Jerusalem has been Israel’s capital for three thousand years, since the days when King David moved the seat of his realm to the mountain fortress of the Jebusites, as narrated in the Second Book of Samuel, chapter 5. Since then, the Judahites or Jews, as they came to be known, have had no other capital. Jerusalem boasted a royal temple that was the symbol of national unity, a sacred center devoted to a national deity that Jews, Christian, and Islamic traditions proclaim as God Almighty. It is this rise of a national deity to God Almighty that transformed Jerusalem from a remote mountain fortress into the holy city it is today: a center of worship for the three great Abrahamic traditions.
These facts are well known. Religious communities have coexisted in Jerusalem for millennia. Under generations of Muslim caliphs and sultans, Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived and worshiped cheek to jowl. Agreeing to disagree on the right path to eternal redemption, they both rebuked and acknowledged one another as “people of the book,” readers of revealed holy scriptures that taught them that the real Jerusalem was “above” rather than below.
Until May 14, 2018, when the United States government (though not congress, which had long demanded that the US embassy be moved to Jerusalem) caved to the pressure of a certain kind of strong reading of the Holy Scriptures and imposed an apocalyptic, end-time thinking on US foreign policy. With the move of the embassy to Jerusalem, American Evangelicals, allying themselves with the national-religious coalition in Israeli politics, have taken over US foreign policy. Until now, religion and state had been separate in the United States. Foreign policy was governed by collective self-interest and statecraft. In their place, we now see grand gestures abroad that appeal to a narrow base at home. All because of a foolish campaign promise that should not have been made, and that should have been broken, unless it was accompanied by a comprehensive plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Instead, Palestinian moderates are ignored and discouraged, while the radicals are empowered.
“The end” should always come only at the end, after all preliminary matters have been settled. Moreover, it should be God’s prerogative to bring about “the end” envisaged by the biblical apocalyptists. Moving the embassy did not hasten redemption. It will not bring about Middle East peace. The move ignores the human side of redemption. It is a careless, heartless, self-congratulatory act that trivializes Palestinian suffering and ignores the values of justice and peace. It does not even serve American interests abroad. It is a poke in the eye of those who seek peace, reconciliation, and co-existence.
No, I don’t believe that God Almighty was happy when he saw what happened yesterday, even though the national god of the Jews might have rejoiced. For Jews, this is a time to choose: between the god of Jewish nationalism and the god of the biblical prophets.