Pres. Donald Trump has officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – a move that has drawn applause from some quarters and criticism from others in Coweta County and around the world.
Trump made his announcement on Dec. 6. According to the Associated Press, Trump insisted that after repeated peace failures it was past time for a new approach, starting with what he said was his decision – merely based on reality – to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel's government.
He also said the United States would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, though he set no timetable. "We cannot solve our problems by making the same failed assumptions and repeating the same failed strategies of the past," Trump said.
Newnan attorney Mike Kam and photographer Bob Shapiro, both Jewish, shared their thoughts on the announcement.
Kam approved the president’s actions, but said the situation is complicated.
“I question his motives, but I think it was the right thing to do,” Kam said.
He noted Congress approved recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 1995, an action that has been delayed by presidents since that time. “For self-determination, I think he’s got that right,” Kam said.
Kam and his family spent a week and a half in Jerusalem for his son’s bar mitzvah. Their guide had fought in the Six-Day War and “gave us a lot of insights,” Kam said.
“It was a religious experience for us,” Kam said.
However, he observed there are deep divisions in Israeli society. A week after the Kams’ visit, a group of female rabbis were stoned when they tried to visit the Wailing Wall.
Kam noted Israel is a democracy with Jews, Christians, Muslims and other religious groups among its citizens.
Some of the criticism of Trump has grown from concerns that his actions will impact U.S. relations with allies such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
“I don’t know that anybody is going to be able to negotiate peace there,” Kam said. “Certainly, the United States is not ‘big brother’ and doesn’t need to be.”
Shapiro offered a different view.
“While the president’s move is being applauded by Netanyahu and the Christian right in the U.S., most Jews look at with the feeling of impending doom,” he said.
He characterized Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, as “a right-wing nationalist who has continually increased Israeli population of the West Bank, eliciting most of the subsequent unrest.”
Shapiro cited the United States’ role for decades as a leader in working for peace in the Middle East. That role required “walking the fine line between the two sides,” he said. “We now have given up that position and will never again be thought of as a peacemaker by the Palestinians. … We have given the Palestinians an even bigger excuse to hate us, along with the Israelis.”
Other Newnan Times-Herald readers had a range of responses. Many who approve cited Christian religious beliefs.
“I am perfectly fine with it. This is one step closer to the fulfillment of the prophecies written in the Bible, and thus the return of Christ,” said Courtney Daisey of Senoia.
“It's a step closer to fulfilling Bible prophecy. Jerusalem is a major key to prophetic events,” echoed Kristina Carter, who identified herself as an Independent Baptist.
Bobby Tarleton of Newnan noted the roots of the conflict go back to early biblical times.
“It continues today, religiously, for the same perceived core values, as it has for thousands of years,” he said. “Muslims claim roots back to Abraham, but as for Jerusalem, Jews were there first, as Judaism substantially predates both Christianity and Islam.”
“What's going on in Israel is exactly why we need to keep religion out of politics,” said Anmar Gassan Ahmed Al-Jamali of Tyrone. “You have people supporting decisions that can actually materialize and affect others, based off of nothing but their own personal faith. It's nothing more than ‘my God is real and yours isn't.’”
Others saw the issue in more political terms.
“It’s been the talk of presidents since Truman. Everyone said they were in favor of naming Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Trump is the first President to deliver on the promise,” said Newnanite Rick Melville.
“It was the right thing to do, and it was promised many years ago,” said Virginia Whitton.
“It was a long time coming – and a promise finally made good on,” said Phyllis Baggett.
“This is a bad move for at least two reasons,” Sarah Robbins said. “First, he is giving away a bargaining chip with nothing in return. Second, he is stirring up hatred and possible retaliation amongst Palestinians. Not to mention the fact that Jerusalem is a holy city to Muslims as well.”
“It’s not his place to do it. I think he just added fuel to the fire,” Elizabeth Nouryeh said.
Several readers noted Israel has viewed Jerusalem as its capital for decades.
“It doesn’t matter if he recognizes Jerusalem as the capital or not. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel – like it or not,” Scott Cohen said.
“Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” Richard Zollman of Grantville stated, “regardless of what anyone thinks or believes.”
Former Newnan resident Joyce Shank, who now lives in Molena, applauded Trump.
“Obama almost severed our relationship with Israel. Glad Trump stood up for Israel. We need Israel – they are our best ally,” she said.
Others questioned the military implications of Trump’s actions. Chris Ivey of Newnan surmised previous presidents did not recognize Jerusalem as the capital “because they knew it would spark a religious war that nobody wants, except for Trump and his supporters apparently.”
“I think we just made more enemies in the Middle East. Not sure how this helps ‘America First’ or our global reputation,” Jerry Jailor Schutjer said.
“I am not sure that it is any of our business what the capital of another country is,” Barbara Mealer said. “We need to fix our own country.”
Raymond Grote took a nuanced approach.
“As for Trump’s decision, it falls in line with his basic negotiation tactics and limited understanding, but it may work,” he said.
Grote said Trump tends to act “as the aggressor against whoever he views as the weakest party, because all he wants to do is win. … In this case, the Palestinians are the weaker party, and the fire he’s lighting is recognizing, very non-specifically, that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.”
Grote said previous presidents did not take this action preferring “stability and relatively minimal loss of life.” He added, “I hope it works, and it very well might. If it does, he wins the Nobel Peace prize. If it doesn’t, we get war in the Holy Land.”
“I believe the United States should stay out of this conflict between Israel and Palestine and keep the embassy where it currently is. Neutrality while they work towards a two state solution and peace is a more prudent course of action,” Karen Ronfeldt said.
“The only thing Trump is doing is putting a bullseye on Americans. He’s just pouring fuel on a fire,” said Curtis Caswell of Newnan.
Grantville City Councilman Mark King suggested the Jerusalem decision – and the subsequent reaction – may have been calculated to take the spotlight of the probe of the Trump campaign’s ties with Russia.
“While I actually support this action, I also believe it has to do with getting the focus off the current investigations,” King said.
Israel is “entitled to self determination,” Kam said. “Every country should follow what Israel wants” with regard to its capital and the location of embassies.
Shapiro reflected on the viewpoint that designating Jerusalem the capital is the will of God.
“I think God would be happier to see peace,” he said, “and not more violence.”