Although the timing of the announcement came as somewhat of a surprise, the announcement itself did not. Last week, Israeli Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz announced that a station on the yet-to-be-completed Tel Aviv to Jerusalem train line would be constructed in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, just steps from the Western Wall. It would be named, he said, in honor of U.S. President Donald Trump.
The Katz pronouncement came just weeks after Trump’s much-hailed declaration that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and would move the U.S. embassy now in Tel Aviv to the capital city.
Trump made a “courageous and historic decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel,” a statement from Katz’s office said. And so, in Katz’s view, it made sense to name the prominent Western Wall station in Trump’s honor.
As expected, the announcement was met with mixed reactions. According to some, Katz was pandering. But who cares? In Israel, practically every street is named after a famous (or sometimes, not-so-famous) person in Jewish and/or Israeli history, whether the honoree is Jewish or not. The choices in Jerusalem run the gamut from the obscure — Rechov Shlomzion Hamalka, for instance, after Salome Alexandra, queen of Judea in the first and second centuries B.C.E. — to the modern, with King George Street and Herzl Boulevard.
In terms of what Trump did, the honor would not be unjustified. Already, Trump’s speech has led to promising moves by other countries. And though the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to condemn the president’s announcement, 10 countries voted with the United States and Israel, and Guatemala has already said it will move its embassy to Jerusalem.
Others, though, view Katz’s announcement with skepticism, contending that the two-mile underground tunnel that would have to be constructed in order to accommodate the Trump station has practically no chance of ever being built. Indeed, critics of the move point to the fact that a trolley line from the city center to the Western Wall had already been approved, making Katz’s train station proposal look more like political grandstanding. (Katz is one of several contenders looking to run against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an upcoming election.)
But beyond the political commentary, there is an element of irony in the confluence of the Trump and Katz announcements. In the case of both, words mean little when not backed up with action. The embassy move is nothing more than a pledge until a site is identified and construction begins. Trump, a real estate guy, knows that. Similarly, until such time as a train station or trolley stop is built, the promise of a future name isn’t all that meaningful, since administrations, development plans and political allegiances change all the time.
It will be interesting to see what actually happens, and when. Until then, we wouldn’t read too much into press releases.