WASHINGTON — The inauguration of the new US embassy in Jerusalem was not the only event Monday celebrating the establishment of the State of Israel and the Trump administration’s dramatic change in US foreign policy.
Across the Atlantic, several hours after the ribbon-cutting ceremony in Jerusalem, the Israeli embassy in Washington hosted its annual event marking the anniversary of the nation’s founding. It’s usually a festive occasion featuring lawmakers from both sides of the aisle who go to see the ambassador and be seen. But this year, not a single currently serving Democrat was spotted in attendance.
“I can only imagine that they would want members of Congress who would be completely supportive of the embassy move and uncritical of the violence taking place in Gaza,” said one Jewish Democratic House member who said no invitation to the event was received.
An embassy spokesman said all members of Congress were invited, as they are every year. An embassy official said: “Many staffers and dignitaries who are Democrats came to celebrate with us.”
The offices of two other Jewish Democratic lawmakers — Reps. Ted Deutch of Florida and Nita Lowey of New York — said they were invited but that the event fell on a “district day” and they were not in Washington to attend the affair. Indeed, Congress itself was not in session on Monday, so many legislators were out of town.
Monday night’s soiree was considered more special than in years past: Not only was it a commemoration of Israel’s 70th birthday, it also coincided with the culmination of US President Donald Trump’s December decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the embassy there.
It also came amid violent protests in the Gaza Strip on Monday, in which 60 Palestinians were killed and more than 2,700 were injured, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza.
The IDF said Tuesday that at least 24 of the dead were members of terror groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Israel claims that Hamas is spurring the violence and using it for cover for attacks. Hamas and Islamic Jihad acknowledged that 13 of the dead were its members.
Much of the international community has decried the deaths and accused Israel of using excessive force.
Most Democrats on Capitol Hill opposed Trump’s Jerusalem decision, arguing that while Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, formal recognition and the relocation of the embassy should come in the context of a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.
Not a single currently serving Democratic member of Congress attended the Jerusalem ceremony, either.
“As with everything else Donald Trump does, most Democrats saw this as an extremely provocative and reckless intervention in Middle East politics,” said the Jewish Democratic legislator who wished to remain anonymous.
Indeed, after the new embassy was opened Monday, only two Democrats came out in full-fledged support: New York Senator Chuck Schumer and New York Rep. Eliot Engel.
But the House member said the embassy party seemed like a tough place for Democrats to be at such a fraught time.
“I would imagine that would be a difficult environment for Democrats to be in if there’s a mood of celebration with respect to the embassy move and complete indifference to the loss of Palestinian lives in Gaza,” the congressperson said.
On Tuesday, the Jewish Democratic Council of America, the policy arm of Jewish Democrats, put out a statement condemning “the loss of life in recent days” and urging “calm and restraint, while supporting Israel’s right to self-defense against terrorism and threats to its borders.”
Vice President Mike Pence gave the keynote address at the Israeli embassy’s DC gathering. In it, he praised Trump for bringing the US and Israel “closer together in a year than any president in the past 70 years” and for being “the greatest defender the Jewish state has ever had sitting in the Oval Office.”
Israel’s ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, also lauded the president, casting the embassy relocation as a “large leap for truth.”
But the pro-Israel Jewish House member who was not invited suggested the move was enabling the aspects of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s agenda that are anathema to the US Jewish community, which largely leans left politically.
“It seems like Netanyahu only cares about appealing to right-wing Christians and the most conservative Jews in America,” the lawmaker said. “He shows no interest in connecting with the majority of American Jews who are liberal and progressive. Trump and [Jared] Kushner and Ambassador [David] Friedman have given Netanyahu license to take a very hard turn to the right. And that just drives a deeper wedge between Netanyahu and liberal American Jews.”
In September 2017, an American Jewish Committee poll found that just 16 percent of American Jews supported Trump’s call to move the US embassy to Jerusalem immediately.