My Word: Double take and double think

Stories that bounce back into the news headlines don’t necessarily sound any better the second time around.

Breaking news (photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
Breaking news
(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
I’m spoiled for choice. Unfortunately. When readers ask, as they surprisingly often do, “How do you get ideas for your columns every week?” it is often a sign that they read the paper abroad. There is so much going on here that I find myself having to make tough decisions about what makes it onto these pages. Sometimes I hold an idea over, knowing it’s only a matter of time before it will come back onto the public agenda.
Some of the stories grow bigger in the meantime; some fade only to return in a slightly different form later.
Such is the strange case of UNESCO. I didn’t want to bash the world body two weeks running and since I was far from the only Israeli journalist to note the recent resolutions essentially redefining the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb as “Palestinian,” I hesitated to write again about the organization using its mandate to rewrite history.
Then I heard the planned venue of this month’s UNESCO-sponsored annual World Philosophy Day: Teheran. It was a column that could almost write itself.
I briefly considered writing just the name of the event and the location followed by an exclamation mark.
What could I add to that? Over here in Jerusalem, the rapid rate at which Iran is becoming a nuclear power suggests the mullahs are mulling over a very different connotation of existentialism than angst-struck Jean-Paul Sartre might have agonized about.
At almost the last minute, UNESCO head Irena Bokova apparently realized that going to Teheran to debate cultured thinking would be going too far. The organization hastily rescheduled its main event for Paris. That’s not to say that the Teheran convention was dropped, just that the focus moved to the French capital. Those who want to philosophize in Teheran are free to do so – although the use of the word “free” in this case is also debatable.
Bulgaria’s Bokova, by the way, was considered an admirable choice to head UNESCO during last year’s election. She ran against Egypt’s Minister of Culture Farouk Hosny, whose own philosophy became apparent in, among other things, his declaration in May 2008, “I’d burn Israeli books myself if I found any in libraries in Egypt.” It’s not clear whether this includes the Bible, written, rather awkwardly for Hosny, in Hebrew.
That the Muslim and Arab bloc has an automatic majority in the UN and its various bodies is ever more apparent. Just last May, for example, Libya was elected to sit on the UN’s Human Rights Council. Iran also ran for a seat but withdrew its candidacy hoping instead for a place on the UN Commission on the Status of Women. This might have been a good spot to redeploy my indignant exclamation mark but fortunately all is not lost: Iran failed in its bid – unlike such luminaries of women’s well-being as Saudi Arabia and Congo! More than a stone’s throw away, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, bless him, stated: “We will continue supporting Israel whatever the cost.” And the cost is no secret. Harper’s support for the Jewish state is considered the reason Canada was not chosen as a temporary member of the UN Security Council.
THE UNESCO resolutions concerning the relabeled 4,000-year-old sites of Jewish heritage were raised by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu during his meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last week.
But obviously Netanyahu’s visit was overshadowed by another old-new story: construction in Jerusalem.
While President Barack Obama was reaching out to the Muslim world in Indonesia, Netanyahu was in New Orleans for the Jewish Federations of North America. Jerusalem was on both their minds.
With publication of plans to build some 1,300 units in Jewish neighborhoods, the American president declared: “It does not contribute to the peace process,” to which the Prime Minister’s Office responded: “Jerusalem is not a settlement – it is the capital of Israel.”
And both are right.
The Palestinians – with Obama’s heavy-handed help – have turned the “settlement” issue into the make-itor- break-it of the peace talks. And that includes, for them, neighborhoods housing about a third of Jerusalem’s Jewish population, such as Ramot, Har Homa, French Hill and Pisgat Ze’ev.
News of the continued growth of these areas does not help the diplomatic process. And that’s exactly Netanyahu’s point. I doubt this is a coordinated effort on his part to torpedo the talks – judging from the 10- month settlement freeze, let alone his reported willingness to cede parts of the Jordan Valley, coordinated efforts are not the prime minister’s forte – but Jerusalem is different.
If the Palestinians are not ready to accept that Jews are going to carry on living in these areas, there is not much to talk about. Israeli leaders might be willing to hand over certain neighborhoods with an Arab majority – Shuafat springs to mind – but ethnically cleansing Gilo of some 35,000 Jews is not going to happen, despite the Gush Katif precedent. Gilo residents didn’t even leave en masse when the Palestinians shelled them from Beit Jala in 2000.
Clearly Obama is concerned about “the talks,” but it is the Israelis who have to deal with the “proximity.”
Incidentally, the panic among the villagers of Ghajar in the North, fearful that it could be handed over to Lebanon at the behest of the UN, and the rate at which Arab residents of the West Bank are moving into Jerusalem suggests that not all Palestinians even want to end Israeli “occupation.”
Speaking of which, another topic that encored last week was the Ariel Cultural Center. Ahead of the opening of the new – now world-famous – theater, a group of artists and intellectuals reissued their boycott call stating that Ariel was founded to prevent the Palestinians from being able to build an independent state and scuppers the chance for peace in the region, although it’s not clear to me how a cultural boycott actually furthers peace or even the chance for peaceful coexistence without an official peace treaty.
In any event, in true showbiz style the performance of Beersheba Theater’s Piaf went on, after Mayor Ron Nachman had recited the Sheheheyanu blessing (“for having lived to see this day”).
Over in Tel Aviv, meanwhile, the Cape Town Opera defied boycott calls from none other than South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and prepared to present its acclaimed production of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, set in Soweto of the Seventies, to open the 26th season of the Israeli Opera. Perhaps the hit “It ain’t necessarily so” could turn into the theme song of the philosophy convention in Teheran.

The writer is editor of the International Jerusalem Post.