TEL AVIV – Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty is a “model for coexistence” and openness between Judaism, Islam and Christianity, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said Monday.
“When you think of the conflicts that have raged over centuries, and now you look at Jerusalem under the sovereignty of the Israeli government, how it’s been able to maintain the openness that it’s had — rather than a place of conflict, it’s actually the model for coexistence in the world,” Friedman said at an event in Jerusalem to mark Israel’s 70th Independence Day.
Friedman also said joint intelligence sharing between the U.S. and Israel has saved American lives.
His remarks came ahead of next month’s inauguration of the relocated U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.
“Most people think of Jerusalem as a place of conflict,” Friedman told the foreign ambassadors assembled at the event.
“The Old City of Jerusalem is all of one square kilometer, and yet it houses the most holy places for two of the three major religions and a very holy place for the third,” he added.
“And Jerusalem over the past 51 years now has become a place like it’s never been before. It’s a place where people who want to worship at the Kotel [the Western Wall], al-Aqsa [mosque] or the Church of the Holy Sepulchre all can do so with freedom of worship, most of the time without fear of violence. And that’s a model for the world to appreciate. People don’t appreciate it enough.”
A terror attack on the Temple Mount last year, in which a Palestinian gunman shot and killed two Israeli police officers, resulted in Israel implementing security cameras at the holy site, a move that was considered an affront to Islam and prompted violent protests both in Jerusalem and across the Muslim world.
Trump’s December recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was not intended to “inflame those who were disappointed with his decision,” Friedman said. Instead, the president wished to “extend an olive branch to all major religions and all worshipers, to see Jerusalem as the opportunity, the pinnacle of an opportunity, for people to live in peace.”
Friedman noted Israel and the U.S. cooperate in the intelligence arena, and suggested that Israeli intelligence has thwarted terror attacks that would have killed American citizens.
“The United States benefits tangibly now from this relationship with Israel. There are things I cannot say in this forum, but there are people in the United States today who are safe, who are alive, because of intelligence cooperation that Israel has provided to the United States,” he said.
The envoy lamented the future of Diaspora Jewry, saying that “people in my country, especially kids, especially Jewish kids, [need to] find a way to reconnect more to Israel. Because I do fear that we’re at risk for not having the same kinds of connection, that me and wife had, that our kids have. And it’s a shame.”
When asked about Israel’s success in hi-tech, Friedman joked that when he was given the position of envoy by Trump he was sad to have to surrender his ties in that respect. “One of my greatest disappointments of being an ambassador was I had to give up all my investments in Israeli companies,” he said. “I had to sell them and some of them I had to sell too soon because the State Department told me I can’t own any more businesses in Israel.”
Next month, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will lead a delegation of 250 American officials and Jewish leaders, including 40 politicians, to the opening of the newly relocated embassy in Jerusalem.
Trump reportedly decided against attending the opening of the embassy despite having said during a meeting with Netanyahu last month, “If I can, I will.”