JERUSALEM — I recently participated in a moving experience — an enthusiastic rally held on the site of the proposed U.S. Embassy in the Talpiot section in the southern part of Jerusalem.
The rally, which was held in conjunction with the Orthodox Union’s Biennial National Convention, had two objectives: To call for the U.S. government at long last to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in compliance with the expressed will of the Congress; and to affirm that Jerusalem is the eternal, undivided capital of Israel and must never be divided in any peace negotiations.
The two messages go hand in hand in determining the future of Jerusalem and are key elements in the O.U.’s policy regarding Israel.
After holding our 2004 and 2006 biennial conventions in Jerusalem, we believed that as a North American-based organization, this was the year to return to having our gathering in the United States. However, when it became apparent several months ago that Jerusalem’s undivided status was at risk in Israel’s ongoing negotiations with the Palestinians, we decided we must act proactively and with determination to make our positions known.
We immediately changed our plans and geared up for a combination convention/mission to Jerusalem. Our message there was loud and clear: Jerusalem must remain the undivided, eternal capital of the Jewish people forever, with the U.S. Embassy located there, right where it belongs. The theme of the convention, not surprisingly, was “Jerusalem: Keep it One, Keep it Ours.”
We elected to hold our rally on a site that is clearly in undisputed Israeli territory and to point out that it has been 13 years since the passage — by overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress — of the Jerusalem Embassy Act stating that “Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel and the United States Embassy in Israel should be established in Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999.” What a wonderful bar mitzva present it would be for Jews worldwide if the White House finally honors the will of Congress.
At this crucial time for Jews throughout the world, the Orthodox Union proclaims loud and clear that Jerusalem must be off the table. Any peace negotiations must be predicated upon the fact that Jerusalem will remain Israel’s undivided capital. We pray for it, yearn for it, fast because of its destruction, and remember it at our most joyous times under the chupah.
The next few months, with a new president of the United States and elections in Israel, inevitably will produce changes in the quest for peace. President Obama will make his own policy, and no one knows just yet how it will differ from President Bush’s approach. No one wants peace more than Israel. But this peace cannot be based on dividing what is most precious to us — Jerusalem. And this peace cannot be based on the untenable proposition that diplomatic activity with Israel should be conducted in a place other than its capital.
As Jews, we should never be hesitant to proclaim to the world that Israel has the right as a sovereign nation to select its own capital, as every other country does. The actions of the United States will be critical. Just as the recognition of Israel’s independence in 1948 by President Truman led to similar recognition by other countries around the world, if we can persuade the United States government to honor the will of the American people as demonstrated by Congress, that too would set the perfect example for other nations to follow.
Barack Obama, who we hope and pray will be a great president, soared to election in great part because of the theme of change. So we respectfully suggest to the president-elect that he implement change in the Middle East by moving the embassy. On April 1, 2009, he has a decision to make: Whether to continue the suspension of the Jerusalem Embassy Act or whether to implement it.
With Israel surrounded by terrorists to the north and in Gaza; with Iran getting closer to the bomb every day; with acts of terror horrifying the world as evidenced by the carnage in Mumbai, we encourage Mr. Obama to do what’s right and give Israel the vote of confidence it needs in this critical period of its existence. Then Israel will face future negotiations fortified by the affirmation of the United States that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital not only in its own mind, but in the mind of the world’s greatest power as well.
As convention participants rode their buses to the rally site, they took a zig-zag route, along the “seam” of what a divided Jerusalem would look like. If neighborhoods that are now safely in Israel’s hands would be turned over to the Palestinians, the heart of the country would be turned into the target of Hamas rockets, just as Sderot and Ashkelon are now. It was deeply unsettling to stand on the heights of some of these neighborhoods, to look down on the city below, and to realize what carnage would be inflicted on Israel if these areas were ever ceded to the Palestinians.
Proceeding to our rally, we of the Orthodox Union were more convinced than ever that we must lead the Jewish community in convincing our new president that an undivided Jerusalem, with the U.S. Embassy standing proudly in the city, is not only a gift to Israel — it is vital for its security. Equally important, it is Israel’s sovereign right.
(Stephen J. Savitsky is president of the Orthodox Union.)