Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. There are a number of issues to unpack in his (un)diplomatic announcement.
First, rioting by Palestinians and others around the Middle East, as well as potentially related attacks on Jewish institutions in Sweden, are acts of violence that deserve to be condemned, with no excuses or legitimation.
Second, as for the president’s decision, we can leave aside partisanship from the mix. Former presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have all made effectively the same statement: Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel.
But we need to separate the ethical from the pragmatic. For whatever else it is – home to holy sites of three religions, a multicultural, multifaith, multilingual metropolis – it is Israel’s capital. Tel Aviv may be the economic heart of the country and the first modern Jewish city, but it has always been toward Jerusalem that the national aspirations of the Jewish people have been directed. But, the fate of Jerusalem is considered one of the core issues to be addressed in any permanent peace agreement that results in a two-state solution. Whether or not recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is the morally right action, the pragmatic truth is that the president’s move was not inspired by a desire to do right.
The most charitable thing we can say about the president’s Jerusalem decision is that he kept his promise to evangelical Christian voters. He was unequivocal before the election on this issue and, unlike those who came before, he appears to be following through. The same can be said on many other fronts where conventional observers assumed a cooler head would prevail once the weight of the office descended on the showman. The provocations around immigrants, the racism, the assaults on even members of his own party – none of these has eased since he moved into the White House. While Congress has ensured the president has so far passed no legislation of consequence – though a sweeping and irresponsible tax bill is on the horizon – the president has behaved just as he did when he was a candidate, esteem for the office, personal dignity and respect for others be damned.
Again, there may be disagreement on whether moving the embassy is a good thing, a bad thing, ill-timed or overdue. But let us not pretend that the president was moved by any ethical, theological or political morality. This was just the latest in a succession of provocative actions through which the president thumbs his nose at anyone with a modicum of nuance, diplomacy or sense of the larger geopolitical reality.
Trump likes to stir things up and this time he did it using Jerusalem. This is no favour to the Jewish people or Israel. We may, in fact, suffer its consequences alongside many in the Palestinian territories who may lose their lives in riots and skirmishes precipitated by this thoughtless edict. All of us are just the tools in another of his childish, and very dangerous, games.