This post has been sitting half-written in draft form for days, but the kidnapping of the three boys has taken all my attention.
Still, the world continues to turn, and with it the usual anti-Israel activity of UNESCO. You may remember that back in January I posted about UNESCO caving in to Arab pressure and cancelling an exhibit that was to demonstrate the Jews’ connection to the Land of Israel. At the time, Rabbi Marvin Hier expressed his outrage:
Rabbi Marvin Hier, Dean of the SWC, told The Algemeiner that the move was an “absolute outrage.” “The Arabs,” he said, “don’t want the world to know that the Jews have a 3,500-year relationship to the Land of Israel.”
Hier said that his organization, which is accredited by UNESCO as an NGO, worked in intimate co-operation with the international body on the project, which his center initiated after the Palestinian Authority was unilaterally accepted as a UNESCO member state in 2011.
“We made a clear attempt to work with them and the system, they can’t say they were blindsided, they commented on every sentence (in the exhibit’s materials) and still, in the end, the Arabs protested and they kicked us out,” he said.
“It is not supposed to be a place of censorship,” Hier said, “It is not supposed to deny one nation the right to their history.”
“The Arab world doesn’t know that Isaiah didn’t live in Portugal, Jeremiah didn’t roam France and Ezekiel wasn’t from Germany.”
Well, a miracle happened (or at least, a partial miracle – read on) and the exhibit, entitled “People, Book, Land — The 3,500 Year Relationship of the Jewish People to the Holy Land“, finally opened last week at UNESCO HQ in Paris:
“This is truly an historic occasion because it is the first time in the history of the United Nations through its educational and cultural arm, UNESCO, that the UN has co-sponsored an exhibit which outlines the historic raison d’etre for the UN decision to recognize a Jewish homeland in Palestine in 1947: the indisputable fact that the Jewish people have an uninterrupted 3,500-year relationship with the Holy Land,” said Rabbi Hier in his remarks.
“This exhibit opens at a critical stage in the efforts to bring a just and viable peace to the Middle East, especially the people of Israel and the Palestinian people. But such a peace can only come when Israel’s neighbors finally end their campaign to deny the Jewish people its national identity. No one can bypass this obstacle by pretending it doesn’t exist. Peace is not a game like Monopoly where you can skip the inconvenient and proceed directly to Go,” he said.
“The purpose of this exhibit is very clear: To put an end to the canard that a Jewish State came into being in 1948, not because Jews had any connection with the land of Israel, but because the world took pity on them as a result of the Holocaust.”
“This exhibit will educate the world by debunking myths with historic truth. Just like Egypt is a country with a 4,000-year footprint, so Israel too, has that 3,500-year footprint in every nook and cranny of the land of Israel.”
However the exhibit was not without its typical UN political point-making as UNESCO deleted the word “Israel” from the title of the exhibit:
Six months ago, … Professor Robert Wistrich, its author, was livid. The cancellation, which followed Arab pressure, was disgraceful, he fumed, an appalling “betrayal” that proved that the organization is “subjected, entirely, to political considerations,” because “there’s one standard for Jews, and there’s another standard for non-Jews, especially if they’re Arabs.”
The situation has much improved since then, … And yet changes have been made to the exhibition since it was nixed in January.
Most strikingly, the word “Israel” has been deleted from the exhibition’s title and replaced by “Holy Land.” An exhibit that was initially called “The 3,500 year relationship of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel” is now entitled “The 3,500 year relationship of the Jewish People with the Holy Land.”
While acknowledging the importance of the official UNESCO stamp on the exhibition, neither Cooper nor Wistrich was willing to commend the organization for reconsidering its January cancellation and going ahead with it almost unchanged. “They made the correct decision,” Wistrich said. “I’m not praising them. I think they’re doing what they should have been doing in the first place. And I’m very happy that they’re doing it now. That’s not praise. It’s a fact.”
It is unclear whether the Arab UNESCO delegates who thwarted the exhibition in January again exerted pressure on the organization to cancel it, he said. Thus he “wouldn’t say it’s a case of standing up to Arab pressure.” UNESCO simply couldn’t renege twice, especially after the international outrage the first cancellation caused, he presumed.
It couldn’t renege. but it did change the name of the exhibition.
There was also something else missing from the exhibit as Lyn Julius writes in UNESCO’s missing hot potato: (emphases are mine):
But visiting members from the organisation Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC) are hot under the collar about a different issue. They were shocked to discover that the resettlement in Israel of Jews driven from Arab states in the 1950s was missing from the exhibit. From two panels on the Holocaust, the narrative skips this important chunk of history altogether. The next panel deals with the rescue and resettlement of Soviet Jewry.
When the JJAC delegates confronted the exhibition architect Robert Wistrich with their grievance, he told them that he had written an entire panel on the suffering and ingathering of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. This panel, together with two others dealing with Israel’s wars, deemed too ‘political’, had been pulled at the request of cagey UNESCO officials. One surmises that the panel explaining why 600,000 Jews were forced to flee Arab lands for Israel was withdrawn because it would have offended the sensibilities of UNESCO’s Arab and Muslim members.
The next day, JJAC members asked the UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova why Jews from Arab countries were absent from the exhibit. It was clear from her vague reply that her advisers had kept her in the dark on this issue.
To compensate for the pulled panel, Wistrich, whose wife is a Syrian Jew, had attempted to weave mentions of Jews from Arab countries into the text of the remaining panels. One sentence reads:
“In 1968, Middle Eastern Jewry made up 48 percent of Israel’s Jewish immigration.”
This was the only statistic in the entire exhibit which disbelieving UNESCO officials had demanded that Wistrich back up with a reference to its source, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics.
Why had the leaders of the Simon Wiesenthal Center not fought to maintain the missing panel? Seemingly, they insisted in talks with UNESCO that the panel on Soviet Jewry be retained.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Center, told JJAC members that there was no reason why the missing three panels should not be restored to the exhibit when it goes on tour.
Nevertheless, omitting the story of Jewish refugees granted a haven by the state of Israel represents a lost opportunity to educate a non-Jewish audience in a prestige international venue.
What a pity that Rabbi Hier did not assign equal weight to scotching the canard that Israelis are colonialist interlopers from Europe who had snatched Palestine from the native Arabs. Here was a golden opportunity to affirm that Jews not only had a 3, 500- year continuous presence in the land of Israel, but were the original inhabitants in what is now known as the Arab world. Over 50 percent of the Jews are in Israel not because of the Nazis or the Soviets, but because they were displaced by Arab and Muslim antisemitism.
Once again, however, an Eurocentric view of Israel’s history has won the day, and truth was sacrificed to political correctness. In the eyes of the Jewish establishment and the international community, the mass flight of Jews from Arab countries remains, sadly, a taboo subject. Some ‘ hot potatoes’ are still too hot to handle.
It is indeed a crying shame that the panels on the mass immigration of Jews from Arab countries to Israel were pulled. If, as Rabbi Cooper says, they can be restored when the exhibit goes on tour, then the damage can be mitigated.
But the bad taste lingers. The Jewish presence in Israel is too hot a potato for UNESCO to handle, and admitting that there was a huge Jewish aliya from Arab countries is one hot potato too many. The Arab lobby has a lot to answer for.
So much for the vaunted Jewish and Zionist lobbies and their all-powerful influence. They can’t even get the name Israel onto the name of an exhibit about … Israel!