Shimon Koffler Fogel: Jerusalem, the Capital of the Jewish People

Dec 27, 2017 | Israel, Israeli Politics, Jerusalem, Judaism, Middle East

Two weeks have passed since the United States formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital city of the State of Israel, and contrary to media hype and hope, the sky has not fallen. 

For Israelis and their supporters worldwide, U.S. recognition of Jerusalem has brought a degree of third-party validation, and that is no trivial matter, given the relentless effort to deny and delegitimize the connection between Jerusalem and the Jewish People. But in addition to serving as a milestone in the history of the modern-day Jewish state, there are broader lessons to be drawn. Here are four that should inform the thinking of everyone committed to making the case for Israel:

Like the sombre warnings that presaged the declaration of the Jewish state in 1948, grim predictions of a violent backlash were threatened by Palestinian leaders and echoed by their choir abroad – including many in the media. That they sputtered rather than flared is almost beside the point. The real lesson to extract is the unacceptability of threatening violence in response to a political development. It even has a new name: the violence veto, and is trotted out every time the direction of political discourse strays from the desired Palestinian path. That tired and destructive ploy must be called out for what it is – blackmail. And blackmail must never be rewarded.

The second lesson relates to UN Security Council Resolution 2334, passed in the twilight hours of the Obama administration. There is universal recognition that the refusal of the U.S. to block the resolution was an expression of misguided anger on the part of Obama and Kerry regarding their failure to advance peace. The resolution was an explicit slap to Israel and to heap additional insult to injury included an explicit reference to “Occupied Palestinian Territory” of east Jerusalem. The charade of embracing that assertion while condemning a statement of fact regarding Jerusalem serving as Israel’s capital is breathtaking. How is it possible to view the first as an acceptable, even righteous comment, while denouncing the second as a prejudgment of negotiations? That double standard must be called out for what it is – hypocrisy. And hypocrisy must be challenged.

“That double standard must be called out for what it is – hypocrisy. And hypocrisy must be challenged.”

The penultimate lesson relates to the fiction of an active peace process and the injury the Jerusalem announcement will inflict on the prospects of peace. There is no current peace process, though there could have been had Yasser Arafat, and subsequently Mahmoud Abbas, accepted any of the proposals offered by Israel and backed by the successive U.S. administrations. Ironically, those offers included shared sovereignty over Jerusalem. But the Palestinian leadership scorned those offers, and each time responded with more violence. That pattern of dismissal must be called out for what it is – rejection. And a posture of rejection must never be glossed over.

The last, and most important, lesson is about competing and relative claims. Whether one cherishes the Bible as scripture or simply treats it as a historical document, there is no doubt that Jerusalem claims a special place in the Christian consciousness. And, while not mentioned in the Qur’an, clearly Muhammad’s ascent to heaven from Jerusalem represents a significant event in Islamic tradition. However, there is no parallel in either of those two monotheistic faiths with the central and even existential role Jerusalem plays in the religious, historic, national, or cultural identity of the Jewish people. Applying equivalence has only one goal: to diminish the Jewish connection and thereby belittle the legitimacy of the Jewish presence in the ancestral homeland of the Jewish People.

That has been the clear intent of the efforts to not only deny and delegitimize Jewish associations with Jerusalem, but erase them altogether. That has been the aim of the Palestinians and their supporters in passing resolution after resolution at various UN forums including UNESCO. That effort must be called out for what it is – anti-Semitism. And anti-Semitism must be challenged at every turn. 

The policy proclamation from Washington did just that. Now our task is to carry those lessons to every capital in the world, including Ottawa. 

–Shimon Koffler Fogel is the CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA)

This article originally appeared in the Canadian Jewish News.



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