Liberal US Jews blast Trump’s expected Jerusalem declaration
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Liberal US Jews blast Trump’s expected Jerusalem declaration

J Street says recognizing Israel's capital has 'no tangible benefits, only serious risks'; Bernie Sanders warns it will 'undermine' peace prospects

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

US Senator Bernie Sanders speaks on stage during the Protecting Working Families Rally at Santander Performing Arts Center on December 3, 2017 in Reading, Pennsylvania (Lisa Lake/Getty Images for MoveOn.org/AFP)
US Senator Bernie Sanders speaks on stage during the Protecting Working Families Rally at Santander Performing Arts Center on December 3, 2017 in Reading, Pennsylvania (Lisa Lake/Getty Images for MoveOn.org/AFP)

WASHINGTON — With US President Donald Trump set to formally recognize on Wednesday that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and set in motion plans to move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv, US Jews shifted into an internecine debate about the wisdom of such a move.

While the liberal Jewish Middle East advocacy group J Street said it was “an unhelpful step with no tangible benefits, only serious risks,” Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, described the decision as “a courageous stand that expresses [Trump’s] commitment to repairing and strengthening ties with Israel, our most important ally in the Middle East.”

The RJC plans to run a full-page ad in The New York Times on Thursday thanking the president for fulfilling a campaign pledge. That did not go without some sparring from its Democratic counterpart.

“Trump didn’t deliver on his campaign promise,” said Aaron Keyak, who, along with his colleague Steve Rabinowitz of Bluelight Strategies, runs the day-to-day operations of the Jewish Democratic Council of America. “He’s going to sign the waiver like Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama did before him.”

Meanwhile, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders let it be known on Twitter that he disapproved of Trump making a policy change that has the potential to unravel his attempts to broker a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.

“There’s a reason why all past US administrations have not made this move, and why leaders around the world have warned Trump against it: It would undermine the prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement and severely, perhaps irreparably, damage our ability to broker it,” he said.

That response was similar to that of the Reform Jewish movement, the largest denomination of American Jews. In a statement, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, who heads the Union for Reform Judaism, said that while he believes Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish state, and that it should be recognized as such, any formal declaration should only come in the form of a comprehensive accord.

“President Trump’s ill-timed, but expected, announcement affirms what the Reform Jewish Movement has long held: that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people and the State of Israel,” he said. “Yet while we share the President’s belief that the U.S. Embassy should, at the right time, be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, we cannot support his decision to begin preparing that move now, absent a comprehensive plan for a peace process.”

“Additionally, ” he went on, “any relocation of the American Embassy to West Jerusalem should be conceived and executed in the broader context reflecting Jerusalem’s status as a city holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.”

Matt Brooks, director of the Republican Jewish Coalition (screen capture: YouTube)

White House officials confirmed on Tuesday evening Trump’s plans, which he will announce himself in a speech slated for 1 p.m. Wednesday (8 p.m. in Israel). The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity during a background briefing with reporters.

“On December 6, 2017, President Trump will recognize that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” one of the officials said.

The recognition of Jerusalem, widely expected to anger the Arab world and cast a shadow over nascent US-led peace efforts, will also be accompanied by Trump committing to support a two-state solution should both Israel and the Palestinians back it, the officials said, in a likely bid by the administration to balance an announcement seen as heavily favoring Israel.

The president, the official emphasized, will cast the decision as a “recognition of reality, both historic reality and modern reality,” noting that Jerusalem is the seat of Israel’s government:

“While President Trump recognizes that the status of Jerusalem is a highly sensitive issue, he does not think it will be resolved by ignoring the truth that Jerusalem is home to Israel’s legislature, its Supreme Court, the Prime Minister’s residence, and as such, it is the capital of Israel,” the official said.

The announcement will mark a major milestone for Israeli efforts to gain international legitimacy for the claim to Jerusalem. Israel calls Jerusalem its undivided capital, but the international community has refrained from recognizing it as such pending final-status negotiations with the Palestinians, who claim the eastern half of the city as their own seat of power.

The White House officials stressed that Trump will make clear he “recognizes that the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final-status negotiations for such an agreement” and that the action does not change the “status quo of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.”

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