Today marks precisely 215 days since Donald Trump raised his right hand and was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States.
One of his first acts in office was slated to be no less than a milestone event in modern Jewish history, a deed that his predecessors had the courage to promise but not to pursue.
So the arrival last night in Israel of his Middle East team – headed by senior adviser Jared Kushner, lead negotiator Jason Greenblatt and Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell – seems like an apt occasion to pose a very simple yet straightforward question: When will the US at last move its embassy to Israel’s capital, Jerusalem? Like many Americans, I voted for Trump, cheered his victory over Hillary Clinton and celebrated the Republicans gaining control over both the legislative and executive branches of the federal government. In particular, I relished the president-elect’s warm embrace of the Jewish state, which was in marked contrast to that of the previous occupant of the White House.
His electrifying speech at the March 2016 AIPAC conference seemed to leave no room for doubt about his intentions, which were conveyed in clear and refreshingly unambiguous language.
“I didn’t come here tonight to pander to you about Israel. That’s what politicians do: all talk, no action.
Believe me,” he said at the opening of his remarks, “when I become president, the days of treating Israel like a second-class citizen will end on day one,” Trump added, vowing that “we will move the American Embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.”
Indeed, after Trump’s triumph, speculation mounted that, during his first moments in the Oval Office, he would sign an executive order to move the official US legation to the holy city. But the day came and went, and the decision was postponed.
Subsequently in February, just three weeks after the beginning of Trump’s presidency, Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, revealed in an interview with Politico that “I think at one point they were ready to move the embassy at 12:01 on January 20,” the day the president took office. But seemingly at the last minute, the administration pulled back.
Then in May, when Trump made a historic visit to Jerusalem by being the first sitting US president to visit the Western Wall, hopes were again raised that he would be inspired to keep his promise.
Those hopes were frustrated when, on June 1, he signed a presidential waiver delaying implementation of the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act mandating that the embassy be moved.
Nevertheless, despite invoking the waiver, the administration made clear that the move would eventually take place. In a statement issued to reporters, the White House declared: “As [Trump] has repeatedly stated, his intention is to move the embassy. The question is not if that move happens, but only when.”
The time for that “when” should be now. Following the recent riots on the Temple Mount and the attempt by the Palestinians to reassert their dubious claims to Jerusalem at various international forums, it is more important than ever that Washington take a firm stand and recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Politically, moving the US Embassy would be a bold and unifying stroke, one that would draw widespread approval from American Jews, evangelical Christians, and conservative Republicans, and even from many Democrats.
In addition, it would underline the fact that the president is a man of his word and mark a significant break from the weakness and dithering of the Obama years.
More than 2,500 years ago, the Persian King Cyrus the Great, founder of the Achaemenid Empire, conquered Babylon and proceeded to make history by permitting the Jews to return to Jerusalem from exile and rebuild the Temple.
His actions were so momentous that in the book of Isaiah (45:1), God refers to Cyrus as “His anointed one,” and the entire first chapter of the biblical book of Ezra is dedicated to highlighting Cyrus’s decree.
Indeed, twice in the opening verses, Cyrus is quoted as referring to “Jerusalem, which is in Judah,” as if to stress that the most powerful man in the world at the time was recognizing to whom the city truly belonged. Even now, thousands of years later, the Persian king is still held in high regard in the annals of the Jewish people.
With a stroke of his pen, Trump can add his name to the pantheon of Jewish heroes by conferring US recognition upon Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state and moving its embassy accordingly.
The US Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act on October 23, 1995, which required its relocation by 1999. Every president since then has used the waiver contained in the law to forestall its implementation.
Here’s hoping that in two months’ time, on the anniversary of the law’s passage, Trump will follow Cyrus the Great’s example and recognize Jerusalem, thereby adding his name to a turning point in Jewish history that would be remembered until the end of days.