John F. Kennedy once said in a speech, “let us make it clear that we will never turn our backs on our steadfast friends in Israel, whose adherence to the democratic way must be admired by all friends of freedom,” (“U.S. Presidents & Israel: Quotes About Jewish Homeland & Israel.”). The United States and Israel have been allies since Israel was founded in 1948. Recently, the controversy of the location of the American embassy in Israel has occupied the front page of American national newspapers. The question is whether to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, Israel’s self-proclaimed capital, or to keep it in Tel Aviv, consequently letting down “our steadfast friends in Israel.” A mere one hour drive may seem trivial, but there are years of history and controversy behind the relationship between the US and Israel. In this web page I will take you on a journey of Israel’s early history and current day controversy through the eyes of the United States.
As a Jewish-American teenager, I have been taught for sixteen years that Israel is my “homeland” and the “home of my people,” despite the fact I have no family there. However, I am naturally curious about the small country and its history because of its impact on my religion. When I was younger I studied the early history (B.C.E.) and a little about the establishment of Israel. Despite the classes in Hebrew school, I never learned how my country (the United States) has impacted the Jewish state. This project is my chance to discover the historical issues and connections between the homeland of Judaism and the country in which I live.
America and the Formation of a Jewish State (1945-1948)
President Truman’s Personal Views
Harry Truman was the president of the United States who aided the establishment of Israel. Remarkably, nobody is certain as to where Truman actually stood on the spectrum of anti-Semites. There is evidence that indicates he was supportive of Zionist Jews and evidence that proves he held a strong dislike for Jews.
Truman helped establish a Jewish state for the Jewish people making him a Zionist. However, his motives for assisting such a profound event in history are, for the most part, still a mystery. In November 1945, Truman said to a group of anti-Zionist American diplomats: “I’m sorry, gentlemen, but I have to answer to hundreds of thousands who are anxious for the success of Zionism: I do not have hundreds of thousands of Arabs among my constituents” (Tharoor). This comment suggests that the president’s primary motivation for supporting the Zionist cause was fear of losing the presidential election.
Regardless of his accomplishments in the Middle East, many believe that Truman was a blatant anti-Semite. The following comment was found in one of his diaries after his death: “when Jews have power, physical, financial or political neither Hitler nor Stalin has anything on them for cruelty or mistreatment to the underdog” (Harnden). This quote indicates that Truman’s personal view on Jews was a very negative one, leaving us to question his true motives for aiding the establishment of Israel.
Truman vs Government Officials
Whatever his personal opinions of Jews, Truman still supported the founding of a Jewish state. Some of his advisors were worried about how United States support would be received internationally; some government officials feared that American support of a Jewish state would interfere with trade concerning other Arab countries or promote war between Israel and surrounding countries (Tharoor). The director of one of the State Department offices cautioned that the creation of Israel would “imperil US interests and violate democratic principles,” (Weir 45).
Recognition of Israel
Despite warnings from advisors, the Zionists had won Truman over; he accepted the Balfour Declaration, a British declaration of support for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, when he took office (“Key Press Release on the Recognition of the State of Israel.”). In 1947 President Harry Truman instructed the State Department to support the United Nations partition plan for Palestine to further the establishment of Israel (“Key Press Release…”).
After the plan was passed, the United States became the first country to formally declare Israel an independent nation-state in 1948 (“Key Press Release…”). Although the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues today, at least 149 countries have officially recognized Israel at its own nation (“Israel International Relations”). In the 1940s, this controversy caused political and social divides in America between Zionists and anti-Zionists, Jews and anti-Semites, and Truman and the State Department (Weir 49).
Current Day: United States Embassy Move in Israel
In the 1940s the United States was was the first country to recognize Israel as an independent nation. A parallel is seen in 2018: the United States may be the first to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel. The supportive Israeli-American relationship that formed during the establishment of Israel may just play a large role in the decisions that are made today about the location of the American embassy.
This video describes a brief history of Jerusalem which has lead to the current day controversy.
Video Citation: (“Why Jerusalem’s Holy Sites Are so Significant.”)
Israel proclaimed Jerusalem its capital in July 1980 much to the disapproval of surrounding Muslim countries (“House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security Hearing.”). Nine years later, the United States began leasing a plot of land in Jerusalem for a new embassy, however nothing was ever done with it (Liebermann). The United States Congress waited and waited, but nothing was ever done with the plot of land. As a result, in 1995, Congress signed an embassy act declaring that the diplomatic office be moved to Jerusalem by May 31, 1999. The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 passed with an overwhelming majority.
However, instead of the embassy being moved, President Clinton signed a waiver stating that moving the embassy would pose a risk to national security due to the expected riots following the decision (Friedman). It became the norm that every six months the president signs a waiver to prevent the embassy from being moved to the self-proclaimed capital of Israel (Liebermann). So far no president has let the waiver expire and allowed the embassy to move, but that may soon change.
The argument of the location of Israel’s capital is debated today because of President Trump’s promises regarding the US embassy (Liebermann). Similarly to when the nation-state was formally recognized in 1948, the world is anxiously waiting to see if the United States will again be the first to formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or if Trump will go against his word and sign the national security waiver for a third time.
The table below explains the differing viewpoints of whether or not the American embassy should be moved:
Proposed Solution for the Movement of the American Embassy
After the weighing arguments of both sides, I have come to the conclusion that the embassy should not be moved from Tel Aviv in the next year. Switching the location of the diplomatic office would only increase the tension between Israel and Palestine. The Arab League Secretary-General said that the embassy move “will not serve peace or stability but will fuel extremism and resort to violence” (Kranz). There is enough hatred and tension between the Jewish state and surrounding countries. In my opinion, it is not worth risking a war (in which US interests would inevitably get involved) or any conflict for the embassy move. I see the embassy move as a small but necessary detail that can be addressed when the situation becomes safer for the United States and Israel.
In my opinion, in order for there to be any chance of peace in the Middle East, a Palestinian state must be established. The capital of this Palestinian state would either be the city of Abu Dis or Ramallah which are both current Palestinian cities (Ben Manachem).
Recognition of Jerusalem as a Unified City-not East and West
Once a Palestinian state has been established, then, and only then, should the discussion of the international recognition of the unification of Jerusalem begin. If Jerusalem becomes an internationally recognized unified city, I believe that a program should be established to allow the residents of East Jerusalem (primarily Arabs) a quick path to become citizens of Israel.
Protection of All Faiths
Since Jerusalem is home to the holy sites of many religions, I was concerned what would happen if it become the capital of a Jewish state. After more research I discovered the Protection of Holy Places Law which states that any holy site in Israel no matter the religion is protected (“Basic Laws of Israel: Protection of Holy Places Law.”). This law will ensure that if Jerusalem becomes the UN recognized Israeli capital, the mosques and churches, in addition to synagogues, will be preserved. Only after the establishment of a Palestinian state and the recognition of the unification of Jerusalem do I believe that the United States embassy should be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
What Can You Do?
The primary reason why the Palestinian-Israeli situation, the establishment of Israel, and the embassy issue are so controversial is because of the emotional ties that people have to this region of the world due to their religion or heritage. Because of these emotional ties, people tend to be blinded by their own strong opinions. Although we may be closely affiliated with one side of the issue, Americans have the luxury of being able to step back and observe the situation from an outsider’s perspective. My largest take-away from this project is that the embassy issue is far from black and white. I believe that the best thing Americans can do to ease the conflict around the embassy controversy is to have a diversity of knowledge. I would urge everyone to gain a firm understand the opposing opinion including the negative points of your own opinion.
This could take the form of reading articles in a newspaper of the opposite side of the political spectrum or talking to a friend with opposing views. Many works of art have been created about Jerusalem from both the Israeli and Palestinian perspectives: for example “Those Who Pass Between Fleeting Words” by Muhmoud Darwish and a song by Naomi Shemer called “ירושלים של זהב” (Jerusalem of Gold). These works have complete opposite messages about the same one square kilometer of land. Diversifying our wealth of knowledge will not only help each of us gain an understanding of multiple viewpoints, but it will help us appreciate the complexity of today’s social issues and international relations.
I would appreciate a lot it if you would answer these four questions about the webpage and your view on the embassy controversy. Thank you!
“A Peace Movement Poster.” Wikipedia, Wikipedia Foundation, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two-state_solution.
“Basic Laws of Israel: Protection of Holy Places Law.” Israel Protection of Holy Places Law (1967), www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/israel-protection-of-holy-places-law-1967.
Ben Manachem, Yoni. “Palestinian Capital in Abu Dis or Ramallah?” Jerusalem Center For Public Affairs, 10 Jan. 2018, jcpa.org/palestinian-capital-abu-dis-ramallah/.
“Celebrating the UN Vote in Jerusalem.” Jerusalem Post, JPost Inc, 11 Jan. 2018.
Friedman, Peter. “A US Embassy in Jerusalem.” ProQuest, Chicago Tribune, 2 July 1999, search.proquest.com/docview/418905022/1FD01854A4B147CEPQ/4?accountid=39972.
Harnden, Toby. “Truman Diary Reveals Scorn ‘for Cruel Jews.’” The Telegraph, 12 July 2003.
“Harry Truman.” The Famous People, www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/harry-s-truman-1588.php.
“House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security Hearing.” Federal Information & News Dispatch, Inc, Washington, 2017, ProQuest, https://search.proquest.com/docview/1961764577?accountid=39972.
“Israel International Relations.” International Recognition of Israel, American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/international-recognition-of-israel.
“Key Press Release on the Recognition of the State of Israel.” Social Education 42, 6 (October 1978): 469.
Kranz, Michal. “Trump’s Big Israel Move Could Shake the Middle East .” Business Insider, Business Insider, 6 Dec. 2017, www.businessinsider.com/trump-jerusalem-embassy-israel-capital-2017-12.
Liebermann, Oren. “Why Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem Is Controversial.” CNN, Cable News Network, 6 Dec. 2017, www.cnn.com/2017/01/24/middleeast/donald-trump-us-embassy-israel-explainer/index.html.
“State of Israel Was Born.” The Jerusalem Post, JPost Inc, 11 Jan. 2018.
Tharoor, Ishaan. “When Some Americans Opposed the Creation of Israel.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 24 Feb. 2015, www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/02/24/when-some-americans-opposed-the-creation-of-israel/?utm_term=.1d26535cec1c.
“The U.S. Embassy Building in Tel Aviv.” Los Angeles TImes, Los Angeles Times, 30 Nov. 2017.
United States, Congress, Foreign Relations. “Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995.” Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, 1995.
“U.S. Presidents & Israel: Quotes About Jewish Homeland & Israel.” Jewish Virtual Library, American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/u-s-presidential-quotes-about-jewish-homeland-and-israel-jewish-virtual-library#truman.
Weir, Alison. Against Our Better Judgement. 2014.
“Why Jerusalem’s Holy Sites Are so Significant.” CNN, 6 Dec. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=4mKGlKxgdr4.
Yisrael, Medinat. “Map of Israel and Surrounding Countries.” Nations Encyclopedia.