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columnUS-Israel Relations

A particularly happy anniversary

One year ago, U.S. President Donald Trump, the new sheriff in town, conveyed a loud and clear message that a seismic shift had hit the Middle East. Enemies of freedom and democracy be damned.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the official opening ceremony of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018. Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the official opening ceremony of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018. Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum is a Tel Aviv-based columnist and commentator. She writes and lectures on Israeli politics and culture, as well as on U.S.-Israel relations. The winner of the Louis Rappaport award for excellence in commentary, she is the author of the book "To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the 'Arab Spring.'”

One year ago today, on May 14, 2018, the United States officially transferred its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Although the move could be viewed as merely the fulfillment of the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, which also recognized Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel, it was received by supporters and opponents alike with amazement.

In the first place, three previous administrations—those of U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama—had opted to invoke and repeatedly renew the law’s six-month waiver of application on “national security” grounds.

In June 2017, a few months after he assumed office, U.S. President Donald Trump also signed a six-month waiver, which he renewed after recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December. In February 2018, however, he announced that the embassy, finally, would be moved.

That he kept this promise was shocking in and of itself, particularly to Israelis, who had grown accustomed to eight long years of a hostile Obama White House.

Secondly, the timing of the embassy inauguration ceremony, which coincided with Israel’s 70th birthday, was of great significance. It was the Trump administration’s way of illustrating its unapologetic pro-Israel stance.

Third, the event was unique in the sense that it was undertaken without fear of world warnings about constituting an “obstacle to peace” or of threats of violence from the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and Hamas in Gaza. Trump, the new sheriff in town, was conveying a loud and clear message that a seismic shift had hit the Middle East. Enemies of freedom and democracy be damned.

As the United States and Israel came together to celebrate the joyous occasion of mutual appreciation and admiration, the normally warring Palestinian factions united to denounce Trump and Israel, while commemorating “Nakba Day,” the anniversary of the “catastrophe” of Israel’s establishment in 1948, inaugurated in 1998 by arch-terrorist and PLO chief Yasser Arafat.

Every year since then, while Israelis celebrate the birth of their state and sing “Hatikvah,” a national anthem of hope, Palestinians hurl bricks and fire bombs to the beat of chants about killing Jews. Last year was no exception, with Palestinians continuing to storm the Gaza border fence to attack Israeli soldiers and civilians on the other side.

Which brings us to the fourth reason that the embassy move was so extraordinary.

Despite assertions on the part of detractors in Israel and abroad that Trump was making a big mistake in “provoking the poor Palestinians, striving for a state of their own with Jerusalem as its capital,” nothing out of the ordinary happened. The Palestinians continued to engage in rioting, rock-throwing, stabbing and shooting. Business as usual.

Also, in spite of customary international outcry—from the United Nations, a number of Muslim-majority states and left-wing American Jews—no “dire consequences” ensued.

In fact, as soon as the name plaque on the new embassy building in the Arnona neighborhood of Jerusalem was unveiled, Guatemala followed suit, and other countries, such as Paraguay, Brazil, Romania and Honduras, promptly expressed their intention to move their diplomatic missions as well.

Furthermore, as U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman wrote in Israel Hayom on Sunday, “Contrary to all the negative predictions, the Jerusalem embassy has been an extraordinary success, advancing peaceful coexistence, bilateral cooperation and cultural exchange between and among Israelis, Palestinians and Americans. …  [T]he United States Embassy in Jerusalem stands for the truth—the bedrock of all successful policies. Moving our embassy places the United States firmly on the right side of history.”

This is not to say that the United States anticipates no fallout this week. After all, being on the “right side of history” means preparing for the wrath of those on the wrong side.

This is why the U.S. embassy issued a “security alert” to American citizens currently residing in or visiting Israel, which reads, in part: “Terrorist groups may choose the anniversary [of the Jerusalem embassy opening], which coincides with the Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv (May 14-18), or Nakba Day (May 15), to conduct violent protests or an attack. Security incidents can occur well beyond Gaza and its periphery and at any time, as demonstrated by the May 3-5 rocket attacks in southern Israel, including Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Be’er Sheva, and the March 14 and March 25 rocket attacks in Central Israel. As security incidents, including rocket fire, often take place without warning, U.S. citizens are strongly encouraged to remain vigilant and take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness. In the event of mortar and/or rocket fire, a Red Alert siren may be activated. Treat all such alerts as real; follow the instructions from local authorities and seek shelter immediately … ”

In other words, when in Israel, do as the Israelis do. You know, because Palestinian terrorists don’t need an excuse, other than the existence of the Jewish state, to spill the blood of innocent people.

This is what the Trump administration, unlike its predecessors, genuinely grasps, which is why it did not allow itself to be bullied out of making the historic move in the first place. Today thus marks a particularly happy anniversary.

Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ” 

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