The negative international reaction to US President Donald Trump’s announcement that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital should not have been a surprise. Perhaps naively, I was hoping for a greater show of support from at least some countries, but it did not materialize. Instead, we saw an upsurge of antisemitism, no longer disguised as anti-Zionism, with demonstrators in places like New York City and London shouting “Death to the Jews.”In Sweden, synagogues were torched in Gothenburg and Malmö. The media classified these vile acts as a protest against Trump’s decision. In a recent oped in The Jerusalem Post, Swedish journalist Annika Hernroth-Rothstein connected the growing antisemitism there with the war against Israel that their government has waged through the media and one-sided diplomacy. It has become acceptable to be openly antisemitic.
I am not entirely sure what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hoped to gain by his visit to address the European Union leadership. What he received was a clear message that no European country intended to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. While the EU bloc is not unified in its attitude to Israel, it supports what Federica Mogherini, its foreign policy chief, called the “international consensus” from which Trump departed when he announced a reversal of decades of American diplomacy. It comes as no surprise to learn that the bloc is the biggest provider of aid to the Palestinians.Repeated statements from Europe and other regions attack Trump for halting the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. What process are they talking about? In 2000, Israel, under prime minister Ehud Barak and chief negotiator Shlomo Ben-Ami, was prepared to divide Jerusalem and even accept “full Palestinian sovereignty” on the Temple Mount, asking only that the Palestinians recognize the site was also sacred to Jews. Yasser Arafat’s response was that no Jewish Temple ever existed on the Temple Mount, only an obelisk: the real Temple existed in Nablus. Today we hear similar language from Abbas who, together with his Palestinian Authority, deny any Jewish connection to Jerusalem, as does the UN, through the resolution passed on Israel’s Independence Day by UNESCO.The allegation emanating from the PA that Israel has “Judaized” Jerusalem brings to mind what Britain’s former chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, pointed out, “When Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem he saw neither church nor mosque; he saw only the Temple on the Temple Mount.”In spite of the PA and Hamas leadership calling for a third intifada in response to Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the reaction on the Palestinian street has been relatively subdued compared to the hysterical reaction by the international media and the countries they represent. The BBC chose to invite Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli lawyer, to give the Israeli reaction to Trump’s so called “incendiary” statement. He condemned Trump and kept referring to the problem as being one of the Israeli “occupation.” The majority of viewers would have been ignorant of the fact that Seidemann is the founder of two politicized campaign groups – Ir Amim and Terrestrial Jerusalem, both of which receive foreign funding in support of their negative perspective of Israel.The BBC carefully selects who to invite to be interviewed. Seidemann’s was the “Israeli” viewpoint they wanted to promote. For me, this was not a surprise. As chair of the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland when the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, I received a call from the BBC explaining that in half an hour they were interviewing individuals to assess their reaction to the accords. They asked for my perspective, which was positive, believing that every attempt toward a peaceful solution and an end to bloodshed has to be good. They thanked me for my reply and said they might be in touch. Were they? No. When I listened to the program a short while later, the BBC had chosen a spokesperson for Israel whose views were opposed to the accords. Fast forward to 2017. Why are we projected as the core of all ills here in the Middle East? For sure we are not perfect; we do not always choose the correct diplomatic language, but compared to our neighbors, we are light years ahead democratically and in the manner we serve our minority population. Conversely, should we reach the point of two states for two peoples, our Palestinian peace partners have said there would be no Jewish minority, as a future Palestinian state will be Judenfrei (free of Jews). Not a single Jew would be permitted to live within Palestine. Has any European country protested this racism by the Palestinians? Our recently deemed “good” neighbor Saudi Arabia also has no tolerance for minorities wishing to practice their religion; their law permits only mosques in that country.Since we reunited Jerusalem in 1967, every Muslim, Christian and Jew is able to worship according to his tradition. This was not the case under Jordanian occupation for 19 years from 1948 until 1967. The only faith denied the opportunity to pray at their holiest site, the Western Wall, was the Jewish faith. Did the world protest on our behalf? Did the UN meet in emergency session? The answer is a resounding “No.” We came back to Jerusalem to find that the Jordanians had systematically desecrated and destroyed our religious establishments. At the Mount of Olives cemetery, gravestones had been used as latrines and building material.Back to the reaction to Trump’s endorsement of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. While today Diaspora Jewry’s response has been positive, what of tomorrow? The consistent Israel-bashing that pervades campuses is having an impact on our Jewish students, resulting in an erosion of identification with Israel. Often lacking knowledge of the historic connection of the Jewish people to Israel, we find too many are ready to take on the Palestinian narrative. In this respect, we have failed.I was fortunate that my father read me Bible stories when I was young and took me to the synagogue every Shabbat, instilling in me an appreciation of the liturgy. We turned toward Jerusalem to pray and our prayers spoke of Jerusalem and Zion. He would sing and teach me songs of longing to return to Zion and imparted a love for and comprehension of the significance of having our own Jewish state.Sadly, my father never made it to Israel, not even for a visit, but my hope is that if he is looking down he will see how his influence brought his daughter here and how privileged she feels to be living in this land. The writer is public relations chair of ESRA, which promotes integration into Israeli Society.
Protests erupt after Trump announces Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, December 7, 2017