WASHINGTON – Here’s a split-screen for our times: While Israeli troops were killing dozens of Palestinian protesters in Gaza on Monday, Trump administration representatives were 50 miles away in Jerusalem, celebrating with Israeli officials the opening of the U.S. Embassy there and praising their mutual devotion to peace.
“Moving the U.S. embassy,” Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan declared, is “a step toward advancing peace.” President Trump himself, in a video message, pledged his commitment to a “lasting peace agreement.” His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, said “peace is within reach.” And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared it “a great day for peace.” Because nothing says “peace” like 61 Palestinians killed, 2,700 wounded, renewed hostilities between Iran and Israel, the entire region aflame and U.S. allies reeling.
Kushner, who reminded the audience he’s in charge of Trump’s “efforts to bring peace,” denounced the Palestinians. “As we have seen from the protests of the last month and even today, those provoking violence are part of the problem and not part of the solution,” he said. In Washington, a White House spokesman declined to join allies urging Israel to exercise restraint.
The move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv could have been a moment of unity and brotherhood. Instead, as with most everything Trump touches, it became a symbol of division and bitterness. It could have been the capstone of a peace deal, as Republican and Democratic administrations alike had hoped. Instead, it all but dashed hope for a two-state solution.
Most European allies skipped the event. And only 14 members of Congress were on hand for the celebration – all Republican and only one Jewish. Republicans scolded Democrats for their absence; Democrats said they weren’t invited. “I would have loved to have participated in this historic and moving embassy dedication,” Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., who supported the embassy move, said. “Despite reaching out to the administration, I was not invited to be a part of the official American delegation.”
Here’s who was invited:
• Robert Jeffress, the pastor who gave the opening prayer, who has said both Islam and Mormonism are “heresy from the pit of hell” – and that Jews are bound for that same destination. “You can’t be saved being a Jew,” he said in a 2010 interview.
• John Hagee, an evangelical Christian leader who gave a closing prayer, who is known for, among other things, once saying God allowed the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews were killed, to happen “because God said my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel.”
• Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who was standing at Trump’s side last year when the president said there were “very fine people” among neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville and later defended Trump’s handling of the situation.
• And Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, who spoke at a reception for the U.S. delegation, after which Kushner and Ivanka Trump asked for his blessing. The rabbi has made waves for comparing black people to monkeys and proposed blessing only those “with a white father and mother.”
Given the lineup, this was less a diplomatic ceremony than a campaign event. David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, praised “the vision, the courage and the moral clarity of one person to whom we owe an enormous and eternal debt of gratitude, President Donald J. Trump.” …
Netanyahu dutifully declared Trump “made history,” Hagee thanked God “for President Donald Trump’s courage,” and Jeffress praised Trump’s leadership, determination, resolve and courage and offered his view to God that Trump “stands on the right side of You.” Kushner got applause for bringing up Trump’s decision to “exit the dangerous, flawed and one-sided Iran deal.”
The bipartisan unity toward Israel had begun to break down even before Trump, as Netanyahu, and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, clashed with President Barack Obama. Trump has further driven the partisan wedge over Israel, and it’s splitting not just Democrats from Republicans but American Jews from Netanyahu’s government.
A poll last year by the American Jewish Committee found American Jews, only 21 percent of whom view Trump favorably, were overwhelmingly (68 percent) opposed to an immediate move of the embassy.
Perhaps American Jews recognize Trump, and the messianic Christians driving his policy, are leading Israel away from democracy and security. And perhaps they don’t trust claims of “peace” when they see the opposite.