Jerusalem: The Eternal City of Jewish Longing

Dec. 18 2017

In a 2016 speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), then-candidate Donald Trump stated his intention to “move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.” Eric Cohen, looking beyond recent policy debates, examines the meaning of the phrase “eternal capital” itself, and the ways in which Jerusalem has represented the aspirations of Jews both ancient and modern, both religious and secular:

We should have respect for the capital cities of the world, in nations large and small. Yet we would describe very few of them as “eternal.” Ottawa, Amsterdam, Caracas—most modern capitals cannot carry the civilizational weight of such a phrase. But Jerusalem is no ordinary capital. It is a political center with theological significance. . . .

For two millennia, the Jewish people were in exile. Jerusalem remained a real place—often a bloody crossroads of God, war, and politics—but it was also a dream in the Jewish mind, sustained across the generations through prayer: “Next year in Jerusalem!” . . .

The mystery and pain of Jewish history should keep us theologically modest in claiming to know God’s will or to understand the full meaning of the Jewish journey through time. But we can say this: the resurrection of Jerusalem—after centuries of wandering and after the near-death experience of the Holocaust—eludes simple rational explanation. It so defies the odds that one might understandably believe that the divine dealer knew the cards all along, even if we can never fully grasp the rules of God’s providential game.

To say that Jerusalem is the “eternal capital” of the Jews is not merely to say that it is, in this temporal world, always and forever the Jewish capital city. It is to stake a larger claim: Jerusalem is where the Jew most directly experiences eternity. In walking where the biblical ancestors walked, in praying where the ancient Israelites prayed, in governing where they governed—the Jew in a sense leaves time itself. He transcends history. Abraham and his descendants stand equidistant together before the eternal. Then becomes now, now becomes then, and the eternal mystery of God’s election of the Jewish people is experienced in the flesh.

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More about: AIPAC, Israel & Zionism, Jerusalem, Jewish history, Judaism

Mahmoud Abbas Comes to the UN to Walk away from the Negotiating Table

Feb. 22 2018

On Tuesday, the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, addressed the United Nations Security Council during one of its regular discussions of the “Palestine question.” He used the opportunity to elaborate on the Palestinians’ “5,000-year history” in the land of Israel, after which he moved on to demand—among other things—that the U.S. reverse its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The editors of the Weekly Standard comment:

It’s convenient for Abbas to suggest a condition to which he knows the United States won’t accede. It allows him to do what he does best—walk away from the table. Which is what he did on Tuesday, literally. After his speech, Abbas and his coterie of bureaucrats walked out of the council chamber, snubbing the next two speakers, the Israeli ambassador Danny Danon and the U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley, . . . [in order to have his] photograph taken with the Belgian foreign minister.

Abbas has neither the power nor the will to make peace. It’s the perennial problem afflicting Palestinian leadership. If he compromises on the alleged “right of return”—the chimerical idea that Palestinians can re-occupy the lands from which they [or their ancestors] fled, in effect obliterating the Israeli state—he will be deposed by political adversaries. Thus his contradictory strategy: to prolong his pageantry in international forums such as the UN, and to fashion himself a “moderate” even as he finances and incites terror. He seems to believe time is on his side. But it’s not. He’s eighty-two. While he continues his performative intransigence, he further immiserates the people he claims to represent.

In a sense, it was entirely appropriate that Abbas walked out. In that sullen act, he [exemplified] his own approach to peacemaking: when difficulties arise, vacate the premises and seek out photographers.

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More about: Mahmoud Abbas, Nikki Haley, Politics & Current Affairs, United Nations