(JNS.org) The White House Monday disavowed reported comments that had stirred tension between Israeli and American officials a week ahead of President Donald Trump’s official visit to Israel.
Israel’s Channel 2 reported Monday that a senior White House official, who was in Israel in advance of the Trump visit, told his Israeli counterparts the Western Wall was part of the West Bank and not Israel. In a follow-up report Tuesday, Channel 2 identified the White House official as David Berns, political counselor at the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem.
"The Western Wall is not in your territory," the official reportedly said.
The exchange reportedly came as Israeli and American officials were discussing Trump’s planned stop at the Western Wall. No sitting U.S. president has ever visited the holy site.
According to Channel 2, the White House official told members of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s team that Trump’s visit to the Western Wall would be a private visit.
When asked by Netanyahu's team if the prime minister could join Trump at the Western Wall, the Trump official reportedly said, “No way, why is this your business?”
A senior Trump administration official later told the Times of Israel, “The comments about the Western Wall were not authorized communication and they do not represent the position of the United States and certainly not of the president.” Itay Hod of The Wrap, an entertainment news website, tweeted that White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer "tells me over email 'That is not the position of this Administration.'"
The Western Wall (also known as the Kotel), regarded as one of the holiest sites in Judaism, is the outer retaining wall of the Second Temple destroyed by the Romans in the 1st century A.D. Israel gained control over the Western Wall during the 1967 Six-Day War as it captured the eastern half of Jerusalem from Jordan. Despite the Kotel's significance to Judaism and Israel’s control over a united Jerusalem, the international community—including the U.S.—does not officially recognize the Western Wall as part of Israel.
Leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said they welcome the "prompt statement by the Trump administration" disavowing the reported comments, while noting that the incident "underscores the terrible damage caused by serial U.N. resolutions, including U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334, denying the more than 3,000 years of the Jewish connection to Israel and the holiest sites in the Jewish religion, which the Trump administration has said it will work to reverse."