Hillel Schenker

Why I didn’t go to the American Embassy’s July 4th Celebration in Jerusalem

I don’t know how many people went yesterday to the American Embassy’s 4th of July party (held, naturally, on July 3rd) at the Binyanei Hauma International Convention Center in Jerusalem opposite the Central Bus Station celebrating American Independence Day. I definitely was not one of them.

As an Israeli who was born in America, who has dual citizenship, I was always happy to accept Ambassador Dan Shapiro’s invitation to the celebration held at the Ambassador’s Residence in Herzliya Pituach, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea between 2008 and 2016 during the years of the Obama Presidency. In 2017, despite our differences of opinion, I also accepted Ambassador David Friedman’s invitation, and even discussed with him my criticism sent to him via an Open Letter to the Ambassador of the fact that he wasn’t ready to use the term occupation for the situation in the West Bank, despite the fact that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had no qualms about using that term. The Ambassador even said to me that he recognized that mistakes had been made by previous American administrations when it came to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and he hoped that the Trump administration would avoid making new mistakes.

Last year, the celebration was held at Airport City in Shoham, half way between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. After some deliberation, I accepted that invitation as well.

However, holding the celebration this year in Jerusalem was one step too far.

Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter

I have no idea how many people actually went to the Jerusalem celebration last night, since there was no mention of it in the media. It may be that many were deterred from going by the chaos on the roads. All attention was focused on the 3rd day of Ethiopian demonstrations throughout the country following the killing of an Ethiopian youth by an off-duty Israeli policeman. What should be on everyone’s mind, including the official American hosts of the July 4th Independence Day event, is that Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, whether American, Israeli, Ashkenazi, Mizrachi, Jewish-Israeli or Muslim, Christian and Druze Israeli, Asylum Seekers from Africa, Migrant Workers or Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Perhaps it would have been fitting for the American Ambassador to make a comment about that on the 4th of July, reflecting the spirit of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  If he did, I didn’t hear it.

The Mistakes Keep Coming

As for not making new mistakes, transferring the American Embassy to Jerusalem before a peace agreement which would enable West Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel and East Jerusalem to be the capital of the future Palestinian state is a big mistake, as was closing the Jerusalem Consulate in West Jerusalem as a separate address for the Palestinians, the closing the PLO office in Washington to undermine the possibility for dialogue, ending American support for Israeli-Palestinian coexistence programs to help build a constituency for future peace between the two peoples, saying that the Israelis have the right to annex part of the West Bank which would end the possibility of a two-state solution, and proposing an economic peace without a political horizon.  So is recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which must be on the table for a future Israeli-Syrian peace agreement.  Fortunately no one else in the international community has recognized those acts.

And having two-thirds of the American “peace team”, Ambassador Friedman and special envoy Jason Greenblatt participate in digging a tunnel in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem, breaking all past American protocol, is another big mistake.

Hope for the Future

Watching the 20 Democratic candidates appear in the first two primary debates last week, I felt that anyone of the 20 articulate candidates, whatever their differences, would be a far superior choice for American president in 2020 to the one we have now. That would be best for both America, Israel and for the entire world. Hopefully one of them will emerge, or rather two of them, to form a winning team for President and Vice President. When that happens, I will be happy to welcome an invitation to participate in the 2021 July 4th celebration, which hopefully will once again be held at the Ambassador’s Residence in Herzliya Pituach.  Then once again I will be happy to listen to one of the American Armed Services bands coming over from Europe to play groovy rock and roll, or the wonderful Yale Whiffenpoof singers, who have appeared a number of times, and meet many fellow American-born Israelis who are among the mainstays of the Israeli peace, human rights, environmental and women rights movements.  Then once again, I will feel proud to sing The Star Spangled Banner, alongside Hativka, the hope to live in a a genuine peace with our Palestinian neighbors, facilitated in part by an intelligent and fair American administration..

Image may contain: 2 people, people on stage
At the 2018 July 4th celebration the Naval Forces Europe Band “Flagship” played a rousing rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run”. (Photo: Hillel Schenker). 
About the Author
Hillel Schenker is Co-Editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal, and lives in Tel Aviv