Snapshots from Three Generations of American Jewish Activists on the American Embassy Move

IfNotNow blocks traffic outside of Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C. to protest the embassy move on May 14. Photo: Gili Getz

In advance of the U.S. Embassy move on May 14 and the culmination of the Great March of Return in Gaza on May 15, I was curious last week to hear American Jewish activists of different ages and political perspectives' views on the significance of the U.S. Embassy move to Jerusalem. I wanted to know how it fit into a historical trajectory, and what this action of the United States means to them as American Jews concerned with justice and peace.

Though we dreaded the day of the move, neither I nor, I think, any of the activists who I spoke with anticipated that the move of the embassy would coincide with the most deadly day in Gaza since the 2014 war. The IDF killed over 50 protesters and injured over one thousand on this day alone. Since the beginning of the Great March of Return, over 100 protesters have been killed by Israeli military. 

The history of the American Jewish Peace Movement has been built largely on leveraging our unique position as both American citizens and Jews (and therefore at least potential Israeli citizens as well) to pressure our government to act toward peace through diplomacy.  Although the Great March of Return was already set to end on Nakba Day, May 15, commemorating the day after the creation of the state of Israel 70 years ago on May 14, 1948, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were exiled from their homes, there is no doubt that the move of the American Embassy contributed to the intensity of protests on May 14. For the sake of preserving the history of our movement in a historic moment, included below are three perspectives from American Jewish activists on what the move of the Embassy means to them:

"I am heartsick over the violence the embassy move has sparked, and angered by the transparent pandering of the Trump Administration to the likes of Sheldon Adelson and Pastor John Hagee. This moment unfortunately reminds me of the atmosphere during which JVP was created in the fall of 1996, when PM Netanyahu encouraged archaeological activity under the Temple Mount for his personal political gain, resulting in violent clashes between the IDF and Palestinians in Jerusalem. It's important for American Jewish activists to embrace Jerusalem as the rightful capital of Israel while continuing to advocate for the Palestinian right to claim the city as its capital. Craven political opportunism will never alter the dual claims on Jerusalem, and only fuel my determination to seek justice and peace for Israelis and Palestinians."

--Rachel Eisner, J Street Northwest Regional Director and one of the founders of Jewish Voice for Peace

" I see the relocation of the US Embassy to Jerusalem as unmasking the United States' long-time bias in favor of Israel and thereby unmasking the US pretense of being an honest broker in helping to negotiate a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. I also believe that, if the current consulate remains in East Jerusalem , it might be a positive step in tacit recognition of Palestine as a separate entity and not part of Israel. Any American-brokered peace process has long been dead." 

--Marcia Freedman, former member of Knesset and founding president of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

"I'm heartbroken, embarrassed, and nervous. The move of Trump's 'embassy of occupation' is a stamp of approval on the system of violence and separation that makes life for Palestinians a daily nightmare. I was particularly saddened to see American Jewish institutions celebrating the embassy move today alongside anti-Semites, just minutes from a massacre of Gazans by the Israeli military. I'm looking to my elders and peers who are deeply engaged in recognizing, ending, and healing from anti-Jewish oppression because I want to be with them shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart in repairing the soul of the Jewish people and ensuring justice and peace for all Palestinians and Israelis." 

--Isaac Flegel-Mishlove, IfNotNow Organizer

It heartens me to see the possibility for solidarity between generations of Jewish activists as we share in our outrage, heartbreak, and desire to take action. A few American Jewish groups organized street protests to strongly oppose the embassy move, and many others issued statements and lobbied in opposition. In Jerusalem, many American Jews alongside Palestinians and Israelis showed up to protest the embassy move at the ceremony itself.

We are living in a moment of pivotal importance in American and Israel-Palestinian relations. At a time when it feels like the toxic axis of Trump and Netanyahu threatens to overpower both of our countries' politics for the worse, it is important that future generations of American Jews will have a window into understanding what American Jewish peace activists were feeling and doing in this moment, which is the work of AJPA to ensure is possible.

The mission of the American Jewish Peace Archive is to document through oral history the accounts of Jews in the United States who have worked in support of Israeli-Palestinian peace and reconciliation since 1967, and in so doing, to facilitate dialogue and inquiry between the generations, to provide primary source material for scholars, and to provide guidance and inspire hope for the future.