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Autonomy and Equal rights 

December 28 passed without much notice, but on the Jewish calendar, it was observed as a fast day–one of four–commemorating a significant aspect of the Babylonian occupation and destruction, in 586 BCE, of Judaea, the remaining Israelite national entity. In this case, on the 10 of Teveth, Nebuchadnezer surrounded and laid siege to Jerusalem. It took two and a half years, but eventually that siege would lead to the attack on the city and the destruction of the first Temple. With it would go Jewish sovereignty and autonomy for some 400 years, until the successful victory of the Hashmoneans from the Seluicid Greeks in 165 BCE. Alas, Jerusalem would not be a pure autonomous state for long. Soon, the Romans resumed a custodial rule until the Second Temple (which has been rebuilt in the Persian period of Ezra, in the 5th century) was also razed to the ground by Titus. Judaea's inhabitants exiled to other places in the Roman Empire or escaped into the western or northern Jewish communities, such as Yavneh, Lod, Tiberius, Caesaria, Tzefad, Tzipori and others. What that initial conquest meant for Jews, however, was a loss of sovereignty and national autonomy, which was not fully restored until 1948, when the international community gave sanction to the nation of Israel–the fulfillment of a national homeland, expressing a long-suppressed right to national self determination. The Jewish people once again, after two millennia, were given the equal rights of a people represented in a nation state. 

70 years after that momentous event in world history, the Trump administration recognized Israel's right to determine its own capital, representing yet another important milestone. This was a reckoning of the reality on the ground, as Israel's national infrastructure is all located in Jerusalem. The capital is located within the green line, an area that Israel captured in the defensive War of Independence, when five nations attacked her upon the UN announcement of its legitimacy. And it is located in an area that was a part of the partition plan of the Jewish State of 1947 by the United Nations. The western section of Jerusalem has been in Israel’s hands for seventy years. While the Partition Plan accepted by the Yishuv leadership–and rejected by the Arab leadership– included the concept of an internationally administrated Jerusalem, with all religious sites under neither Arab nor Israeli sovereignty. In view of the virulent efforts of terror and intimidation from 1948-1967, when the eastern quadrant was in Jordanian hands, this arrangement is ill-advised and counter to Israel’s security obligations to its inhabitants. Nor is it feasible that Judaism’s most sacred sites, the Western Wall and the Temple Mount be removed from from Israeli sovereignty, especially in view of the UN Security Council Resolution (sadly accepted without veto by the Obama administration). These were the very areas where Jordanians regularly took pot shots at the western side of Jerusalem, destroyed synagogues and used Jewish gravestones for a pathway to their Intercontinental Hotel. The notion that these precious holding be surrendered to a future State of Palestine after Israel’s sacrifice in a defensive war to capture them is frankly morally and religiously untenable to Israel. Israel is committed to the status quo–equal access to all religious worship in mosque and church in all of the walled city, and to religious autonomy in administering the sites, so long as such activities are not harmful or malevolent in nature.

 

In my mind, there are many issues we Jews might have with the current administration's policies on the domestic front and in international relations. We have an obligation, as good citizens and as practitioners of Jewish values, to challenge Mr. Trump and his policies. But in this area, I believe he is on solid ground. He did not foreclose negotiating some of Jerusalem as a foothold in a future Palestinian State. He did not endorse the end of Oslo's objective of a two state solution. In time, I believe that history will look kindly on this affirmation of the congressional intention to allow Israel the capitol of its choosing on its own sovereign territory. Mr. Trump did not take sides and become a dishonest broker, as many claim. He acknowledged the starting position of any Israeli realistic compromise, which is that Jewish Jerusalem and a section of the old quarter, on which the western wall stands, shall be in Israeli hands. (Contrary to Palestinian claims, "Eastern Jerusalem" was never exclusively Arab. It was only all Arab between 1948 and 1967, because in 1948 the Jordanians kicked out tens of thousands of Jewish residents from the Jewish quarter of the Old City). What he did do was proclaim to the Arab world that delusions that Jews are not indigenous to Jerusalem and the land of Israel in general, and seeking to spread such false narratives, will boomerang. In my humble opinion, our president acted on a bipartisan congressional bill, approved in 1995, that makes the point that the Jewish people have a right to their national sovereignty and at least an equal right to Jerusalem as their Capitol. 

It is interesting that we will also celebrate the life of a great advocate for equal rights and civil rights in January, the great African-American leader Martin Luther King Jr. You might be interested to know that unlike some recent leadership, he was fully behind the right of the Jewish people to the State of Israel. Here is some of what he said, courtesy of StandWithUs:

"Peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all our might to protect its right to exist, its territorial integrity. I see Israel as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security and that security must be a reality."  

“Israel's right to exist as a state in security is incontestable.” 

“When people criticize Zionists they mean Jews, you are talking anti-Semitism…” 

 King’s associates have attested to his sentiments:

“I can say with absolute certainty that Martin abhorred anti-Semitism in all its forms, including anti-Zionism.” 
—Clarence B. Jones, personal attorney and close adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. 

“Martin… warned repeatedly that anti-Semitism would soon be disguised as anti-Zionism.” 
—Clarence B. Jones, personal attorney and close adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. 

“[MLK] understood that a special relationship exists between African Americans and Jews… He knew that both peoples were uprooted involuntarily from their homelands. He knew that both peoples were shaped by the tragic experience of slavery. He knew that both peoples were forced to live in ghettoes, victims of segregation… He knew that both peoples were subject to laws passed with the particular intent of oppressing them simply because they were Jewish or black. He knew that both peoples have been subjected to oppression and genocide on a level unprecedented in history.”
—Rep. John Lewis, former civil rights leader who worked with Martin Luther King Jr.  

It is my hope that someday, the Jewish community and the African-American community will end their current confrontational state. There is no doubt that opportunities for cooperation exist on so many fronts. Rabbi AJ Heschel knew from his own personal experience that civil rights and equal rights for all is the trajectory of a civilized world. May we pursue it at home as well as insist on it by all of Israel's critics and enemies abroad. And may we celebrate the acknowledgment of Jerusalem as the ancestral and national home that it rightfully is. 

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