Many years ago, I gave a Rosh Hashana sermon on the subject of Jerusalem. One of the points that I made was how unbelievable it is that our State Department would not use the term: Jerusalem, Israel. I referred to a page of locations for consular offices which did not list the consulate on Agron Street in the middle of West Jerusalem as being in a specific country as all others were identified. Rather, this consulate was listed as being in Jerusalem. Just Jersualem. Not, Jerusalem, Israel.
It was inconceivable to me at the time and I have to confess that even now, it strikes me as inconceivable. Anyone who has spent any time in Jerusalem at all would clearly identify the Western Part of the City as being in the State of Israel as it has been since Israel’s founding in 1948. The Knesset is there. The Supreme Court is there. The entire workings of the Israeli government are found in Jerusalem. How could it not be considered as part of Israel?
So, from that perspective, it is easy to be disappointed in the Supreme Court ruling yesterday that prohibits people born in Jerusalem from having “Israel” identified as the place of their birth on their passports. A law passed during the more recent Bush administration allowed such designation. While President Bush signed the law because it was part of a larger appropriations bill, he refused to enact it. The family of a child born in Jerusalem after the law was passed challenged this refusal. President Obama has, as every president before him, refused to specifically identify Jerusalem as part of Israel and the majority of the Supreme Court sided with the President on procedural grounds and also because of the complexity of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people on the status of the city.
Yes, it is easy to be disappointed in the fact that someone born in Jerusalem could not list Israel as their place of birth and it is unfortunate that the consulate is still not listed as being in Israel.
But, honestly and dispassionately for a moment, I completely understand why the Supreme Court made its decision and I think at this moment, sadly, it is the correct decision to make.
The ultimate status of Jerusalem will remain in question until an agreement is reached on the status of the city as part of a comprehensive peace settlement. I believe that that should be no question at all conceding Israel’s authority or control over the parts of the city which have been part of the state since 1948 and from my perspective, the Kotel as well. But, the rest of the city, especially those sections whose population is predominantly or almost exclusively Palestinian should be the issue of serious negotiation and compromise within the structure of a peace agreement.
The attempt by Jews to settle in Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and around the old city is deeply troubling. Evictions of Palestinians from homes they have held for generations in favor of Jewish settlers is a despicable occurrence. Attempts to solidify a Jewish presence in some neighborhoods for the purpose of establishing a foothold in those neighborhoods are wrong. Yes, a Jew- or a Palestinian- should be able to live wherever they want to live. But, in the context of the situation today, it is wrong to try to force this issue and to deny the character of neighborhoods or attempt to force Palestinian residents out in order to bring Jews in.
Our connection as a people to the city of Jerusalem is precious. References to Jerusalem and our love for her are found throughout the Bible, the Talmud, the Siddur, poetry and music. Establishing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 1948 was the culmination of a dream to return to the city and the impact of the return to the Old City and the Kotel in 1967 for our people can not be understated.
But, it is shortsighted for us to think that Jerusalem is not still an issue. It is an issue and will remain so until the conflict is settled. God willing that day will come and when it does, if it takes more than one day for the US government to recognize Israeli authority over at least part of the city of Jerusalem, it would be too long. But, for now, I believe, somewhat regretfully on an emotional level, but unquestionably on a practical and pragmatic level, that the Supreme Court decision was correct. Now is not the time to change a 67 year old US government policy. That would be wrong.
God willing, the day will come when our nation will not find it difficult to say that the consulate on Agron Street is located in words which seem so natural to us in Jerusalem, Israel.