Once again, this week brings a myriad of issues that merit reflection and comment: the Russia scandal with increasing evidence of financial collusion; devastating wildfires in California; the simmering but slowly escalating tension on the Korean Peninsula; the expanding conversation about inappropriate workplace behavior and how to address past abuses while creating a future climate where everyone feels safe; a tax reform measure that may become law with virtually no Congressional hearings or public debate; the implications of a looming government shutdown.
Yet, of all the developments this week, the issue that embodies the most serious long-term consequences is the decision by President Trump to fulfill a campaign promise and declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel and move the US embassy there from its current location in Tel Aviv. This makes no sense, other than to appease the right wing and fundamentalist parts of the President’s base. Facing virtual unanimous condemnation on the world stage (even some opposition in Israel itself), the President even went against key advisers within his own administration, discounting the potential for violence in the short term and the decision’s lasting impact on the Israeli/Palestinian peace process. In the Middle East, symbolic actions carry great weight.
The US has sought (admittedly without much success) to be a neutral broker for Middle East peace. However, the President’s announcement was one-sided, including no mention of Palestinian claims to East Jerusalem or the kinship that Palestinians have for this sacred place. I find little connection in the President’s words with what I discovered on the ground. Having stayed there on more than one occasion, I can report first-hand that East Jerusalem boasts a vibrant, thriving and passionate population. To make a major announcement about the fate of the city without so much as acknowledging the aspirations of this community–including many Christians who trace their ancestry back through centuries–is short-sighted at best. It is yet another instance of playing into a myopic understanding of history that has become all-too-familiar in this administration’s positions and pronouncements–from Charlottesville to climate change.
The city of Jerusalem, spiritual home to Christians, Muslims and Jews alike, is a city divided. Many experts say that it is the most contentious issue in the entire Middle East conflict, and its future hinges first on successful negotiations on other issues (the right of return, governance in the West Bank, territorial claims). Why does Trump insist on poking a hornet’s nest at its most volatile point? In the past, I have argued against the President’s strategy for distraction to deflect attention from more troublesome concerns. With the Russia investigation drawing ever closer to the President’s inner circle, could the timing on this decision be one of those distracting techniques? Whatever the reason, this action by the President stokes the already smoldering flames of Middle East conflict and contains within it potentially grave international consequences.
The President’s proclamation to declare Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to immediately begin the process of moving the US embassy there demonstrates once again how the administration has put other interests first–campaign promises, corporate finances, personal loyalties—rendering what is best for America in a secondary position. Only this time, the implications for the whole world are more than a little unsettling.
Beyond the Comma News: this week marks important developments in promoting the sale and distribution of my book. First, we have created a Facebook page that will include periodic updates on future book signings and other events. I invite you to go there regularly, to like the page and share it among your networks and then, after reading the book, to post a review. Also, as a reminder–next Tuesday, December 12, at 1:00 p.m. ET, I will be featured in a webinar about the book sponsored by the Religion Communicators Council. Please tune in. You can find details as to how you can access the webinar here. Finally, a quick reminder that Beyond the Comma makes a great holiday gift. You can order a signed copy of the book from me for $20 (plus S&H) and you will get it by Christmas. Thanks, everyone, for your continuing support. B