US Amb. Nides' first visit could have sent a more powerful message - analysis

Yad Vashem painfully demonstrates why the Jews need a state, the Western Wall illustrates why that state needs to be in Israel.

 US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides on December 2, 2021 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides on December 2, 2021
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

When former US ambassador to Israel David Friedman took up his post here in 2017, the first place he went upon arriving – his first public act as ambassador – was the Western Wall.

When current US Ambassador Tom Nides arrived in Israel this week, he chose to make his first public appearance – after coming out of the three-day mandatory Omicron quarantine – at Yad Vashem.

And while Nides’ visit to the Holocaust museum on Thursday was important, moving, and something that is appreciated, Friedman made the better choice.

Why? Because while Yad Vashem painfully demonstrates why the Jews need a state, the Western Wall illustrates why that state needs to be in Israel.

And, as evidenced by a UN resolution on Jerusalem that passed on Tuesday, that again erased any Jewish connection to the Temple Mount, the world needs to be reminded of that over and over.

 US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides visiting Yad Vashem on December 2, 2021 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM) US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides visiting Yad Vashem on December 2, 2021 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Like his predecessors Freidman, Dan Shapiro, Martin Indyk and Daniel Kurtzer, Nides is Jewish. He put out a video statement upon arrival on Monday expressing his delight at taking up his new post, and saying that he made his first trip to Israel when he was 15 years old, “as a little Jewish kid from Duluth, Minnesota.”

A picture on the video shows what looks like a group picture of a typical summer teen trip to Israel. That trip, said Nides, “was a dream come true. I slept in the Sinai desert, climbed Masada at 3 a.m., and worked on a kibbutz.”

With that trip part of his background, Nides surely understands the significance of Israel to the Jewish people, and why the Zionist movement insisted on a state for the Jews there, rather than somewhere in east Africa, as was then suggested.

Nides surely gets it. But not everybody else does.

As America’s ambassador, Nides’ public acts have symbolism, they send a message. Starting his stint here with a visit to the Western Wall would have sent one kind of message – that the Jews have age-old religious and historic ties to this particular land. Tuesday’s UN resolution proves the degree to which that message needs to be trumpeted.

Starting his stint with a visit to Yad Vashem sends another message: that Israel is a bulwark against the possibility of another Holocaust.

And while that message is important, even critical, some with less than charitable attitudes toward Israel twist that message and say that Israel exists because of the Holocaust, and that had there been no Holocaust, there would have been no Israel.

The Palestinians have used the narrative that Israel only exists because of the Holocaust to say that they are paying the price of European crimes against the Jews, and that had the Nazis not murdered Europe’s Jews, the West would not have felt the need to support the establishment of Israel.

Former US president Barack Obama infuriated and alienated many Israelis in June 2009 − less than five months after taking office − with a speech in Cairo interpreted by some prominent figures as well as by leading American Jewish organizations, such as the AJC and ADL, as implying that the Holocaust was the reason for Israel’s existence.

“America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known,” Obama said. “This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied. Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and antisemitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust.”

AJC head David Harris said at the time, “The president implied that the Holocaust was the primary reason for Israel’s creation. That is unfortunate – and factually incorrect.”

The ADL stated after the speech that while Obama “made strong statements against antisemitism and Holocaust denial, it should have been made clear that Israel’s right to statehood is not a result of antisemitism and the Holocaust.”

Israel does not exist because of the Holocaust – Zionism, and the Torah, predated the slaughter of six million Jews – but rather Israel’s existence helps ensure that something like that will not befall the Jews again.

Those denying Israel’s legitimacy – and they are legion – see Israel’s creation only in the context of the Holocaust, see Jews as colonialists and interlopers here, and negate Israel as the historical homeland of the Jewish people.

Had Nides made his first public act here a visit to the Western Wall he would have sent a strong message that the United States under US President Joe Biden recognizes the Jews’ historic attachment to the land. Coming a day after the UN – again – denied the Jews a Jewish connection to their holiest site in Jerusalem, that would have sent a powerful and very timely signal.