The Longstanding American Appreciation of Jerusalem’s Uniqueness

Dec. 28 2017

Reflecting on the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Meir Soloveichik recalls another American politician’s visit to the city:

[T]he enduring connection of Jews and their city is something many Americans have understood, and they have revered the Jewish link to Jerusalem long before the modern Jewish state was born. In 1871, William Seward, Abraham Lincoln’s former secretary of state, journeyed on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. As his travelogue recounts, “our last day [in] Jerusalem has been spent, as it ought to have been, among and with the Jews, who were the builders and founders of the city, and who cling the closer to it for its disasters and desolation.”

Seward spent several hours on a Friday afternoon at the Wailing Wall, admiringly observing the Jews who were “pouring out their lamentations over the fall of their beloved city, and praying for its restoration to the Lord, who promised, in giving its name, that He would ‘be there.’” Upon departing at sunset, he encountered a rabbi who begged him to attend kabbalat Shabbat, Sabbath evening prayers, at the Hurva synagogue—then the most magnificent Jewish house of worship in the Holy Land. (It was destroyed by the Jordanians in 1948 and just recently rebuilt.)

Seward sat through the entire service, which concluded with a special Hebrew benediction. “The rabbi informed us,” the travelogue reports, “that it was a prayer of gratitude for Mr. Seward’s visit to the Jews at Jerusalem.” This was nothing less than what Jewish law calls hakkarat ha-tov—an expression of Jewish gratitude to any world leader who publicly embraces the Jews’ link to their eternal city.

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More about: History & Ideas, Jerusalem, U.S. Foreign policy, US-Israel relations

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East