U.S. Embassy Move to Jerusalem: We Did Not Relent

Written by Nathan Diament on . Posted in Op-Ed

The relocation of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem on May 14 marked the fulfillment of decades of promises by U.S. presidents and others to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. For those of us at the Orthodox Union (OU), May 14 marked a triumphant conclusion to a hard-fought quest that spanned 46 years.

It was back then that the OU hosted a gala at a hotel in Beverly Hills, California, where Sen. Hubert Humphrey called for the reunification of Jerusalem, stating: “Jerusalem the Golden must be united and it must be recognized as the capital of Israel. We must not turn the clock back by advocating re-division or internationalization.”

That declaration on May 24, 1972, served as the precursor to the Orthodox Union’s decades-long campaign for the United States to lead the world in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to its rightful place in Israel’s capital, Jerusalem. We began by raising the issue regularly with an array of U.S. Senators and, in 1982, became thefirst Jewish organization to pass a resolution advocating for maintaining Jerusalem as the “eternal and undivided capital of the State of Israel” and relocating the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

Since then, our biennial convention resolutions have stated:

“Jerusalem must forever remain the spiritual, cultural and political center of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. The Orthodox Union is mandated to undertake all efforts necessary to secure and maintain Jerusalem as the eternal and undivided capital of the State of Israel, including pushing for the United States’ Embassy to be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”

For years we remained a lonely advocate in an unpopular pursuit. Far from diminishing our fervor, the OU remained determined to gain official recognition of the basic fact that Jerusalem has been the eternal, undivided capital of Israel and the Jewish people since the time of King David. During the intervening 3,000 years, no other people has claimed the city as its capital.

Over the years, successive leaders of the Orthodox Union met with every U.S. president beginning with Jimmy Carter, followed by Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, to encourage them to support a unified Jerusalem and move the U.S. Embassy there.

We did not succeed then. But we did not relent.

Throughout the 1980s and into the early 1990s, the Orthodox Union partnered with our allies in Congress to craft and pass legislation and resolutions to relocate the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, declare Jerusalem as Israel’s indivisible capital, and recognize its 1967 reunification by Israel.

In 1995, it appeared we had won our fight when both chambers of Congress overwhelmingly passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act under President Bill Clinton. But it was not to be; although Clinton — as well as successors George W. Bush and Barack Obama — campaigned on the promise of relocating the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, none followed through.

Every six months, each signed a “national security” waiver keeping the embassy in Tel Aviv, citing concerns about disrupting peace negotiations or inflaming Palestinian leadership.

We met with President Clinton, urging him not to sign the waiver. We did the same with President George W. Bush and President Obama.

We did not succeed then. But we did not relent.

Instead, we mobilized our membership to contact their local and national elected officials to urge the U.S. administration to make good on Congress’ passage of the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995. We followed with numerous advocacy campaigns over the years, including gathering by the hundreds on the site of the proposed U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem in 2009 to urge President-elect Obama to relocate the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

The OU’s activism wasn’t limited to U.S. leaders; in 2006, during our Biennial Convention in Jerusalem and ahead of the Annapolis Conference, we implored Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to oppose concessions on Jerusalem, a plea we repeated in 2007 along with other groups.

We did not succeed then. But we did not relent.

In February 2017, the OU’s leadership met with senior Trump Administration officials to push once again for the United States to take action on the 1995 relocation law. President Trump, like those before him, had also campaigned on the promise of relocating the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

Months after that meeting, President Trump announced that the time had come to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and make good on the promises of his forebears.

On May 14, 2018, 46 years after beginning our quest, we celebrated this courageous, historic decision with a gala — not unlike our 1972 event. But this time, it was in Jerusalem. This time, we stood just a few miles from the site of the new U.S. Embassy. And this time, we were far from alone.

By Nathan Diament

 Nathan Diament is executive director for public policy for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. Follow and tweet him @ndiament.