, recalled that in 1967, “when Old Jerusalem was captured and was somehow, to use that marvelous word, ‘ours,’ it hit us with an impact which we couldn’t imagine, and suddenly we realized the depths of roots we had in a very specific place.” It would be in the spirit of Rabbi Richard Hirsch who explains that “to the Jew, Jerusalem is an ideal, a glorious spiritual adventure, an eternal messianic dream of a perfect society for all humankind.” Hirsch also recalls that when the Reform Movement opened its magnificent campus overlooking the Old City, the movement was “marrying Jewish history.” And it would be in the spirit of Rabbi David Ellenson who calls Jerusalem, “a city very close to our hearts … in a country we regard as dearly as our own.”

And finally, this powerful spontaneous move — responding to history by affirming Jewish unity — would recall the URJ Biennial’s shift in 1968, to Jerusalem instead of Amsterdam after the Six Day War. And it would recall the 1975 Biennial, when 3,000 Reform delegates said the Kaddish, mourning the “moral collapse of the United Nations” after it passed the infamous Zionism is Racism resolution just days earlier.

In fact, wouldn’t it be amazing if this resolution was passed — and the delegates sang “Jerusalem of Gold” and “Hatikvah.”

At the risk of being self-indulgent, I end this plea on a personal note. This proposal is not a ploy. It is a sincere call from a fellow Zionist, who has been hosted in Reform Temples wherein the rabbis and the congregants bleed blue-and-white as much as I do, inviting Reform leaders to affirm their Zionist principles. This is a constructive call from a fellow learner-activist, whose study of Reform Zionism for my upcoming book, The Zionist Ideas: Visions for a Jewish Homeland Then, Now, Tomorrow, not only includes important voices like Rabbis Hirsch, Borowitz, and Ellenson, but makes the clear ideological statement of placing them in the section on Religious Zionism — in the uniting spirit of those eminent leaders and of Orthodox rabbis like Abraham Yitzhak Kook and Yitz Greenberg.

This is — to be honest — a strategic request from a fellow Kotel-Compromise supporter and Trump critic who sees the political benefits in having the Reform Movement throw a delightful screwball that goes left and right, while affirming its Zionism. And this is a patriotic call from a fellow American and fellow Jew, who craves affirmations of unity freeing us from the divisive partisanship that has come to infect even the most basic conversation, such as one about the right of any sovereign nation to choose its own capital — and the one about the Jewish people’s ties to their capital, Jerusalem, which goes back 3,000 years.

Gil Troy is the author of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s. His forthcoming book, The Zionist Ideas, which updates Arthur Hertzberg’s classic work, will be published by The Jewish Publication Society in Spring 2018. He is a Distinguished Scholar of North American History at McGill University. Follow on Twitter @GilTroy

About the Author
Gil Troy is a Distinguished Scholar of North American history at McGill University. He is the author of nine books on American history and three books on Zionism, including The Zionist Ideas. His latest book, co-authored with Natan Sharansky, is Never Alone: Prison, Politics and My People.
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