IDF soldiers sit in front of the Western Wall in June 1967 after it was captured during the Six Day War..
(photo credit: REUTERS/IDF HANDOUT)
One of the most contentious debates provoked by US President Donald Trump is the proposal to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Israeli leadership from the very top, including the president, the prime minister and the mayor of Jerusalem have all called for the move. As Trump heads to Israel for his first presidential visit to the country, it is this issue, among others, that is commanding attention.
This all brings to mind what prime minister Menachem Begin said when he was in London before meeting British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in May 1979. Yehuda Avner records what happened:
“Are you going to ask Mrs. Thatcher for her support of the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital?” fired a [journalist] in a posh accent.
Frigidly the prime minister answered, “No sir – under no circumstances.”
“Because, sir, Jerusalem was a Jewish capital long before London was a British capital. When King David moved the capital of his kingdom from Hebron, where he reigned for seven years, to Jerusalem, where he reigned for 33 years, the civilized world had never heard of London. In fact they had never heard of Great Britain,” and he turned on his heels toward the door where Thatcher was waiting to greet him.
The heated debates around the moving of the US embassy miss the point. Should we really be so perturbed about whether President Trump moves the embassy to Jerusalem? It is so disempowering to care so much about this. To petition Trump to do so makes the legitimacy of Jerusalem as a Jewish city dependent on who happens to occupy the White House at a particular moment. In the name of self-respect let us step back from this pursuit.
This week we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the Old City of Jerusalem and its reunification with the rest of Jerusalem. It is 50 years since the Six Day War, but the city of Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for more than 3,000 years since King David established it as such. Jerusalem was the capital of Israel millennia before Washington, London, Moscow or Paris existed. It is more the capital of Israel than any one of the great capitals of the world are capitals of their respective countries. Is there any capital of any country anywhere in the world that has a 3,000-year history? It was the site of the Temple built by King Solomon and then of the Temple built by the exiles returning from Babylon. It was under Jewish sovereignty for centuries and centuries and has had an unbroken Jewish presence for all of these thousands of years.
But Jerusalem is more than history. It and the values it represents live with us every day of Jewish life. We refer to Jerusalem in our prayers three times a day and in the Grace after Meals. We refer to it at every wedding and at every funeral. There has never been a people more devoted to a city than the Jewish People is devoted to the city of Jerusalem and the ideas and principles it represents. To suggest that it is not the legitimate capital of the Jewish state is beyond belief. It so obviously is that to even raise it as a question is an insult to thousands of years of Jewish history.
And so, to entreat President Trump to move his embassy is to imply that Jerusalem could be anything other than the capital of Israel and the Jewish People. Surely, what is truly important is that Jerusalem is in the hearts of Jews in Israel and around the world, and that it be to us God’s embassy in this world, unifying us all around it.
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the reunification of the city, let us take a step back and appreciate the full context of Jewish history, that this is indeed not a celebration of a 50-year milestone but a sparkling and remarkable chapter in a 3,000-year-old saga, one which is so deeply rooted in Jewish history and in Judaism that we can stand tall and proud in the knowledge of our connection to the city of Jerusalem and everything it stands for. It is symbolic of the Jewish mission which we have carried since God gave it to us at Mount Sinai more than 3,300 years ago. It symbolizes our values and our heritage. It symbolizes the world of holiness and morality, which flows from our Torah.
And so in this week of Jerusalem Day, let us take pride in that and stand tall and say to the world that wherever they may choose to place their embassies has no bearing whatsoever on the place of Jerusalem in our hearts and souls as the eternal capital of the Jewish people, and God’s embassy on earth.The author is the chief rabbi of South Africa.