Liz Truss, who has just announced her resignation as British prime minister, signaled recently that she had been considering moving her country’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, was among those who rejected the step. He said, “I can see no valid reason” for the move and that it “would be seriously damaging to any possibility of lasting peace … and to the international reputation of the United Kingdom.”
We strongly disagree and hope Truss’s successor will too.
Far from representing something untoward, relocating the U.K. embassy to Jerusalem would remedy a historical anomaly. It would also allow Britain to take the lead in promoting desperately needed progress in the Middle East. Britain would be modeling a principled approach based firmly in reality and making clear that the era of discriminatory treatment of the Jewish state must end.
Australia’s Oct. 18 decision to reverse its recognition even of “West Jerusalem” as Israel’s capital is a decided move backwards. Let us say what has been universally known for millennia: Few peoples have roots as deep in a city as the Jewish people do in Jerusalem, the very epicenter of their history, faith and collective life.
Historically, Jerusalem has only served as a national capital of Jewish polities. Jews have prayed three times daily in the direction of that city and only that city, repeating over centuries in exile the phrase, “Next year in Jerusalem.”
If Israelis do not have a legitimate claim to a capital in Jerusalem, they cannot have legitimate claims anywhere, and no country could be the Jews’ center of national life. To allege, as some do, that Israelis are “Judaizing Jerusalem” would be akin to saying Muslims are Islamicizing Mecca or Britons are Anglicizing London.
Indeed, it is only in Jerusalem that the State of Israel has maintained its capital since the country’s establishment, with virtually all its government institutions headquartered there. These include the president’s residence, the prime minister’s office, parliament and the Supreme Court. To ignore this simple truth is to ignore plain facts.
No less important than Jerusalem’s role as the administrative seat of Israel’s government is the remarkable record of the democratic Jewish state in protecting cultural diversity and religious freedom in the city. Sacred to Jews but also to Christians and Muslims, it is under Israel’s sovereignty—uniquely in the annals of the holy city—that Jerusalem has been a place where all communities are celebrated, their presence recognized and their fundamental rights respected.
In contrast to previous periods when Jews were barred from Jerusalem and their synagogues and cemeteries destroyed or desecrated, mosques and churches have flourished in Israel’s capital.
In fact, since Israel’s reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, it is the Jews’ own ability to pray that has been proscribed at the single holiest place in Judaism, the Temple Mount, where Israel has maintained Islamic religious administration.
In invoking the so-called “status quo” in Jerusalem, Cardinal Nichols does not seem bothered by limitations on Jewish religious practice there, even as he challenges the country that has preserved religious diversity in the city.
In fact, the Catholic Church itself unhelpfully broke with the status quo by signing a 2015 agreement with a not-yet-formed State of Palestine. It curiously included various issues related to Jerusalem in the agreement as well. This suggested support for Palestinian claims even to the Temple Mount, its Western Wall, the entire Jewish Quarter and the world’s most important Jewish cemetery, the Mount of Olives.
One wonders whether Cardinal Nichols objected to that step or to other countries’ endorsements of Palestinian positions in advance of a final and comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
Cardinal Nichols and too many other religious leaders have referenced United Nations resolutions on Israel as if they were gospel, but the U.N. is a body chiefly governed by politics, not ethics, and one decisively steered by the Palestinians’ allies in nearly 60 Muslim and Arab member states. Meanwhile, the gospels in which Cardinal Nichols believes testify to the profound Jewish roots in the holy city—roots intertwined with those of Christianity itself.
By seeing “no valid reason” to respect Israel’s capital as all other countries’ capitals are respected, leaders of moral influence perpetuate an age-old maltreatment of Jews and abet continuing hostility towards a Jewish minority presence in the Middle East. Seventy-five years ago, some employed the same logic of appeasing intolerance by counseling against recognizing Israel itself.
Rather than harming peace, relocating the British Embassy to Jerusalem would right a wrong, and represent a departure only from the failed, unprincipled policies of the past.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is the CEO and David J. Michaels is Director of U.N. and Intercommunal Affairs at B’nai B’rith International.