Embassy Move Threatens Religious Freedom, Lasting Peace

Embassy Move Threatens Religious Freedom, Lasting Peace

May 18, 2018

"Jerusalem must remain a city that brings people of all faiths together." Those were the anchoring words of Jared Kushner's speech this week in Jerusalem, where the United States took the unprecedented step of relocating its embassy to Israel. He followed that phrase with an equally remarkable sentence (which the White House has since excised): "those provoking violence are part of the problem and not part of the solution." Kushner made both broad proclamations without a hint of irony. In truth, the very action that he was in Jerusalem promoting, the relocating of the embassy and thus the United States’ official recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, represents the ultimate violation of religious freedom and a real provocation of violence.

President Trump has consistently stated that resolving the conflict is a top priority for his administration while ignoring continued warnings that moving the US embassy would dramatically undermine that goal. Indeed, when the White House first announced the move in December, Palestinian leaders considered the announcement a betrayal of trust and good faith. They have refused to participate in the peace process since.

Given that context, it was no surprise that over 40,000 Palestinians gathered to protest at the Gaza border, making it all the more tragic when Israeli forces indiscriminately opened fire, killing over 60 people and injuring thousands. Trump officials are either willfully lying when they feign shock over the Israeli-executed violence, or hopelessly naive and unaware. Neither bodes well for our involvement in the region.

The ceremony itself was full of striking and disturbing contradictions. In a bizarre move, the Trump administration decided to prominently feature two evangelical faith leaders with documented histories of attacking people of other faiths. Pastor Robert Jeffress is known for his attacks on Mormons, Muslims, and ironically, Jews, claiming that association with those faiths leads to Hell. Reverend John C. Hagee, who is a televangelist and leads a megachurch in California, has said that Hitler and the Holocaust were part of God’s plan to return Jews to Israel and that Muslims want to come to the US because they have “a scriptural mandate to kill Christians and Jews.”

Both faith leaders also promote a specific brand of theology, often referred to as Christian Zionism, that supports a Jewish state not out of any deference for the people of Israel but because it fulfills what they perceive as biblical prophecy heralding the second coming of Christ. That such individuals are playing an integral role in our foreign policy should concern anyone who holds religious freedom and the separation of church and state sacrosanct, or even those who claim that fighting religious extremism is a priority for both Israel and the United States. Former Governor and Republican candidate for president, Mitt Romney, condemned Jeffress in particular as a “religious bigot.”

In general, many have criticized the Trump administration’s decision to relocate the embassy. Similarly, a chorus of voices including former US intelligence officials, Jewish Americans, journalists, entertainers, and nearly every major civil and human rights organization in the US has condemned the Israeli violence perpetrated on Palestinian protesters.

MPAC similarly condemned these egregious actions and loss of life. Meanwhile, the US has blocked the UN Security Council from investigating Israel’s massacre of Palestinians in Gaza, drawing international outcry.

Opposition toward a one-sided approach to Israel and Palestine has steadily increased over the past months and years in the US. The Democratic Party, which had no representation at Monday’s ceremony (but whose Senate leader Sen. Chuck Schumer did endorse the action), has seen a particular shift in support on the issue.

While the developments of this past week have resulted in horrific violence at the hands of Israel, and while the prospect of lasting peace may now seem more distant than ever, the growing chorus of voices who refuse to let these transgressions continue unchallenged does provide some hope for our future. For the sake of our core American values of religious freedom and civil liberties, we cannot allow this administration to continue carrying out policies that callously subjugate marginalized communities here at home, in Palestine, and across the world.



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