Hayim Herring

Undiplomatic — What You Won’t Hear about the US Embassy Move to Jerusalem

Whether you fall into the CNN, MSNBC or Fox category of news consumers, here’s what you have seen: horrifying pictures of young Palestinians who live in Gaza being dispersed by the Israeli army through lethal and nonlethal measures because they’re trying to breach the Israeli border (full disclosure: I’m in the MSNBC camp). If you have a heart, the images from Gaza are heartbreaking. They can’t compete emotionally with these verifiable facts, but facts add missing context, and context can help us make more sound judgments:

  •    Israel voluntarily and unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, requiring the Israeli army to forcibly remove Israeli citizens from Gaza, so that Palestinians who lived there could control their own destiny. Israel does not rule or occupy Gaza. Rather, Hamas, a Palestinian organization, owns what happens in Gaza.
  •    Hamas has used international aid to purchase cement for building underground tunnels that cross into Israel to kill Israelis, instead of using scarce materials for building housing, schools, businesses, and hospitals for its citizens.
  •    Gaza might have had a seaport already, giving it access to goods and services, but it has also attempted to infiltrate Israel by sea for the sole purpose of committing terrorism.
  •    Egypt, which also borders Gaza and could be a trading partner, has kept tight constraints on Hamas for the same reason that Israel does – Hamas has committed devastating acts of terrorism against Egyptians.
  •    The Palestinian Authority, responsible for administrative oversight for parts of the West Bank, and the leaders of Hamas, who are also Palestinians, have been locked in an internal civil war since 2007 which has nothing to do with Israel. The relationship between Gaza and Israel, and the West Bank and Israel are separate issues because Gaza is an independent entity, while Israel still occupies parts of the West Bank.
  •    Unlike Palestinians in Gaza, Palestinians who live in the West Bank do not have full autonomy. While they should have by now, both Israeli leaders and Palestinian Authority leaders share blame for this situation. (This is my opinion – not a fact.)
  •    The situation in Gaza does have an impact on West Bank Palestinians. Israelis fear that a complete withdrawal will cause a repeat of the same result of Israel’s prior two voluntary withdrawals (from Gaza in 2005 and from Southern Lebanon almost 18 years ago): that is, Iran using a Palestinian Authority Government as a proxy to fight Israel, as it does now through Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon, each of which are stocked with over 100,000 short, medium and long-range missiles that can hit any target in Israel, in addition to a growing fleet of military drones which can deliver conventional and chemical weapons.

With that context, I’d like you to read the responses from five of my Israeli friends and family members to a series of questions that I posed to them yesterday about the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem and ongoing protests in Gaza, which began about six weeks ago. I haven’t used their names as I promised them anonymity. The only editing that I did was for clarification, brevity, punctuation and some profanity. Here is how they answered my questions:

  1. What emotion or emotions were you feeling when the embassy was officially opened?
  •    Just joy on the national level that has a practical expression of recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
  •    I actually biked up there, but the security was really tight. I couldn’t get anywhere near the place, so I watched the ceremony on my iPhone. Honestly, I felt pretty bored.
  •    Unfortunately, disgust, disappointment, depression. The most righteous decision being made by the worst people, based on the worst reasons, at the worst time. How do you celebrate a wonderful decision when the people making it are empty of humanistic values…? How about these Jewish values: “Love your neighbor as dearly as you do yourself” (Leviticus 19:18); Or Golda Meir saying, “I can forgive the Arabs for killing my children, but cannot forgive them for making me kill theirs.” This (the way that the embassy was moved) is not the Jewish way.
  •   Mixed – I wish it was not Trump.  The ceremony (from what I heard) was much in bad taste.
  1. Prior to the President Trump’s announcement about moving the embassy to Jerusalem, were you in favor of it or against it?
  •    I was in favor of transferring the American embassy, as well as all other embassies, to Jerusalem.
  •    I couldn’t decide and had a split opinion: I thought the fact is good, the timing bad, the way it came to be and presented terribly.
  •    I was ambivalent, really, but generally in favor of it. As with most things in life, there will be unintended and unanticipated consequences.
  •    Always in favor.
  •   (In) favor – but did not need to be a “davka ” statement (that is, so “in your face” with provocative US guests and during a sensitive time).
  1. Now that embassy has opened, have your feelings changed?
  •    No. Only the nature of the ceremony and the nationalism and the religiousness (that was) demonstrated aroused strong opposition in me.
  •    Nope. Waiting for the other shoe to drop.
  •    This is the hard question. It is the right thing. Up until now, the US government counted the residents of Gilo as settlers. That is wrong. Up until now, the US acted as if it respected the lie that the Jews have no connection to Jerusalem. It is “right and true” to move the embassy to Jerusalem but to have what is right and true come (from) cynical people who are not “right” and not “true” hurts very much and leaves no room for joy or satisfaction. It(’s) disgusting.
  •    Wish it had not been Trump. Too bad it was not along with a gesture to the Palestinians.
  1. Pastor Robert Jeffress gave the opening prayer at the Embassy dedication. He has denigrated LGBT people, Catholics, Muslims, Mormons, Jews and Hindus over the years.  If you have an opinion about President Trump’s choice of Jeffress leading a prayer, what is it?
  •    In general, I think that a combination of religion and politics is unnecessary if not destructive, especially for religion. If you cannot write a distinguished speech yourself, it is best to read a chapter or verses from the eternal Bible that are acceptable to all.
  •    Absolutely disgusting and proves the point I was making above. No positive values are in this decision, only politics. This man prays for our deaths in Armageddon every day. If I could send the embassy back to Tel Aviv and have the US run by righteous and thoughtful people, I would. I do not feel any sense of vindication AT ALL! In fact, I feel worse than I felt when President Obama would refuse to recognize Islamic terror (not Muslims, but Islamic extremism that condoned terror — my clarification) as a world threat.
  •    Is he: a. clueless, b. an idiot, c. pandering, or, d. all the above?
  1. In the long term do you think that having a US Embassy in Jerusalem will have a positive effect, a negative effect, or no effect on relations with Gaza?
  •    I think it will have no effect. The Gazans are in quarantine and their conditions are harsh. But one cannot ignore the fact that they largely brought it upon themselves. As proof, their relations with the Palestinian Authority are also very bad. The problem of Gaza is not related to any external factor but to themselves. I am sure that if they see signs of a desire for dialogue and a solution to the problem of the Gaza Strip, they will find an attentive ear in Israel and around the world. For now, they are being exploited by foreign countries such as Turkey to attack Israel on the international scene.
  •    Maybe we will still be surprised, but the question should include also the relations with the Palestinian Authority and the Arab world as a whole.
  •    Gaza? How will a US Embassy in Jerusalem have an effect on Gaza? They hate Israel, they hate Jews, and they hate America. I don’t see it having any real effect one way or the other. The entire Gaza mess is of their own making. Look, go protest and demonstrate anywhere you want in Gaza. Go do it on the beach, in the shopping malls, in the refugee camps you refuse to take down — do it anywhere you want, but this is our security fence, OK? Do NOT come near the fence or you may be shot, and you may die. If you choose to come here and bring your wives and children and we shoot you and your wives and children, it will be tragic, but you were warned.
  •    Gaza is a lost cause in this generation, and so is peace with the Palestinians. The problem with dealing with Trump and Netanyahu right now is that they are right about the lies, hatred, and bias against Israel. Iran lies, Iran is evil and wants to destroy us. This is true and (factually) right.
  • The Palestinians do not want to end the “Occupation”. They want to end Israel. This is True and (factually) Right. The Palestinians (at least most of them willing to speak publicly) see no difference between Tel Aviv and Beit El (a West Bank Israeli settlement). All of the countries and organizations that support them are cynical as well when they speak of ending the “Occupation.” When I speak with concern about the Occupation, the word is not in quotes, because I truly mean the areas that were captured in 1967. I would love to find a way to share the land, but there is no partner right now, as we learned when leaving Gaza. I was so excited then, that we would be able to work with a new neighbor, and we received rockets in return. But that does not mean that Trump and Netanyahu are the saviors.
  • People want to destroy this country and it must be defended. Can we argue about the means being used to keep the Gazans out of Israel? Of course. I wish there was no loss of life, but if they get through, I shudder to think of how many Israelis and Palestinians would die. They must not be allowed through the fence. Israelis are truly frightened about this invasion and feel manipulated and attacked. Is there another country on earth that would behave any differently in the face of such hatred and violence? Those who have funded this abomination should need to answer for it and their amazing ignorance.
  • So this is the problem — the Right is right. But these People are wrong, as they defend Israel out of twisted values — a non-humanist Zionism that would anathema to Herzl, Ben Gurion, Jabotinsky and Rav Kook.
  1. Does “world opinion” which is generally against this move, have a small influence, a large influence, or no influence on your thinking about its merits?
  •    No. I think it’s a matter for Israel to determine where its capital is. It is true that the UN’s decision of the partition of the land of Israel Jerusalem was meant to be international, but since the Arabs include the Arab states that fought against us and the Palestinians among them did not accept the decision to the partition of the country into two states, the facts were determined in the War of Independence. A solution must be found for the administration of the Old City, where holy places are sacred to the three monotheistic religions, and a solution can be found in sincere negotiations.
  •    A large influence. We do not live in a vacuum, even though our leaders and the US current leaders think so.
  •    F*** them. Really. I’m no right-winger, (and) I would be insulted to be perceived to be in that camp. But enough is enough, already. Israel is and always has been scrutinized unlike any other country anywhere in the world. I’m tired of it, enough is enough already.
  •    No influence as it has proven to be absolutely worthless. Syria condemned Israel yesterday!! What a joke.
  •   “World opinion” is what pushes the centrists Israelis to the right.

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These Israeli responses came from Zionists who believe in a Jewish and democratic society and hold widely varying religious and political affiliations. Three emigrated from America, one emigrated from France and one was born in Israel. Their views made me think that if my neighbor to the north, Canada, breached our border and indiscriminately murdered my fellow citizens, I’d be praying for US forces to defend our lives. That’s the first responsibility of a democratic government under any administration — to protect its citizens from foreign and domestic (“homegrown”) attacks. So yes — the images that we see are horrifying. But as my Israeli friends and family members reminded me, it’s easy to rush to judgment when you’re sitting comfortably in your living room in the US, some 6,000 miles away from the border between Israel and Gaza, but a lot more complex to respond when that border is a part of your neighborhood.

About the Author
Rabbi Hayim Herring, Ph.D., is a national thought leader, organizational consultant and author on the American Jewish community with a specialty in synagogue life. He is President & CEO of the Herring Consulting Network.