Washington • Sen. Mike Lee of Utah was in Jerusalem on Monday as the United States officially moved its embassy there from Tel Aviv, a controversial shift sparking riots that have already killed dozens of people.
The White House said the embassy relocation would allow Israel to determine its own capital.
“May there be peace,” President Donald Trump said in a video statement played at the event.
“It is truly an honor to be here in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, for the transfer of the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv,” Lee said in a statement. “This is a long overdue recognition of history and reality.
“We continue to hope for peace and longtime stability between Israelis and Palestinians,” the Utah Republican added, “but the U.S. could no longer wait to do the right thing in recognizing the nation’s rightful capital.”
The embassy move, which Trump promised to make in his campaign, brought cheers from Israel, which had long asked for Washington’s official presence to be in Jerusalem, but a swift rebuke from Palestine, which also views the city as a future capital for its own state.
The Associated Press reported that Israeli soldiers had killed dozens of Palestinians along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, and thousands were wounded. The AP said it was the bloodiest day in the area since the 2014 war between Israel and Palestinians.
Still, Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law who is Jewish and spoke at the Jerusalem event, praised the move and the president.
“While presidents before him have backed down from their pledge to move the American Embassy once they were in office, this president delivered,” Kushner said. “Because when President Trump makes a promise, he keeps it.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, called Monday a “special day” and lauded Trump for moving the embassy.
“Today should be seen as an American holiday just as it is an Israeli one,” Hatch said on the Senate floor.
Utah’s Rabbi Benny Zippel of Chabad Lubavitch is “thrilled” with the embassy’s move to Jerusalem, he said Monday. “It’s a great day for the United States of America, for the state of Israel, the land of Israel, and the people of Israel.”
Judaism has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital for more than “3,000 years now,” Zippel said. “The fact that the U.S. has chosen to move the embassy where it should have been all along is very encouraging to me.”
Cantor Wendy Bat-Sarah of Congregation Kol Ami in Salt Lake City agrees that Jerusalem is the “spiritual center of the Jewish people.”
Jews pray daily for the “peace of Jerusalem and of the world,” the cantor wrote in an email. “It is incumbent on each individual and on the governments that represent us to create a peaceful world.”
The embassy shift “has been joyous for some and very divisive and painful for others,” Bat-Sarah said. “My hope is that this building, located along the former ‘no man’s land,’ can be a place of meeting for farsighted leaders who are willing to take unimaginable risks for the benefit of all humankind.”
Shuaib Din, imam at the Utah Islamic Center in Sandy, said the embassy move is “more symbolic than anything else.”
But symbolism matters, the Muslim leader noted. “It shows that the U.S. is not a neutral broker — and probably never has been — in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Over the weekend, former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who is running for a U.S. Senate seat in Utah, tweeted his displeasure with one of the participants in the embassy ceremony.
Robert Jeffress, a Texas Baptist pastor who once called Romney’s Mormon religion a cult, offered a prayer at the event.
“Such a religious bigot,” Romney said, “should not be giving the prayer that opens the United States Embassy in Jerusalem.”
Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson, the Democratic candidate seeking the Senate seat in Utah, echoed the concerns of her GOP opponent.
”The Trump administration,“ she said, “should not provide a platform for someone with a record of hateful speech and bigotry.”
Lee’s office said Monday he was unavailable for an interview and his representatives did not respond to a question about Jeffress.
Lee tweeted a photo of him eating a meal with Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Dean Heller of Nevada and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina along with Kushner and Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter.
Reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack contributed to this story.