(May 14, 2018 / Embassy of Israel in Washington, D.C.) On Dec. 6, 2017, U.S. President Donald J. Trump did what the 12 previous American presidents who had been in office since Israel’s independence in 1948 had not done. He recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
To understand the significance of the decision, one must understand what Jerusalem means for the Jewish people.
For more than 3,000 years, Jerusalem has been at the center of our national and religious life. Our patriarch, Abraham, passed his hardest test of faith on a mountain in Jerusalem and our greatest king, David, danced before the ark and founded his capital in Jerusalem.
The prophet Isaiah defied the army of an empire atop the walls of Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah lamented a destruction and foresaw a return in Jerusalem. In the second century BCE, the Maccabees sanctified the defiled Temple and restored our sovereignty in Jerusalem, and in the first century C.E., the Jewish people fought and lost a war of independence against mighty Rome in Jerusalem.
Despite that devastating loss, despite nearly 2,000 years of wandering and unimaginable suffering, Jews across the world faced Jerusalem three times a day and prayed to rebuild the city as in the days of old. Under wedding canopies and in houses of mourning, we remembered Jerusalem, never losing hope that the dream of “Next Year in Jerusalem!” would finally come true.
David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, knew this history well when he moved his office to Jerusalem in 1949. “For the State of Israel,” he said, “there has always been and always will be one capital only: Jerusalem the Eternal. Thus, it was 3,000 years ago—and thus it will be, we believe, until the end of time.”
In June 1967, following the Six-Day War, Jerusalem was reunited under Israel’s sovereignty, and Israel’s policy of protecting the holy sites of all faiths was extended throughout the unified city.
But it would be a full half-century before Trump became the first world leader to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Speaking of this momentous event in his first meeting in the Oval Office after Trump’s decision, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke of its significance to both the Jewish people and the Jewish state: “[The Jewish people] remember the proclamation of the great King Cyrus the Great—Persian King. 2,500 years ago, he proclaimed that the Jewish exiles in Babylon can come back and rebuild our temple in Jerusalem. We remember [that] 100 years ago Lord Balfour issued the Balfour Proclamation that recognized the rights of the Jewish people in our ancestral homeland. We remember [that] 70 years ago President Harry S. Truman was the first leader to recognize the Jewish state. And we remember how a few weeks ago, President Donald J. Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”
As president, Donald Trump has certainly been a great friend of Israel. Among other things, he has deepened security and intelligence cooperation between America and Israel, backed Israel unabashedly at the United Nations, and confronted a dangerous Iranian regime that calls and works for Israel’s annihilation.
But it is his bold decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. Embassy there that has earned him a unique and honored place alongside Truman in history.