Shulamit S. Magnus
Jewish historian

On Trump’s Announcement of Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital

I have many thoughts, in several directions.

First, we don’t derive our legitimacy from this announcement any more than we did from the Balfour Declaration. On the other hand, of course external recognition matters. It has been outrageous that the world has decided for us where our capital is, part of inability to accept fully that Jews are independent, sovereign, not wards of anyone. For all the differences, both Christian and Muslim thinking (yes, I am using religious categories), reject the notion of sovereign Jews. That notion is theologically-politically anathema. And yes, I am saying that that rejection has played out in international politics about all this, morphed into non-theological language but bearing the same prejudice, in the refusal to recognize that Israel decides what its capital is. And that yes, with all its sensitivity to other faiths, Jerusalem is it. Not that there aren’t other factors in all this but that this is at the heart of it. This is why this issue is so symbolically and politically important to us.

And for this reason, I have been and am for it– much as I revile Trump and can’t stand Netanyahu. This goes to the heart of Jewish national self-determination. Nearly 70 years after the founding of the State it is ridiculous (and speaks volumes) that this question is still a question and yes, it should decisively, finally, be laid to rest.

Now, the rest of it. Why, and why now? There has been significant movement regionally, unmistakable messages from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, of perceived need to cooperate with Israel because of the Iranian threat. This is the breakout Israel has wanted since its creation, the ultimate recognition and acceptance in “the hood,” where it matters most. Why do this now (no way Israel did not know it was coming and sign on), and throw a wrench into all that? I don’t believe that making nice to US Jews, the ones Trump likes, that is, had anything to do with it. Right-wing politicians in Israel may need Adelson, but Trump doesn’t. His evangelicals? Maybe. Still, why now? It’s not right before an election.

Trump’s remarks– and note, he did not, for once, stray from the teleprompter, one wonders what it took to get that accomplished– do not define “Jerusalem” in any geo-political lines. Cooler minds can easily parse this as saying it means, or could mean, recognition of west Jerusalem only. So, want to have a fit about this? Bevakasha, be my guest; as we know, that serves other purposes. Other entities have a base to rile/ keep “happy”, too. Keep those recruits/ funds, coming.

If I know that, sane people in Washington, there are a few, know that, too. So, this plays into extremist hands like no one’s business. It is the best gift Washington could hand them, they are celebrating now, as I type, with burning tires and effigies, and who knows what to come (tomorrow, Friday, should be interesting). Hizbullah’s media organ in Lebanon has said that only blood will “clean” this offense (see above, about religious rejection of Jews as sovereign. It’s right up there with women being autonomous, the ultimate offense). So, what’s the sense of this? Why, and why now?

I think he threats and yes, there will be violence, will blow over. There are many reasons why a full-out conflagration now is not likely to happen. When it does die down (to the usual, smoldering tensions), we will have what we should have had from the beginning: categorical recognition of Jewish sovereignty. You all decide your capital and we decide ours. This changes nothing about all the myriad other problems that remain to be addressed.

One last bit, about Jerusalem as a “shared capital.” As a friend has suggested about such ideas, pitched, invariably to Israel: ¬†You first. So: to Theresa May, who issued a shared capital pronouncement yesterday, a pre-fixed plan already laid out for the solution to all this– she forgets that Britain no longer has the Mandate here (or anywhere): you first. Try London. Or, another city, we will choose. But — you first. Show me one place on the planet where this has been done. Not– successfully done. Done. So, forget colonialism because we are done with that.

Israel makes many mistakes. I shudder, often, at what I see and hear here. There is much we can and should be doing differently. I support MK Tzippi Livni in her categorical, unwavering call for a resolution that enshrines Israel as Jewish and democratic, with equal rights for all its citizens, which means separation from and self-determination for the Palestinians, specifics TBA. There is much that Israel, the victor, after all, of 1947-48, and ’67, could and should be doing. I wish I could believe that this boost would make for wise, far-sighted, emotionally intelligent Israeli policy that would put us in that direction.

But Netanyahu is still in Balfour Street and there is nothing of the kind to expect from him.

So, for now, we have this announcement. Which changes nothing on the ground, and won’t, for years. But which nonetheless, is another nail in the coffin of western, and eastern, colonialism/ imperialism about Jews.




About the Author
Shulamit S. Magnus is a professor of Jewish history and an award-winning author of books on Jewish modernity and on Jewish women's history.
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