Thursday, December 7, 2017

What does Trump's recognition of Jerusalem tell Israelis about their place in the world?

President Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital has done more than upend 70 years of American policy. It has underlined how far the Jews still are from international acceptance on their own terms, rather than as others would have them. It indicates that this lack of acceptance is still fundamental to how the world relates to the Jews.

There has been a raging argument between archeologists these past 30 years about how much historical truth there is in the Biblical stories. A consensus has slowly emerged that King David was a historical figure and that he lived in Jerusalem 3,000 years ago; the argument still rages around the question if his Jerusalem was a small and insignificant village or perhaps something much grander. Some historians insist the Jews emerged as a real nation with their own culture only once their elite had been exiled to Babylon, where they collected, collated and edited the Biblical stories for the first time: those would be the people who claimed "By the rivers of Babylon/there we sat down/there we wept/as we remembered Zion" – Zion being one of the names of Jerusalem. There is no way to make sense of the New Testament unless one accepts that Jesus was preaching and died in Jerusalem, the capital of the Jews. In the 2nd century Hadrian ploughed Jerusalem and built a Roman town in its stead precisely because he assumed that would put an end to the pesky Jews.

Yet at no point in the past 2,000 years of history did any significant political power ever see the real city of Jerusalem as a Jewish capital. In one of history's remarkable twists, British forces conquered Jerusalem exactly a century ago this week. At the time a majority of Jerusalemites were Jews, and had been for at least 40 years if not 80, yet the British carefully gerrymandered all municipal elections to ensure there'd never be a Jewish mayor.  During 30 years of British rule there were a number of proposals to partition the land; none of them ever suggested Jewish control over Jerusalem. The partition plan eventually adopted by the UN 70 years ago last week invented an unprecedented departure from the universal principle of sovereignty, the Corpus Separatum, to ensure the Jews – still a majority of the city's population – would not control Jerusalem.  Deliberations on implementing this oddity went on at the UN years after Israel and Jordan had divided the city between them.

After the Six Day War Israel's leaders assumed the Christian world, which the West could still have been considered to be, would refuse to accept Jewish control of the city. They were talking about religion and its expression in Western civilization, not about international laws.
The near-universal rejection of President Trump's recognition of the plain fact that Jerusalem is Israel's capital looks far more sinister than a mere disagreement over the best way to promote a notional peace agreement. This is reinforced by the blatant flimsiness of the reasons for the rejection and their distance from reality. It looks to this Israeli as a continuation of an ancient insistence that the Jews must be what the others say, and that for them to be accepted they must behave as the others demand. It can't be that Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish State, because that would mean that the Jews really have returned to national normality, and that they are a nation and state as all the other 200 states are.

The louder the howls are, the more pervasive the condemnations, the more it seems to many regular, middle of the road Israelis that our place among the nations is still not yet finally accepted nor sincere.

Postscript: the cool response of some American Jews to the recognition is also a worthy theme for analysis. Not today, however.


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Your Correspondent said...

I think the Romans saw Jerusalem as the Jewish capital. They didn't like it much, and eventually changed it. But this was within your 2000 year boundary.