For the past two weeks, my friends have been asking me the same question, recurrently, and sometimes reluctantly: “So, Sophie, how do you feel about this Jerusalem thing?” And by “this Jerusalem thing,” they of course mean President Donald Trump’s assertion that he will be moving the United States Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, thereby recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
When my friends ask me about this, they’re usually expecting me to revere the act, for as the token Zionist in my friend groups, why would I criticize something seemingly so beneficial to Israel? What a lot of my friends don’t understand, however, is that criticism and debate over Israel can be Zionist. To be a Zionist, one does not have to blindly support every US foreign policy decision that would appear to be in Israel’s favor. Rather, a Zionist approach can be to question and criticize these decisions. Contesting policies regarding Israel is inherently Zionist, for Zionism was built on arguments and challenges. Having the ability to criticize Israel is one of the most incredible achievements of Zionism, because it means that Israel is just as imperfect as every other country in the world. The only true requirement to be a Zionist is to believe that Israel has the right to exist. Once that Truth is established, please, help her by critiquing what doesn’t work so that she can be fixed.
In response to my friends’ questions about my personal views on the move of the embassy, I’ve typically been cautiously answering with the following: “It’s not the right time.” But if not now, when? And if not Trump, who? The when and the who are, unfortunately, inextricably linked. Now is not the right time because of Trump. One day, Trump recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The next day, Trump openly and deliberately supports a sex offender in the Alabama Senate race. Personally, I can’t validate singling out support for one of Trump’s decisions ostensibly in favor of Israel, when he has done so much that I don’t condone. Moreover, Trump putting his presidential seal on Jerusalem almost seems to undermine the city’s importance, due to all of his other rash decisions. It’s as if Jerusalem were just one of Trump’s whims to appease his supporters and rile up the Left. But in doing so, the gravity of Jerusalem gets lost amid the mix of other political pawns.
The notion of the United States backing Jerusalem as the true capital of Israel is a lovely thought to consider, however whether the US moves the embassy or not, it will not change how Israel regards Jerusalem. While the external validation may be nice in theory, in reality it creates unneeded backlash for Israel from those who do not possess as much Zionist fervor as I. This, in turn, has led to a secondary, follow-up question from those in my social circles: “Is it safe to go to Jerusalem?”
My friends going on winter Birthright trips (and their parents) have been particularly concerned about the safety in Jerusalem. “Are we even going to get to visit the Old City?” one of my friends has wondered. Due largely in part to my 19-year-old invincibility complex, my standard response has been, “Yeah, I’m not worried. Jerusalem is fine.” I then usually follow up by offering to talk to my friends’ parents directly, as my anecdotes about using public transportation all summer in Israel seem like a rational placation to ease their fears.
I’m not worried, I tell my friends, because I feel safer in Israel than in America. Though the threat of terror is always somewhat looming in the air in Israel, it has fostered a state prepared to take on nearly anything. Grocery stores have security guards; even American tourists are required to open their bags before entering a mall. In the States, the preparedness response happens after an attack, in the form of an overcompensation in security. One of the luxuries of living in America is that people typically don’t think with terror in mind, because terror is seemingly so sporadic and random, and also because the country has not yet acknowledged the pervasiveness of the issues surrounding gun legislation etc.
In high school, I stood on the border of Israel and Syria and heard gunshots. We were assured that the fire wasn’t aimed at us, but rather it was just the Syrian Civil War; the Syrians were shooting at each other. So, we took selfies next to an old tank, which I’m fairly sure is a core curriculum requirement when visiting the Syrian border.
The first morning I spent in Israel, I was woken up by sirens. We were in a suburb, far enough away from Tel Aviv that we could’ve stayed in bed, but we still rushed to a bomb shelter. I threw on a sweatshirt and was annoyed that I couldn’t fall back asleep afterwards.
In the wake of Tzuk Eitan, I took a train down to the South, right by Ashkelon to visit a friend on her moshav. What worried me most was the possibility of missing my stop.
I’ve meditated in the Judean Desert and I’ve stood a kilometer away from Gaza, pondering how that lookout point always seems so tranquil.
The most fear I have experienced in Israel was in Jaffa, this past summer. I was about half a mile away from my internship — up a winding hill paved in cracking concrete, past a makolet, and across the street. I had walked by the place nearly every day on my way to work, never processing what it was or that I might need its services during my summer stay in Israel. Then, one day, I panicked: I needed to get my eyebrows done. I began scouring the web and messaging people I knew had conquered the Greater Bat Yam area before me. I received a few recommendations and located a handful of seemingly credible places in Tel Aviv, and then, by chance, I stumbled across this small beauty salon that didn’t require an extra bus ride or trip to one of the Bat Yam malls.
I called the place and ensured that they actually had the capability to tame my eyebrows, and then I scheduled an appointment and slipped out of work to take care of business. When I arrived, the nice Arab man I had spoken to over the phone greeted me, telling the woman who I presumed to be his wife that her 3 o’clock was here. He told me to take a seat, so I sat. I sat, and I took in the salon, appraising it to be a relatively standard beauty salon, equipped to handle manicures, haircuts, waxing, and the occasional hair accouterments for a wedding.
After 20 minutes, the woman finally greeted me, a phone stuck to her ear. She explained in Hebrew that she was on the phone with Visa, trying to rectify a mistaken charge on her credit card. She guided me into a fully reclined chair, urging me to lie down. I told her that I just wanted her to clean up my brows — no shaping was necessary. The woman then proceeded to apply hot wax to my face while screaming on the phone in Hebrew with Visa. I almost leapt out of the chair, because I have had misshapen eyebrows, and I wasn’t about to undergo that tragedy again. Yet, I stood my ground, silently weeping and praying that this woman would not take out her anger with Visa on my brows. Thankfully, my eyebrows survived, perfectly fine, but it was in these moments that I experienced the most fear I ever felt while in Israel.
I don’t necessarily think that my friends or their parents would be entirely reassured just from a few of my stories. I do, however, think that they would be more at ease if Trump had not made his announcement, just mere weeks before sending their grown children to a country that already possesses such a controversial reputation. While I can only support the where and not the who or the when, I do support both the positive and negative feedback Trump has received from his Zionist constituents. Jerusalem has always been the capital of Israel — Trump deciding to move an Embassy from one side of the country to the other will not affect that fact. What it has affected, however, is the view of Israel by Trump’s opposition. When you don’t support Trump’s other policies, how can you support this one? I can’t entirely stand behind the US’s intended move of the Embassy right now, and as a Zionist, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not the right time, but I’m not worried.
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