The U.N. and its system of “specialized agencies” is famous for barring down indiscriminately on the world’s only Jewish state—Israel—and serving as a kangaroo court to heap abuse on the only country in the Middle East that boasts democratic elections, peaceful transfer of power and an independent judiciary that ensures equality for all citizens. According to figures compiled by Fiamma Nirenstein, a journalist and former Italian parliamentarian, the U.N. Human Rights Council has adopted 135 resolutions from 2006 to 2015, of which 68 have been against Israel; the General Assembly has approved 97 from 2012 to 2015, of which 83 have been against Israel; and UNESCO adopts ten country-specific resolutions every year, and all of them against Israel.
This travesty continues despite the U.N.’s abysmal failure, since its establishment in 1945, to achieve its chief goal to “maintain international peace and security.” The number of deaths attributed to the 100-year old Israeli-Arab conflict are estimated at some 120,000—compared to the grotesque number of deaths attributed to other wars, massacres, slaughters and oppressions are upward of 200 million in the 20th Century. Still, the U.N. system continues to undermine its credibility by finding new and imaginative ways to attack Israel, serving as one of the chief enablers of anti-Semitism—a term which today includes, by most versions, anti-Israel bias.
The most recent series of tainted resolutions have come from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which is headquartered in Paris. In October, the Executive Board voted three times on resolutions that have denied the Jewish connection to Judaism’s holiest site—the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The resolutions, promoted by the Palestinians (which became a full member state at UNESCO in 2011), the Arab bloc and others, were allowed to pass—with diminishing majorities—by the feckless abstentions cast by many member states. This included Christian-majority countries that ostensibly have a vested interest in maintaining the Judeo-Christian historical narrative of the late Second Temple period in the cradle of Christianity.
These resolutions were so outrageous that they even elicited a rare written condemnation by UNESCO Secretary-General Irina Bokova of Bulgaria and expressions of remorse by the presidents of Mexico, Brazil and Italy at their country’s vote. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi went as far as to tell Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a subsequent telephone conversation that: “To say that the Jewish people have no connection to Jerusalem is like saying that the sun creates darkness.” Renzi promised to vote against such resolutions in the future, and to act to convince other European governments to adopt his position.
All of these efforts by world bodies whittle away at the legitimacy of Israel's presence in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the region, but they have little impact on the ground. These resolutions in fact are so outrageous that they have provided Israel with a perfect cover for keeping out recurrent committees of investigations that the U.N. has tried to send here—usually populated by "experts" whose anti-Israel bona fides are quite evident— in an effort to ignite an already flammable situation.
The UNESCO resolutions could in fact be credited for the record number of Jewish visitors to the Western Wall and the Temple Mount during the Sukkot holiday. On Oct. 23, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (Shas) called on all Israeli Jews to converge on the Western Wall for the Priestly Blessing. On a Facebook post he said: "This year, we’ll come, in our masses, to Jerusalem, to the Western Wall, to the Priestly Blessing. This Wednesday…we’ll all be there. We’ll send a clear message—nobody will separate us from our holy places.”
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the Rabbi of the Western Wall, responded to the UNESCO decision by saying that, "In all of world history I don't know of an 'occupying power' whose land is full of the relics of its ancestors. The holiness of the Temple Mount and the Western Wall for the Jewish people goes back many generations. It does not need anyone's approval. It is ridiculous to deny the (archaeological) discoveries that are occurring all the time. The millions of worshipers who come to pray at the Western Wall in front of the Temple Mount are the Jewish answer to UNESCO."
And as if in perfect timing, two major archaeological discoveries that reinforce the Jewish narrative and connection to Jerusalem came to light just as the international community sought to deny it. On Oct. 27, compelling evidence of the breaching of Jerusalem’s so-called “third wall”—which was said to have surrounded the city during the Roman destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E.—was announced by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). The new archaeological find included scores of ancient ballista and sling stones that the Romans fired from catapults at the Jewish guards stationed on top of the tower to defend the wall.
The excavation directors described the find: “This is a fascinating testimony of the intensive bombardment by the Roman army, led by Titus, on their way to conquering the city and destroying the Second Temple.” And a day earlier the IAA displayed an unprecedented document containing a reference to Jerusalem from the First Temple period.
Written in ancient Hebrew script and dating back to the Kingdom of Judah during the 7th century B.C.E., the rare relic—a shipping document made of papyrus—was seized from now-jailed Palestinian antiquities plunderers in a complex IAA unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery operation. The papyrus was pillaged from a remote Judean desert cave and represents the earliest extra-Biblical source yet found to mention Jerusalem in Hebrew writing.
While UNESCO's words might not yet have caused any physical harm, they do undoubtedly provide the grist for ongoing Palestinian efforts to engage in widespread damage to the physical elements of Jewish patrimony in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel. Those archaeological finds provide incontrovertible evidence of Jewish primacy in the Holy City from the time of King David and beyond.
As an avid hiker in the less traversed mountains and valleys of Judea and Samaria, I am confronted with this sad reality on a regular basis in all areas under Palestinian control: plundered Jewish burial caves, mikvas and wine presses. Nowhere is this destruction more prevalent than on Temple Mount controlled to this day by the Muslim Waqif (Holy Trust). In an article released on Oct. 27 at an IAA conference in Jerusalem spotlighting major archeological finds over the past decade, Yuval Baruch, IAA Jerusalem Region director, describes the vast destruction caused by the Waqif in 1999. Heavy machinery was used on the Temple Mount to dig out an entrance to "Solomon's Stables," which turned it into the largest mosque in Israel. In 2007, the Waqif dug a channel for laying electrical cables on the mount.
The debris from the first incident—dumped unceremoniously in the Kidron Valley—is still yielding artifacts that corroborate the biblical story. One of the most significant discoveries was presented by experts just last month—geometrically patterned marble floor tiles believed to have covered the porticos atop the Temple Mount during the Second Temple period. The tiles are so vivid, intricate and novel in design that you can still read the Talmudic teaching that “whoever has not seen Herod's building has not seen a beautiful building in his life.”
The second incident was approved and overseen by Baruch and yielded some of the only First Temple artifacts to be found in situ on Temple Mount. But other senior archaeologists fault IAA for what they argue is a continuing pattern of non-intervention in the Waqif's design to damage and destroy vestiges of Jewish presence on and around Temple Mount. They fault the state for allowing the Temple Mount artifacts to remain buried due to considerations of expediency (i.e. that such digs would cause turmoil in the Muslim world).
While confronting—with considerable success—the diplomatic war against the Jewish people's chronicle in Jerusalem, the State of Israel must do more to ensure that our physical patrimony is not eliminated under the same motivation. If Israel is unable at this time to engage in a comprehensive expert and vetted archaeological dig on Temple Mount—something which is long over do—due to political, diplomatic and other temporal considerations, it must ensure that these artifacts remain in situ until future generations will have the fortune to do so.
Alan Schneider is the director of B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem, which serves as the hub of B'nai B'rith International activities in Israel. The World Center is the key link between Israel and B'nai B'rith members and supporters around the world. To view some of his additional content, Click Here.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director-General Irina Bokova is not guilty of the hypocrisy, indifference and lack of responsibility of the member states of the organization who are promoting resolutions to incite hatred and create very negative frameworks in a place which should be devoted to expand and preserve culture. UNESCO should never support rage or erase history.
But, the facts overcome the eventual good intentions of the UNESCO general-director.
It is not necessary to be an expert in order to know that Islam was born in the 7th century C.E. The Western Wall is a great wall which was a piece of the great building of the Second Temple, which was built several centuries after the First Temple which was destroyed by the Babylonians. The Western Wall is the remnant of the Second Temple which was destroyed by the Roman Empire 2,000 years ago; 600 years before Islam was born.
This is history. No more, no less. To twist history, lies are needed.
There are people who deny history and take their lies to UNESCO. Accomplices support these lies by action, silence or ignorance, or all together: a disproportionate package of hate and hypocrisy. And those who turn indifferent are not better than the others: they join perpetrators and they fall into oblivion and disgrace.
Bokova has tried not to be indifferent and has said that: “Jerusalem is the sacred city of the three monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is in recognition of this exceptional diversity, and this cultural and religious coexistence, that it was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.”
Bokova stressed that denying, hiding or trying to “erase any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions, undermines the integrity of the site, and runs counter to the reasons that justified its inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage list.”
Demolishing history is not a question of undermining but aggression. It is very nice to say that from the top offices of UNESCO there will be hard work for justice and repair, but it looks naïve. One week after Bokova’s statement, UNESCO again, for the third time in less than ten days, destroyed history and showed its ugly anti-Semitic face, voting on an absurd resolution that erases Jewish ties to holy sites in Jerusalem, the center of Jews’ national and religious life throughout history.
If UNESCO and its officers really want to recover a little self-respect for the organization, the only thing to be erased, must be the resolutions incited by the Palestinian Authority and supported by rogue governments.
Is it possible? It seems unlikely.
UNESCO, as other U.N. agencies are full of anti-Semitism. It happened when the U.N. elected a former Nazi as secretary-general in 1972. During his tenure as secretary-general, former President of Austria Kurt Waldheim was awarded by UNESCO, and after his term ended, he was discovered to have been a Nazi during World War II.
So, the illness of anti-Semitism inside the U.N. and other agencies is not new.
Those who promote hatred, maybe, are very happy today. They should know that hatred causes a lot of damage and pain, but remains in the dark side of history as it is: hatred.
At the end of the day, civilization and freedom always prevail.
Our Cuban Jewish Relief Project intern is on the ground, now a few weeks into her semester-long internship. You can read her first hand account and thoughts on her experience thus far below, in BOTH ENGISH AND SPANISH. The English version is first, click below or scroll down to read her blog in Spanish.
After a couple of weeks in Cuba, I’ve been able to spend some time with the Jewish community of Havana and I must say I’m surprised on how a kehila (congregation) of around one thousand people is so alive. The local community was rebuilt at the beginning of the 1990s, when many of its current members rediscovered their Jewish roots. Since then some organizations, like B’nai B’rith International, have been supporting diverse, artistic and cultural projects, tzedakah initiatives and celebrations of festivities and Jewish traditions both in Havana, where the majority of Jews are located, and in Cuba’s provinces.
But regardless all the efforts for maintaining the Jewish identity, the community in Havana doesn´t have a rabbi, a Jewish school or a diversity of entities like it used to have when it had more than 15 thousand people; all the activities take place exclusively around the three synagogues of the city. Therefore, the same buildings where the religious services of Fridays and Saturdays take place are being used for a variety of activities like rikuddim (Israeli folk dance) groups of all ages, social help initiatives, small entrepreneurships, entertainment programs, workshops for the elderly, a youth group and a Sunday school named for Albert Einstein. This is where Cubans learn Hebrew and Judaism.
You might be asking yourself how three synagogues survive with such a small number of people. No doubt this is possible thanks to the participation of the members and the roles they have been taking, many times studying and learning the ways to deepen our traditions. In such a short time I’ve been able to see people that are completely committed to the Jewish life and willing to give whatever they can to work for its continuity. Young people and families are constantly moving to other countries, especially Israel and the United States, and the community has been reducing in number and participants. That is why the effort of the ones that are here has a double meaning.
Although people of all ages work every week to keep that vitality I mentioned before, what has surprised me the most is the commitment of some elderly people who are not only finding a space to receive the community support, but a place to give. When you start talking to the seniors it is easy to find one that is volunteering to visit the people in need, participate in the rikuddim group, bake the challah for Kabalat Shabbat and help in administrative tasks or the religious services.
People multiply their participation; they have more than one role, because they know the continuity of the community depends on it. This way they make an effort to rescue and pass on a history and a tradition anchored in buildings of the fifties that are not only preserving the perfect aesthetic of another time, but also the memory that many of these people have of their childhood, of their migrant parents, or in some cases even of the first years after their own migration from different places.
Cubanos haciendo una comunidad judía en La Habana
Constantemente jóvenes y familias emigran a otros países, especialmente a Israel y a Estados Unidos y la comunidad se ha ido reduciendo en número y en participantes. Por eso resulta doblemente significativo el esfuerzo que hacen los que continúan aquí.
Si bien gente de todas las edades se entrega semana a semana para que continúe aquella vitalidad que mencionaba antes, lo que más me ha sorprendido es el compromiso de algunos adultos mayores que encuentran un espacio no solo en el que recibir el apoyo comunitario, sino que también un lugar desde el que pueden entregar. Al ponerse a hablar con los miembros de mayor edad es fácil encontrar a alguno que se voluntarice para visitar a los necesitados, participe en un grupo de rikudim, hornee las jalot para el kabalat shabat y ayude en tareas administrativas o en los servicios religiosos.
Las personas multiplican su participación, suplen más de un rol, porque saben que de eso depende la continuidad de la comunidad. De esta manera se esfuerzan por rescatar y transmitir una historia y una tradición ancladas en edificios construidos en los años cincuenta que no solo guardan y preservan una impecable estética de antaño, sino que también los recuerdos que varias de estas personas tienen de sus infancias, de sus padres inmigrantes o incluso en algunos casos de ellos mismos cuando habían llegado hacía no mucho desde distintos rincones.
Slated to receive a stipend of $625,000 over the next five years, Josh Kun is a cultural historian who was selected as one of 23 new MacArthur Fellows announced in September. Kun is a brilliant academic, journalist and NPR broadcaster who has mounted exhibits at museums, including the Getty Foundation and the Skirball Center in Los Angeles and Long Beach’s Museum of Latin American Art. The 46-year-old scholar is based at the University of Southern California, where he teaches at the Annenberg School of Communications and serves as director of the Popular Music Project at the school’s Norman Lear Center.
Kun envisions his hometown of Los Angeles—and America as a whole—as a tapestry whose rich and varied coloristic shadings in the visual, performing and culinary arts result from the fusion of his city’s multicultural heritage. Describing his publications including the 2006 “Audiotopia,” a study of Jewish, Latino and African-American multi-cultural music and “You Shall Know Us by the Trail of Our Vinyl” (2008), exploring the iconography of the covers of over 400 Jewish music recordings, the MacArthur Foundation states that Kun, “brings to life forgotten historical narratives through finely grained analyses of material and sonic manifestations of popular culture.”
Much of this “sonic manifestation” has been realized through Kun’s efforts as one of the founders of the Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation, named for the composer of “Hava Nagila” and sponsored by “Reboot,” an organization dedicated to contemporary Jewish living. With a mission dedicated to the rediscovery and reassessment of niche music including the Latin-Jewish music craze of the 1950s, unknown to generations. Restoring classic recordings including “Mazel Tov,” “Mis Amigos” on DVD, the Society also assembles and produces new DVDs, including “Black Sabbath,” a selection of Yiddish songs, prayers and chants performed by African American artists from Cab Calloway to Aretha Franklin. Another release includes music by Black composers inspired by and incorporating Jewish melodies and liturgical elements.
The Society also partners with other institutions in presenting concerts, producing documentaries, and even opening a pop-up Jewish record store in San Francisco. Visitors to the Idelsohn web page are able to read about the men and women associated with the genre’s evolution. They can also access digitized versions of songs like “It’s a Scream How Levine Does the Rhumba,” a title which certainly distills the essence of Kun’s passions, not to mention providing a little kitschy and light-hearted whimsy.
Fittingly appropriating the jargon associated with sound engineering, Kun said: “I strive to be a scholar who crossfades (to make an image or sound gradually emerge on top of another which is, conversely, fading into silence) disciplines, who slides between and creates conversations between multiple publics, who diligently works with archives in order to animate them in new ways, and who follows historical and critical clues to excavate and learn from points of intersection.”
Reinventing the cultural landscape of history through an innovative approach and thinking outside of the box is not relegated to the domain of younger scholars. Hailed as a “splendid” book “seething with ideas” by The New York Times, and ranking high on its list of recommended nonfiction is “The Face of Britain: A History of the Nation Through its Portraits.” Simon Schama, a noted English art historian, is best remembered by American audiences as the writer and narrator of the 2014 PBS documentary series “The Story of the Jews.” His new book was written as a compendium for a 2015 English television show that he hosted at the National Portrait Gallery. The book is organized thematically, focusing on paintings, sculptures, drawings, graphics and photos of men and women from all walks of life—from Queen Victoria and Sir Winston Churchill to Hogarth’s memorable panoplies of 18th century urban dandies and criminals—whose depictions became synonymous with their deeds, and determined the way they would be treated by posterity. Assessing the often primal and voyeuristic immediacy of modern portraits and self-portraits of icons like John Lennon or Lucien Freud, Schama provides an analysis of the contemporary viewer in a nutshell: “we come into the world wide-eyed, ready to stare.”
Art critic Benjamin Binstock writes that Simon Schama is today known for his books on history and culture which display his trademark “sparkling prose and… brilliant capacity to synthesize information.” Born in London to immigrant parents, Schama studied the Talmud as a teenager, and went on to receive his degrees at the University of Cambridge. His award-winning publications include “Citizens,” a history of the French Revolution, “Two Rothschilds and the Land of Israel” and “Landscape and Memory.” Introducing new audiences to the visual arts and history through his radio and television broadcasts in Europe and the United States, Schama received the Commander of the British Empire (CBE) from Queen Elizabeth II in 2001.
B'nai B'rith International has widely respected experts in the fields of: