When Donald Trump pledged to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, I was sceptical. Too many presidents had given then broken their word; Trump, before he ran for the White House, was lukewarm on Israel.
When President Trump issued a proclamation recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, I was still sceptical. Why would Trump the America-Firster deliver a neoconservative’s dream?
Well, aren’t I just Wrongy McWrongface, Mayor of Wrongtown?
Today, Benjamin Netanyahu spoke before an ebullient crowd at the dedication ceremony for the new US embassy in Jerusalem, Israel. ‘Jerusalem, Israel’. That’s how they referred to it throughout. No more mush about an ‘international city’. We are living in nationalist times and cities must have walls and the Israelis got there first. US ambassador David Friedman was first to use the phrase and the room erupted. A standing ovation for a comma. It doesn’t get much better than that.
The ceremony itself was a slightly schizophrenic festival of the solemn and the tacky. A musical accompaniment opened proceedings with Hallelujah. Not a songful rendition of Psalm 150 but the Leonard Cohen hit, as covered by Jeff Buckley and played on loop by maudlin teenagers and entry-level guitar students the world over. The event closed, bizarrely, with Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu, anthem of the tambourine-banging Left. It’s the kind of playlist you get if you YouTube ‘Israel songs’ and let autoplay be your guide. The only thing missing was Netta Barzilai doing her chicken wing thing.
Sober benedictions and tributes to Holocaust survivors anchored the speeches briefly but the audience, dotted with scarlet MAGA hats, was too drunk on the moment. They applauded Trump’s name raucously and UN ambassador Nikki Haley’s too. They whooped for David Friedman, who was happy the embassy had been moved to Jerusalem; John Bolton, who thinks the embassy should have been moved to Jerusalem years ago; and Pastor John Hagee, who thinks the embassy should be moved to Hebron. Ivanka was there to unveil the seal and, Baruch Hashem, someone had talked Daddy out of Mar-a-Lago branding.
Yes, I’m bitter because I was wrong. Trump kept his promise. He upheld US law and did right by Israel. Hillary wouldn’t have moved the embassy. (The less Hillary has to do with embassies, the lower the body count.) Still, a note of caution: Both Trump, who appeared via video link, and Jared Kushner, who was there in person, stressed the maintenance of the status quo on ‘the Temple Mount, also known as Haram al-Sharif’. Fair enough; Israel wants the status quo too but the consistent qualification of the Temple Mount with its Arabic name, the Noble Sanctuary, was noticeable. As were the paeans to the President’s beneficence to Israel. Trump had done great things for them, whereof they ought to be glad. The underlying message: You owe us. When and however Trump decides to call in that favour, it will be near impossible for Netanyahu to say no.
Enough churlishness, though. For Never-Trump Zionists like me, this was an awkward day. The Democrats and the respectable Republicans that we put our faith in mouthed the promises and sang the songs but on the status of Jerusalem, the embassy, the Iran deal, cutting funding to UNRWA, and defending Israel at Turtle Bay, Trump has supported the Jewish state in words and deeds. There is still plenty of time for him to live down to my expectations. Perhaps he will bounce Israel into a terrible compromise. Perhaps he won’t try to bounce it at all, and let Netanyahu’s moral torpor drift on for a few years more, depriving Israel of peace, security and borders.
Seventy years ago today, David Ben-Gurion declared Israel’s independence and 11 minutes later Harry Truman made the US the first country in the world to recognise what David Friedman correctly terms ‘the reborn state of Israel’. At its heart is Jerusalem — of gold and iron, of secular and sacred, of Israel ancient and modern. Donald Trump forgot not Jerusalem. It might make my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth to say it but, on Israel and Israel alone, I am glad he is president.