For some, the events this week in Israel were a dream come true; for others, a living nightmare. For many American Jews, it has been a combination of both, with everyone wondering what comes next.
Even as Jews celebrated the official move of the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as a reaffirmation of a historical fact — the holy city as Israel’s capital, tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza were engaged in a violent struggle to storm the border. Much of the international reaction to the resulting deaths was sympathy for the “martyrs,” condemnation for the IDF in its “excessive” use of force.
Even those of us who fully appreciate Israel’s right to protect its border and citizens cringed as we saw the list of fatalities increase and felt sadness for the needless loss of life. Many mainstream news reports lacked context in describing the complex situation; The New York Times headline on Tuesday read: “Israelis Kill Dozens In Gaza.”
It’s a fact that dozens were killed in Gaza. But how many readers will rightly hold Hamas responsible for failing to create a functional society for its people? Instead it foments the bloodshed and encourages young people to risk their lives to create sympathy for the endless cause of Palestinian victimhood.
How many will remember that Israel pulled out of Gaza completely in 2005, only to be rewarded with rocket attacks from Hamas on Jewish communities near the border? How many will recognize that while the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem was the immediate trigger for the violence, the anniversary of Israeli statehood is marked by Palestinians every year as a tragedy? Moreover, Palestinian violence has been consistent for decades; the essential grievance is not borders but the reality of a Jewish state in the region.
Still, contrasting images of the congratulatory ceremonies at the new embassy and the chaos and bloodshed at the Gaza border made for easy comparisons of Nero-like Israeli and U.S. officials at the ceremony fiddling while Rome burned. Many American Jews oppose President Trump on a host of issues and view his public embrace of Israel as harmful to the prospects of a two-state solution. Adding to their frustration was the prominent role that evangelical Christians and hawkish supporters of Israel were given at the embassy ceremony, with invocations given by Rev. James Hagee and Rev. Robert Jeffress, fervent supporters of Israel with a history of inflammatory remarks about Jews and other non-Christians.
But it should be noted that virtually all Israeli Jews were thrilled at the Trump decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
The president is more firmly in Israel’s camp than any of his predecessors. He has put the Palestinian leadership on notice that the status quo of inertia will not bring them closer to a state of their own. He gave his blessing to Israel’s strikes into Syria last week. He did not join those nations that have accused Israel, as in the past, of excessive use of force in clashes with violent Palestinians. And perhaps most significantly, he has pulled the U.S. out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, vindicating Netanyahu’s long and controversial campaign to kill the agreement.
There are many reasons why having the U.S. discard its mantle of neutrality on Israel-Palestinian issues — as well as call Iran’s bluff — may backfire disastrously. But it must be noted that the Mideast peace process has gone nowhere for a long time and much of the region is in chaos. Perhaps Trump can use his “loose cannon” persona to his, and Israel’s, advantage.
Clearly, it is Israel that will bear the brunt of the damage if the president and Netanyahu have overstepped here. But the American embassy is where it should be, and we, too, pray for a brighter day.