Sunday, December 17, 2017

  • Sunday, December 17, 2017
  • Elder of Ziyon
This op-ed in Haaretz by Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, former head of the Union for Reform Judaism, should be required reading for every liberal who's knee jerk reaction to Trump's Jerusalem speech was to automatically disparage it.

Yoffie admits that he initially had the same reaction as all other liberal American Jews:

As a peace advocate and a strong supporter of a two-state solution, I responded to Trump’s pronouncement on Israel’s capital the same way that I respond to virtually everything that the President says: negatively and dismissively.

And the reason for this is that the President’s foreign policy statements have been inconsistent and muddled at best and isolationist and xenophobic at worst. Not surprisingly, my default position is to resist every word on foreign affairs that comes out of his mouth.

And this position was strengthened by the arguments of Tom Friedman and a host of other journalists, commentators, academics, and Middle East experts whose opinions I respect and who asserted that Trump had given away the store. 
 Yoffie initially believed the "if Trump does it it must be wrong" crowd. He, like most American liberal Jews, didn't think for himself, he didn't examine the facts for himself, he outsourced the research to "Middle East experts whose opinions" he respects.

And then he realized that the entire groupthink that animates so much of what passes for intelligent analysis was completely wrong.

For three reasons:
In the first place, I responded viscerally. I am a Jerusalem Jew. In my 75 or so visits to Israel, about 60% of my time has been spent in Jerusalem. I enjoy the hustle and bustle of Tel Aviv, and I love the stark majesty of the Negev. But still, warts and all, Jerusalem remains for me a city of unsurpassed beauty and palpable holiness. And I believe that Judaism and Jewish life will not be sustained without Jerusalem at its core.
Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel, whether the President of the United States says so or not. Nonetheless, it is comforting and gratifying when President Trump finally states what I know to be eternal and true.
And not only that. When Palestinians express their outrage and demand justice for Jerusalem, I can’t help wondering: Where was justice when Yasser Arafat and Mahmud Abbas were claiming at the UN that Jews have no historical connection to the Western Wall, the Temple Mount, and indeed to all of Jerusalem?
Last Thursday in Istanbul, Abbas repeated this ugly and absurd claim at a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Having insisted that Jerusalem’s holy sites belong only to Muslims and Christians, how much sympathy do they have a right to expect now?
 Yoffie noticed the double standards of outrage between Jewish and Arab claims to Jerusalem. He knows that while even the most right wing of Israel's governments gives more respect to non-Jewish history in Jerusalem than even the most liberal of Arabs do towards Jewish history.

In the second place, I saw that not only Netanyahu and the right supported President Trump’s statement. So did the leaders of the Israeli center and center-left. Knesset opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog, Yesh Atid chair Yair Lapid, Zionist Union chair Avi Gabbay, and former foreign minister Tzipi Livni all applauded the President’s words.
When I am looking for guidance from Israel’s political leaders, these are the people to whom I turn. They are all critics of Benjamin Netanyahu and the rightwing government now in power. They are all advocates of a Jewish and democratic Israel and a two-state solution. They all call for immediate negotiations with the Palestinians.
And the unanimity of their sentiments demonstrates that proclaiming Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is not a surrender to Netanyahu and the right. It is a reflection of a broad consensus in Israel that certain historical realities need to be recognized and that Palestinian rejectionists are not entitled to wish these realities away. 

Indeed, too many American Jewish liberals who pretend to be Zionist are utterly ignorant of the reality in Israel and Israel's liberal camp. They think Haaretz' Israeli columnists represents Israeli liberals, not realizing that they are fringe, and that Israel's liberal parties hold positions that are far more attuned to the reality on the ground in Israel than all of the "pro-Israel" European and American liberals combined.

In the third place, I read President Trump’s speech a second time and then a third time. And while it is difficult for me to say this, say it I must: It was a pretty good speech. Not wholly adequate to be sure, but nonetheless moderate, reasonable, and generally fair. And far better than I had feared and expected.
Those who saw it as a give-away to settlers and rightwing fanatics should look again. Netanyahu and the Israeli right call for a united Jerusalem; for the city to be the capital of the Jewish state, and the Jewish state alone; and for sovereignty of the city to be solely in Jewish hands. Yet Trump clearly rejected all of these positions, asserting instead that these matters are to be determined by negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.
To be sure, the U.S. president made clear that any peace deal would result in Israel maintaining its capital in at least part of Jerusalem. But he said nothing to preclude negotiations that would result in a Palestinian state that would also have its capital in some part of the city.
It is a Chanukah miracle. One of the leading American Jewish liberals actually read Trump's speech. He had to do it several times to actually allow himself to believe that it was a good speech, but as much as every fiber of his being wanted to hate it because of the person saying the words - he had to admit that the speech did not hurt peace. It simply accepted reality.

It is Yoffie's liberal friends who pretend to be outraged who are the ones hurting peace by attacking the speaker and not bothering themselves to look at what he said.
 He has taken a generally responsible approach to Jerusalem, and for this I give him the credit that he is due. 
While I disagree with Yoffie about pretty much everything, I also want to give credit where credit is due. For once, he has looked beyond his own echo chamber and thought for himself.

I would love to see Thomas Friedman and the other reflexive critics of Trump's declaration  try to answer this column. They won't, because they don't want to admit that they, too, make their opinions first and only look for facts that support their opinions afterwards..

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