President Donald Trump’s decision Wednesday to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem sparked reactions from Minnesota religious leaders that ranged from outrage to relief.
Many Jewish leaders were thrilled that the U.S. is finally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but weren’t necessarily pleased with the method.
Muslims were outraged that a top bargaining card in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations had just been “given away.”
For those evangelicals who believe the end of the world is near, the U.S. Embassy’s move was yet more evidence to support the biblical prediction of the second coming of Christ.
Minnesota’s mainline churches, meanwhile, expressed mixed reaction. Some supported the move, others opposed it, while still others said they did not have enough information to opine.
“I think it was a wise decision,” said Rabbi Joshua Borenstein, executive director of the Torah Academy in St. Louis Park. “It’s not like Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel. The Knesset [Legislature] is there.” And the city was the Jewish people’s ancient capital, he said.
“But every person of every faith must be treated with respect,” he added.
Imam Makram El-Amin was among Muslim clerics worried about the safety of Muslims, Palestinians and other minority groups in the city with deep religious significance to Muslims, Jews and Christians.
“In terms of religious freedom [in Jerusalem], it’s stirring the pot in a region that has fragile peace at best,” said El-Amin, an imam at Masjid An-Nur mosque in Minneapolis.
Minnesota’s evangelical Christians no doubt have different perspectives on the move, said Carl Nelson, executive director of Transform Minnesota, an organization serving those churches.
Among the groups welcoming the relocation to Jerusalem are evangelicals who emphasize a Biblical “end time prophecy,” he said.
Others recognize the move could put Christians who live in Israel and Palestine at risk, he said, “and that it could hinder the peace process.”
The Rev. Tom Duke, coordinator of the St. Paul Interfaith Network, has been building bridges between Christians, Jews and Muslims for years.
“I was horrified,” said Duke. “I think it will undermine any prospects for peace. It will add the symbolism of the U.S. is one-sided rather than a broker of peace.”
The status of Jerusalem as a sacred city, which embraces so many of the world’s faiths, stuck in the mind of the Rev. Curtiss DeYoung.
“To politicize a religious city is a bad move,” said DeYoung, CEO of the Minnesota Council of Churches. “It is a city that should have the power to unite people in peace. This could play into the hands of extremists.”
Borenstein said he visited Israel last month, and found people curious — but not obsessed — about what President Trump would do.
But a giant billboard that he spotted in Jerusalem indicated the embassy was high on some Israeli’s minds.
“It said something like ‘This spot is available for the embassy,’ ” he chuckled.
While opinions varied, it was “a historic day,” said Steve Hunegs, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas.
He noted that Trump’s announcement “doesn’t prejudge important final status issues such as Palestinian claims to East Jerusalem and boundaries of Jerusalem.
“The president’s decision also reflects American law since 1995 — regarding Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and recognizes 3,000 years of Jerusalem as Judaism’s holiest city.”
But that’s not how Sameh Shabaneh, a Palestinian Muslim living in Woodbury, sees it.
“The Palestinians have invested so much in the peace process, now the United States has tilted the scales to one side,” Shabaneh said.
“I just talked to my family [in Jerusalem],” he said. “They are scared.”