President Donald Trump’s official recognition that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital brought joy to Israeli Consul General Judith Varnai Shorer.
“Now it’s one Jerusalem, and now it’s our Jerusalem, so I was very happy. And I think most people in Israel, even if there are differences, most people in Israel are very happy,” the Atlanta-based ambassador said.
Rabbi Herbert Cohen, a former Atlantan who was visiting from Beit Shemesh for the Shabbat after the announcement, said with a shrug, “I think it’s a good thing.”
Trump made the announcement Wednesday, Dec. 6, sparking outrage from Palestinians, anger from other Arabs and criticism from European allies. He did not specify the borders of the capital and instead said it is up to the Israelis and Palestinians to determine the final status of Jerusalem as well as to negotiate a two-state peace agreement if that’s what they want.
While Trump followed the example of his predecessors the past 20 years in signing a waiver to the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, he also ordered the State Department to begin preparations for moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to somewhere in Jerusalem.
Dov Wilker, the regional director of American Jewish Committee’s Atlanta office, agreed with Shorer that the recognition of Jerusalem was long overdue. Israel officially made Jerusalem its capital in 1949.
“I think it’s a historic announcement,” Wilker said, adding that AJC has lobbied for this recognition for decades. “We hope other governments will begin to do it.”
The Czech Republic quickly followed the United States in acknowledging that Israel’s government operates from Jerusalem, so it is the capital. Taiwan also said it considers Jerusalem the capital. The Philippines expressed interest in moving its embassy to Jerusalem.
Wilker said AJC continually presses the issue with the diplomats of other countries, and Shorer expressed hope that other nations will follow the U.S. lead. “We know that there are some African and Latin American countries that are considering it,” she said.
Both said that not recognizing Jerusalem did nothing to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
“I don’t think that the peace process was broken because we didn’t have a partner, and the Palestinians have been deceived,” Shorer said, referring to people who took to the streets to protest. “For the Europeans, I can say they never were very helpful, and they didn’t do anything to promote the peace process. But G-d forbid the Americans take the steps. It annoys them. I can understand that.”
“We may as well try something different,” Wilker said.
But that was far from a unanimous view in Jewish Atlanta.
The clergy at Temple Emanu-El issued a statement that walked a common line in the Jewish community, leavening support for international recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital with concern about the consequences of the timing of the U.S. announcement.
“We pray for the safety and security of Jerusalemites and all those throughout Israel, though we acknowledge that prayers alone will not bring peace,” Rabbis Spike Anderson, Max Miller and Rachael Miller and Cantor Lauren Adesnik said in their statement. “Our prayers must be followed by comprehensive actions to bring lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians: lobbying our elected officials to support a two-state solution, and remaining engaged and informed on a daily basis with news in the region.”
The Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta declined to make any statement because people in the community disagree on the decision.
While the Jewish Council for Public Affairs greeted the announcement as warmly as AJC did, its local affiliate, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta, focused on concerns about the safety of Israelis and Palestinians as violence, including terrorist attacks, rockets and riots, broke out.
“The JCRCA fully supports the vision of two states living side-by-side in peace with secure borders and we encourage the U.S. Administration to fulfill this vision by bringing the parties together for face to face negotiations to pursue peace,” the JCRC said in a written statement.
Shorer downplayed the idea that the U.S. decision was the right move at the wrong time. “There is never a good time in the Middle East,” she said. “Whatever you do is wrong.”