In a move that has drawn dramatic reaction both in the United States and most visibly in the Middle East, President Donald Trump has announced plans to relocate the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognizing the latter as Israel’s capital.
Although presidents from Bill Clinton to Barack Obama have said they would like to move the embassy, Trump is the first to announce concrete plans during a speech at the White House on Wednesday, Dec. 6.
“I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” Trump said, fulfilling a campaign promise. “I am also directing the State Department to begin preparation to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This is a long overdue step to advance the peace process and to work toward a lasting agreement. Jerusalem is not just the heart of three great religions, but it is now also the heart of one of the most successful democracies in the world. This sacred city should call forth the best in humanity.”
Since the announcement, violence has broken out in Israel, protesters took to the streets in the West Bank and Israeli police have heightened security in Jerusalem.
On the same day as his announcement, Trump signed a waiver, pushing the embassy move back by six months. The Jerusalem Embassy Act, passed by Congress in 1995, states the intention to move the embassy to the capital city, but a waiver has been signed by every president since Clinton to delay the move.
The news was met with mixed emotions both nationally and in the Baltimore area.
The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) fears violence in the region. In a statement, URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs said the Reform Movement “has also long held that the U.S. embassy should be moved to Jerusalem,” but expressed “serious concern about the timing of these actions. … In separating today’s decisions from a broader strategy, they may well undercut the administration’s peace process efforts and risk destabilizing the region.”
A similar sentiment came from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College/Jewish Reconstructionist Communities and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, which released a statement saying, in part: “Our concern is that this abrupt disruption of the diplomatic status quo … may lead to dangerous unintended consequences, including renewed escalations of violence and terrorism.”
The Conservative movement had a slightly different reaction. A statement signed by the Rabbinical Assembly, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Masorti Israel and Masorti Olami applauded Trump’s decision, but cautioned that the “status of Jerusalem is a matter to be settled in direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.”
The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (OU) commended Trump’s announcement in a statement that said, “ … the international community has ignored the history of Jerusalem and its centrality in the lives and faith of the Jewish people.” They also disputed the notion that the move would hamper peace efforts.
“The president’s policy makes clear that the path forward is one of negotiation between the parties,” said Nathan J. Diament, OU’s director of public policy.
AIPAC praised the president’s declaration, saying it was “long overdue,” while J Street characterized Trump’s move as “an unhelpful step with no tangible benefits, only serious risks.”
Robert Freedman, a visiting professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University and professor emeritus at Baltimore Hebrew University, called Trump’s move “an example of [him] playing to his base.”
“In this case, evangelicals and right-wing Orthodox Jews who tend to support him,” Freedman said.
He called it “the right move but at the wrong time.”
“He should have waited until the [Middle East] peace plan that he’s projecting was unveiled, then you can do it,” he added. “Trump’s comment that the move would advance the peace process is simply not true. The other thing he could have said was, ‘We’re looking forward to moving the embassy to West Jerusalem.’ That would have stifled a lot of the Arab unhappiness.”
Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said the organi- zation welcomes the Trump administration’s decision.
“That is stating the reality in a lot of ways,” Libit said. “For more than 20 years, we had bipartisan legislation that called for that recognition. When government officials from our country go to Israel to meet with government officials there, they meet in Jerusalem.”
Libit says that with this recognition, nothing was “intended to prejudge or tilt the scales in terms of negotiations.”
“The president was clear that Jerusalem needs to continue to be a place that is respectful of all three major faiths that have such strong religious ties there,” he added.
Yosef Eagle, a Yeshivas Lubavitch of Baltimore student, fully supports Trump’s move.
“It’s very nice to see that a non-Jew, and a very powerful one, recognizes that the Jews’ capital is Jerusalem,” Eagle said. “It says in our Torah all over the place that it’s our capital.”
When the question of whether this was a good or bad move was posted on the JT’s Facebook page, the responses came quickly.
“Each country has the right to choose its capital,” said Brett Tiplitz of Columbia. “Thank you Donald Trump for recognizing this right for Israel. The first intelligent move of your presidency.”
Ruth H. Bloch of Mt. Washington had a differing opinion.
“I am just afraid of the unrest this will cause in the Middle East and Europe wherever Jews reside,” she said. “Americans were disliked before this; this move will only make it worse.”
Additional reporting by Janet Perez.