UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova with Simon Wiesenthal Center Dean Rabbi Marvin Hier, next to a panel announcing the exhibit in 2012..
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Is anyone really surprised that the UK-based mega-charity Oxfam forced Scarlett Johansson to walk the gangplank for taking a gig with an Israeli shpritz occupier of the West Bank? After all, what’s more important, using one of the most talented and beautiful actresses in the world to raise awareness and money to feed the planet’s poor, or maintaining BDS’ holy war against the Jewish occupiers of the Holy Land? Never mind that SodaStream treats Jewish and Arab workers equally and forcing its plant closure would hurt Palestinians. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions global campaign never was about helping Palestinians – only bullying and punishing Israelis. BDS’s ultimate goal is to dump the Jewish state onto the garbage heap of history alongside its alleged spiritual soulmate – the late apartheid regime of South Africa.
Oxfam’s extreme anti-Israel animus is longstanding and runs deep. It’s humanitarian concerns end at Israel’s borders. Oxfam blames Israel for all Palestinian problems, and even refused to condemn suicide bombers that targeted Israeli civilians.
Recently, we at the Simon Wiesenthal Center felt the sting of a related campaign in a pivotal diplomatic venue, one that seeks not only to deny Israel its future but also to erase the Jewish people’s past.
On January 14, as we prepared to install “Book, Land, People: The 3,500 Year Relationship of the Jewish People to the Holy Land” at UNESCO world headquarters, our exhibition – co-organized with UNESCO – was literally thrown out of the hall. The Arab group representing 22 members at UNESCO registered an official protest, expressing “its deep concern and strong disapproval.”
The reasons for the Arab protest are illuminating. It wasn’t about historic truth. Indeed, they couldn’t attack the brilliant narrative of the exhibition, authored by renowned Hebrew University Professor Robert Wistrich and vetted by no less than three academic reviews brought in by UNESCO.
No, UNESCO’s Arab Group rejected the very idea of such an historical exhibition: “The very subject of the exhibition is eminently political ... The opponents to peace in Israel have made this issue their warhorse, and the publicity ... can only harm the ongoing peace negotiations, the constant efforts of [US] Secretary of State John Kerry, and UNESCO’s neutrality and objectivity.”
In other words, not only are Israel’s future borders, Jerusalem and the “right of return” up for grabs on the negotiating table, so is Jewish history. The Palestinian Authority’s serial denial of any connection of the Jewish people to its land apparently now extends to the full Arab League.
And it gets worse.
A week before the Arab protest, I received this answer from the US State Department to our request that the US co-sponsor our exhibition along with Israel, Canada and Montenegro. While offering to host the opening ceremony in Paris, the letter stated, “At this sensitive juncture in the ongoing Middle East peace process, and after thoughtful consideration with review at the highest levels, we have made the decision that the United States will not be able to co-sponsor the current exhibit during its display at UNESCO headquarters.”
Protests from US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power as well as Canada’s Foreign Minister John Baird, along with a deluge of protests from around the world, have led UNESCO to reinstate the Wiesenthal Center exhibition this June. But larger challenges remain.
World Jewry cannot allow our history and values to be debased and corrupted by diplomatic machinations.
We must not allow the enemies of our people to recast Jewish history as only beginning with the foisting of European Holocaust survivors on Palestine after World War II.
To safeguard our past we will need allies to speak up.
For starters, we should turn to the nations of Europe who commemorated International Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27 in ceremonies at Auschwitz and other countries who joined in memorial services around the world with this message: “We appreciate the heartfelt sentiment you expressed for dead Jews. Now we need you to show respect for and solidarity with live ones.”
Per capita there are no more charitable people than the Jews. But before we write the next check to feed the poor or underwrite a university chair, let’s make sure we aren’t also underwriting our enemies’ agenda. Our self-respect and very survival is a stake. For it is we Jews who taught the world that a people will no past, has no future.The author, a rabbi, is the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.