President Donald Trump’s visit Monday to the Western Wall in Jerusalem — the first by a sitting U.S. president to Judaism’s most revered religious site — elicited praise, disdain and hope among Jews and Muslims on Long Island.
Trump made the stop at the wall on the third day of a sweeping nine-day journey that includes focal points of three major religions: Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
After landing in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, Trump arrived in Israel Monday. He is to meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Wednesday before heading to Brussels and later returning to Italy for a G-7 meeting in Sicily.
In Jerusalem, the president and first lady Melania Trump visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, traditional site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection, and the Western Wall, part of the Jewish temple complex destroyed by Rome in 70 Common Era.
The White House said the visit was unofficial and private. The U.S. considers the status of Jerusalem unresolved and subject to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
But Trump’s visit — and especially his brief stop at the Western Wall — carried profound significance. Some Israelis remarked that the president’s stop implicitly affirmed Israel’s claim to the site, and some Long Islanders agreed.
“I think it historic. I think it’s a game changer, and I think it is a recognition of the realities on the ground,” said Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum of Temple Israel of Lawrence. “For if ever there is to be peace, Israel’s eternal connection to Jerusalem has to be acknowledged. And that he has done by his presence.”
Malek Deib, a Bay Shore resident who was born in the Palestinian Territories, had a more negative view of the visit. He called it the latest in a number of “empty gestures” by U.S. leaders that don’t lead to a lasting solution in the Middle East.
“We haven’t actually seen any real concrete steps taken to resolve the broader issue,” said Deib, a mathematics professor at Farmingdale State University.
“The U.S. government has always taken the side of the Israelis,” Deib said, adding that the territories have been turned into a virtual “prison” by Israel. “I would hope he would take a step over that wall to the other side to take a look at what is happening with the Palestinians, acknowledge the rights of both the Christians and Muslim community to that part of the world.”
Other Muslims had a more optimistic view of Trump’s visit, though they hope he will dig deeper into the reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“I think it is the right move on his behalf,” said Hafiz Rehman, a leader of the Masjid Darul Quran mosque in Bay Shore.
“It is good he has visited. I hope he will see the truth and I applaud him for taking that bold step, to go to those places,” Rehman said. But “lasting peace will only come if there is justice. And that means looking at how the Palestinians were driven out of their homes, how their places are still being demolished and how the settlers are affecting the whole political situation there.”
Mohammed Saleh, former chairman of the Long Island Muslim Society mosque in East Meadow, said Trump is “trying his best to normalize the situation in the Middle East. . . . He’s trying to reach out to as many people as possible. . . . I think he is trying to show that he can embrace anything for the cause of peace and to combat the terrorism.”
Rabbi Michael White of Temple Sinai of Roslyn said he had no concerns about Trump visiting the Western Wall, and that “I hope this visit will strengthen the strong bonds between the U.S. and the state of Israel.”
“I believe that it is in everyone’s best interest to recognize the truth: The truth is that the Western Wall resides in the capital of the state of Israel,” he said.
But, White added, “The truth is that both Jews and Palestinians are going to need to make compromises in order for there to be a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”
Nayar Imam, president of the Long Island Muslim Alliance, said the visit to the wall merely added to confusion over how Trump is dealing with the Middle East. “I don’t know why he went there and who he is pleasing now,” Imam said.
He noted that in a speech in Saudi Arabia, Trump “was praising Muslims as the best people in the world.” Yet, a few months earlier, “he was cursing them and putting a ban on the whole entire seven nations not to come into this country. I’m just confused with this guy.”
Imam was referring to Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order — a so-called “travel ban” — that barred immigration by people from seven majority-Muslim countries, but was blocked by federal courts. A revised executive order by Trump in March, which named six of the original seven countries, also has been halted by federal judges.
Rabbi Howard Buechler of the Dix Hills Jewish Center saw the visit to the wall as a landmark occasion.
“It’s a powerful moment for the people of Israel and the Jewish world, along with all people of good faith, to see the president visiting the Western Wall,” Buechler said.
“Of course, there are a minefield of political dimensions to visiting the Western Wall,” he said, “and from my perspective — no matter how any eventual Israeli-Palestinian accord will look like — the Western Wall and the Jewish holy sites of Jerusalem are entirely within Israeli sovereignty.”
Yousuf U. Syed, a trustee of the Islamic Association of Long Island, a mosque in Selden that is among the region’s oldest, said he believes Trump lacks a plan for seeking Middle East peace.
Trump’s presidency “has been full of chaos — so many controversies, falsehoods, extremism, misinformation, Muslim-bashing and upheavals,” he said. “Who knows what he will do the next?”