One famous scene in “Sallah,” the internationally acclaimed 1964 Israeli comedy, depicts American philanthropists coming to a Jewish National Fund forest to see the trees for which they ostensibly paid. With each arriving tour group, a worker would simply stick a sign in the ground declaring it to be the, say, “The Goldberg Forest.” When the Goldbergs would leave, he’d pull the sign up, and a new sign would declare it to be “The Silverberg Forest,” or whomever was visiting next. That’s Mort Klein’s plan for the controversial U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. Just hang a sign on pretty much any Jerusalem building, and call it a day. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson said Tuesday that the embassy won’t be moved before 2020. “It’s not going to be anything that happens right away,” Tillerson said. Anything before 2020 would be “pretty ambitious.”
Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America and the Jewish leader who is, arguably, the closest to the Trump administration, lobbied for the original Senate bill in 1995 requiring the embassy be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Sounding somewhat frustrated, he told us today, “We think they should put a sign up” on either the American consulate already in Jerusalem, or “some other building the U.S. owns in Jerusalem, and that way immediately move the embassy,” symbolically, anyway.
If Trump and the State Department are just trying to avoid more Arab rage by punting until 2020, said Klein, then “the response will be even worse than it is now. These delays only continue to send the message that fear of Islamic terrorism determines American policy.”
Yes, Klein acknowledged, there are logistical problems, as well. “Officials at the White House tell me [the embassy has] 1,000 employees and that it’s not such an easy thing to move.” And there is the problem of finding a good Jerusalem location, getting the architects and engineers”; and “with all the security needs, an embassy is not just a regular building. I get that. So until everything can be worked out, just say that where the embassy sign hangs in Jerusalem “is the official American embassy.”
The ZOA was somewhat alone in pushing for that 1995 legislation requiring the embassy be moved, said Klein. Even AIPAC, reported the Jerusalem Post at the time, held back from lobbying for it. The senators behind the bill, Bob Dole and John Kyl, should get more credit,” said Klein. Their names, he said, haven’t been mentioned at all, or enough.” The embassy bill was initially intended to commemorate 3,000 years since King David moved his capital to Jerusalem, let alone to solidify modern Israel’s claims to the capital in a world that mostly disagreed.