As the U.S. relocated its embassy to Israel’s capital city amid deadly violence on the country’s border, many Texas politicians cheered the event.
The relocation “is a monumental event and one that is long overdue,” Gov. Greg Abbott said. “It’s a great day for Israel and for the U.S.”
U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said on Twitter that “our embassy now serves as an example of our commitment to Israelis as we continue to push for lasting peace in the region.”
And U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in Jerusalem for the festivities, made a similar statement: “Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocating the U.S. embassy sends a powerful message that America will stand by our friends and allies, and we will stand up to our enemies.”
The distance between Austin and Jerusalem is about 7,150 miles, but the reaction to Monday’s events by Texas politicians about relations with Israel remains an important touchstone in American, especially Republican, politics.
Cruz, for instance, used the moment to pivot to politics, asking aloud, on Facebook, whether U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, Cruz’s November opponent for his senate seat, “recognizes Jerusalem as the rightful capital of Israel.”
O’Rourke told the American-Statesman the decision is “now American policy and we must make the best out of it.”
But the timing of the move “unnecessarily complicates the peace process and goal of achieving a two-state solution,” he said.
At least 60 people have been killed since Monday as Palestinians outraged by the relocation of the U.S. Embassy tried to rush a Gaza border fence. Many of them were reportedly killed by Israeli snipers. Less than an hour’s drive away, Ivanka Trump was helping unveil a stone marker at the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, fulfilling a campaign pledge by President Donald Trump to officially acknowledge Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict dates to before the creation of Israel in 1948 and centers on disputed land and holy sites in the Middle East.
Despite stated goals on both sides to create two states — an independent Palestine alongside Israel, as envisioned in a series of accords — Palestinian territory remains under Israeli control, leading to claims of rights violations.
There exists a wide spectrum of opinion about solutions to the conflict, both within Israel and the U.S. and within the Jewish community.
“I think to be pro-Israel means to be engaged in the welfare of all of the people of Israel and the surrounding territories,” said Lev Baesh, rabbi of the progressive Austin congregation Kol Halev. The embassy relocation is “the wrong decision at the wrong time,” one that jeopardizes the state of Israel because it “only comes with negative ramifications,” he said.
The decision “didn’t take into consideration the Palestinian community and those Israelis who want to see an end of the occupation and better treatment for those who are not citizens and are not Jewish,” he said.
Texas politicians have long promoted their ties to Israel, Texas’ fourth-biggest trading partner.
In 2016, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was baptized in the Jordan River as part of an eight-day trip to Israel. Patrick also held individual meetings with Israeli companies interested in doing business in Texas, and with Texas businesses that operate in Israel.
In 2017, Abbott signed into law a measure that bans state contracts with companies that boycott Israel.
“Anti-Israel policies are anti-Texas policies,” Abbott said at the time, “and we will not tolerate such actions against an important ally.”
Lesser-known statewide politicians promoted ties to Israel in the wake of the embassy relocation.
On Tuesday, the campaign of Republican Texas Railroad Commissioner Wayne Christian reminded supporters via email that he had recently returned from a trip to Israel with a delegation of elected officials. “It was an honor to visit such an important place at such a historic time,” he wrote, “as the United States moves its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”