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Trump’s Jerusalem Move Welcomed by Most Major American Jewish Groups

A picture taken on Dec. 6, 2017, shows a giant U.S. flag screened alongside Israel's national flag by the Jerusalem municipality on the walls of the old city.

President Donald Trump’s decision Wednesday to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has been welcomed by a majority of the top U.S. organizations representing American Jews, a community that overwhelmingly voted for his rival, Hillary Clinton, in last year’s presidential election.

Seven of the most prominent U.S. Jewish organizations issued statements supporting Trump’s move within hours of him announcing it in a Wednesday speech at the White House. Two other organizations were critical of it, while a third had not issued any reaction by Wednesday evening in Washington.

The Pew Research Center’s exit polling for the 2016 U.S. presidential election showed only 24 percent of respondents identifying as Jewish saying they voted for Trump, while 71 percent said they voted for Clinton, his Democratic Party rival.

A collage of the logos of the major American Jewish religious and advocacy groups surveyed by VOA for their reactions to President Trump's Dec. 6, 2017, declaration of U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
A collage of the logos of the major American Jewish religious and advocacy groups surveyed by VOA for their reactions to President Trump's Dec. 6, 2017, declaration of U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

View decision positively

More than a year later, most of the American Jewish religious and advocacy groups supporting the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem used relatively strong language in their statements, such as saying they “applaud” the decision, consider it “historic” or express gratitude for it.

Those organizations, which range from politically conservative to centrist, include the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the American Jewish Committee (AJC), the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA).

The seventh supportive group, the centrist Anti-Defamation League (ADL), used the more moderate term “welcome” to describe its reaction to Trump’s announcement.

The strongest criticism of Trump from a major American Jewish organization was from J Street, a politically liberal American Jewish group that advocates for what it calls a “pro-Israel, pro-peace” U.S. foreign policy. Its statement issued Wednesday used language calling the Jerusalem recognition “unhelpful” and “damaging.” The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), which represents the largest Jewish denominational movement in the U.S., described the move as “ill-timed” and “all but certain to exacerbate” the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A 2013 Pew study, A Portrait of Jewish Americans, found that 35 percent of all U.S. Jews identify with the Reform movement.

'Absent a comprehensive plan'

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said, “While we share the president’s belief that the U.S. Embassy should, at the right time, be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, we cannot support his decision to begin preparing that move now, absent a comprehensive plan for a peace process.

“Additionally, any relocation of the American embassy to West Jerusalem should be conceived and executed in the broader context reflecting Jerusalem’s status as a city holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike," Jacobs said.

The Pew study also found Conservative Judaism to be the second-largest Jewish denomination in the United States, with 18 percent of respondents affiliating with it.

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ), which adopts more liberal political and religious positions than Orthodox Judaism, had not issued an immediate statement on the Jerusalem move. USCJ CEO Rabbi Steven Wernick told VOA Persian via Twitter that he would not be making any comment Wednesday.

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, also known as the Orthodox Union, represents about 10 percent of American Jews, according to the Pew study.

In an interview with VOA Persian, its director of public policy Nathan Diament said a majority of American Jewish organizations have had a “mainstream consensus view … for decades” that the U.S. should recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. “The fact that there are a few groups on the left who are reacting (in a critical) way is unfortunate,” Diament said.

Diament said the Orthodox Union believes the Jerusalem recognition will help U.S. credibility and stature around the world by “acknowledging historical and current reality” and by showing that the U.S. is “standing close” with its ally, Israel.

'Contradicts' bipartisan policy

In its statement, J Street said Trump’s announcement “contradicts” decades of bipartisan presidential policy. “It does nothing to advance, and could seriously undermine, the administration’s stated commitment to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict while potentially threatening Israel’s security and alienating Arab regional partners,” it said.

J Street said U.S. Jewish communal leaders who are concerned about Israel’s security and future “should not support” what it called “this misguided and damaging decision.”