In its struggle for international acceptance of its historic capital, Israel has a definitive champion in President Donald Trump. On Monday, the United States finally fulfilled a promise made by the U.S. Congress more than 20 years ago — as well as a personal pledge made by Trump throughout his campaign — and turned a consular office in Jerusalem into the U.S. Embassy.
The timing of the event — on the 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence, at least according to the Gregorian calendar, and one day after Yom Yerushalayim, the date on the Hebrew calendar marking Jerusalem’s reunification in 1967 — couldn’t have been more symbolic.
The celebration surrounding the grand opening was a study in hero worship, with speaker after speaker lauding Trump as the greatest friend Israel has ever known, comparing him to Winston Churchill and praising him as “God’s messenger.” That last description came by way of the Orthodox Union’s Mark Bane, indicative of the heavy-handed euphoria that has swept up conservatives in both the Jewish and evangelical Christian communities.
But Israel supporters across the political spectrum couldn’t help but be moved on the deepest of emotional levels to see the United States finally recognize what we’ve always known, that Jerusalem is as central to the Jewish people’s and Israel’s identities as Washington is to America’s. Rumor has it that the price for such presidential goodwill is just on the horizon — the abandonment of four Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem is reportedly one of the conditions Trump will extract from Israel as part of his Israeli-Palestinian peace plan — but even were that to be true, it would not negate the symbolic message that the embassy’s opening sent the world.
In acknowledging the historic moment, both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, far from political allies, made the Shehecheyanu blessing traditionally said in order to give thanks for a new or unusual experience. Yet even the realization of this historic dream cannot obscure how much more needs to be accomplished.
At the top of the list is achieving peace, an outcome that has been made all the more difficult with how Palestinians in Gaza chose to mark the embassy opening: In urging citizens to violently storm Israel’s border fence, Hamas leaders condemned dozens to death at the hands of Israeli military snipers. But there’s also the problem of expanding the international recognition of Jerusalem. At least as of now, it appears that only a few nations will follow the U.S. lead in relocating their embassies.
For all the jubilation attending the opening, one might have thought that nothing less than the Temple itself had been rebuilt. But it clearly hasn’t, despite the minting of an Israeli commemorative coin comparing Trump to the Persian King Cyrus, who allowed the construction of the Second Temple to proceed. Instead, as we rejoice, we need to remember that we still have a long way to go.