CEO & Director of U.N. Affairs Op-ed in InsideSources: End U.N. Revisionism on Jewish Roots in Jerusalem
The air over Jerusalem is saturated with prayers and dreams like the air over heavily industrial cities.
It’s hard to breathe.
Those words, by the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai, testify to the rich and fraught history of Jerusalem. Sacred and singular, a symbol as much as a place, it has been coveted, conquered, and reconquered. Its layers of history can quite literally be excavated like an archaeological dig.
One thread, however, traces to practically the origin of the ancient city: Its centrality to the Jewish people. Until recently, this self-evident truth would have prompted no contention. In early Jewish texts, Jerusalem is “the light of the world,” the heart of Jews’ collective consciousness. While Christians and Muslims have cherished Jerusalem, many would make Rome or Mecca a focal point of their global faiths. For Jews, there has only been Jerusalem.
It is toward there that, over the course of their exile, Jews have directed their prayers. It is Jerusalem whose memory has been invoked in Jewish milestone events, whether marriage or bereavement. Jewish holidays commemorate yearly pilgrimages to Jerusalem. Even in the diaspora, sizable Jewish communities were identified with the city: Amsterdam was once called “Jerusalem of the West,” Vilnius was “Jerusalem of the North” and Thessaloniki was “Jerusalem of the Balkans.”
Jerusalem was established by King David as his capital 3,000 years ago. And it is the only city to have been the State of Israel’s seat of government. Few nations have roots as deep.
On Dec. 1, 2021, however, the United Nations again repeated a ritual that represents a modern spin on efforts to deny the roots, rights, and very legitimacy of the Jewish people in their sole ancestral homeland.
The U.N. General Assembly passed some 15 resolutions attacking Israel in December – more than those targeting all other 192 members states. That bombardment reflects not the actual record of Israel – the only pluralistic democracy in the Middle East – but rather the combined political weight of its adversaries.
Among the most odious motions is the one adopted on Jerusalem.
The resolution condemns Israel, the country that has not just championed religious freedom more than any other in the region, but maintained Islamic administration of the Temple Mount – the single holiest place in Judaism – and restricted Jews’ own ability to pray there.
If the condemnation weren’t unjust enough, the text again erases Jewish history by referring to the Temple Mount exclusively by its later Arabic designation, Haram al-Sharif. Other iterations have belittled Jews’ connection to the epicenter of their civilization by consigning the site’s long-standard name to parentheses.
In contrast with Israel – where Arabic signage is ubiquitous, Christian and other minorities have grown continually, and hijabs mix with skullcaps in universities, hospitals, and parliament – Palestinian leaders have exported an endemic denial of Jewish history by referring at the U.N. only to a Muslim and Christian heritage in Jerusalem.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat famously denied the very existence in Jerusalem of the Jewish temples. His successor, Mahmoud Abbas, said of the mosque on the Temple Mount and of Jews: “Al-Aqsa is ours and so is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. They have no right to desecrate them with their filthy feet.”
But classical Islam, so closely connected with Judaism, never denied Jews’ place in the region – and Christian history is utterly inseparable from Jewish history in the holy city. It is Christian scripture that affirms that Jesus, a Jew, walked the Temple Mount even before the existence of the now-distinct religions.
The temple’s menorah is commemorated not only in Jewish homes each Hanukkah but on the Arch of Titus in Rome – which celebrates Jerusalem’s destruction and despoiling in the year 70.
Over recent years, more and more countries have said they will no longer tolerate denial of Jewish and Christian ties to holy places. But too much vacillation remains. Although Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands opposed outright a 2016 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization resolution lambasted for erasing the name “Temple Mount,” all three merely abstained on the General Assembly resolution guilty of the same offense.
At the U.N., because of its structural realities, there truly is no limit to Palestinian charges that not only defame but delegitimize Israel: whether “ethnic cleansing,” “Judaizing Jerusalem” or “apartheid.” The cynical linking of racism to Zionism – the movement to restore Jews’ national home in Israel, with Jerusalem, or Zion, at its heart – has been a longstanding tactic of Palestinian representatives seeking to challenge Israel’s existence altogether.
Fortunately, 30 years ago the United Nations revoked a notorious 1975 resolution equating Zionism with racism.
It is now time for all countries to take a stand for honesty, decency, and diversity by rejecting efforts to whitewash Jews’ roots in the land that gave them their very identity.
Read the op-ed in InsideSources.
The idea of presenting “opposing views” with the Holocaust would be mortifying if the concept behind it weren’t so mind-boggling. The thought of such a ridiculous notion leaves me shocked, numb.
That a top educator in a School District in the Dallas-Fort Worth area would use the Holocaust as an example of desired balance in presenting history-relating racism reveals vast deficiencies in understanding, much less education.
What began as a debate over legislation addressing “critical race theory” ended with a bizarre comparison delivered before a stunned school board audience, prompting a swift and immediate apology from the superintendent of the Carroll Independent School District.
One of many teaching moments in this chapter of history is that revisionism is clearly becoming the embarrassing subplot to the torment that’s ripping apart the country. Are school districts across the most advanced country in the world really going to allow what should have been an Age of Re-enlightenment to become the Age of Reimagining Everything? Are generations of history, literature — not to mention our sanity — about to be gone with the wind?
“Opposing views” of the Holocaust are nothing but Holocaust denial. Such behavior is nothing new in today’s world of hate. In fact, this event only gains credence when Holocaust museums, commissions, and education diminish their importance by allowing the unvarnished history to be portrayed as just another genocide or just another violation of human rights. Now, anyone who can’t understand the reality of the Holocaust either believes people should still hail Hitler or that the earth is still flat. Two decades into the 21st century, is this the new direction of education?
Educators wishing to teach racism need to realize that too many people believe anti-Semitism began with Hitler and in Nazi Germany. In truth — the unequivocal variety — the history of anti-Semitism goes back thousands of years with Jews as slaves, inhabitants in ghettos, or scapegoats by empires over more than 100 generations. And despite such oppression, the Jewish people have not only survived but made a positive impact in many societies. In the face of great achievements, the Jewish people also understand that our values oblige us to dedicate ourselves to the freedom of others.
Today, Holocaust denial has a new partner — the denial of Israel as the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people. The history of Israel dates back thousands of years. The legal boundaries of Israel are more in evidence than in dispute, and any disputed territory is subject to negotiation. To that end, “Palestine” will exist when the Palestinians accept history, own up to the consequences of their own actions, and develop compromises within their ranks.
In truth, we have Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, and an immense evil cast who not only participated in hatching, planning, and implementing the Final Solution, but meticulously and proudly documented the heinous crimes for the world to see. The irrefutable evidence is substantiated by voluminous eyewitness accounts of prosecuted war criminals, rescuers, physical evidence from labor and death camps; cans of Cyklon B, hair, bones, ashes, testimonies from survivors, miles of film, books.
And yet, the Holocaust deniers demand telling of their side of the story, their truth, the imagined “opposing views,” which basically is a collection of demonizing libels that don’t deserve repeating. Poland, which succumbed to the Nazis and was complicit in many ways to the brutality at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where 300,000 Poles also were victims, wants to criminalize tying Poland to its history of death to millions of Jews and others.
There’s no running away from history, particularly the evil of this human experience. Diminishing the truth is shameful. Back in Texas, with apologies rendered and, of course, the “opposing views” argument ascribed to either confusion or misapplication of a law that aims to keep people from spinning history, the incident undoubtedly will evaporate into the “wokesphere.”
Meanwhile, Jews continue to be targeted as scapegoats for the blood libels of the past or for no other reason beyond their religious identity. Make no mistake, there are many good people who respect the diverse culture and practices of the Jewish people. And for those who prefer not to do so, well, they will continue trying to reinvent the wheel, which remains, by all accounts, the same shape as the earth.
Read President Kaufman's analysis in Inside Sources.
Charles O. Kaufman is president of B'nai B'rith International.
There’s no right way to do something wrong, even for the venerable New York Times. Last week, with a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel just days old, the Times created a large block of 64 “headshots” to tease stories inside.
“They were just children,” stated a heading above the photos of 69 Palestinian youths reportedly killed in the conflict. The caption added, “They had wanted to be doctors, artists, and leaders.” The loss of life is enough of a tragedy, much less the lives of future doctors, artists, and “leaders.” How amazing that the terror group Hamas would put such talent in harm’s way.
Journalistically, the problem with this presentation is at least two-fold. First, there are no photographs of Israeli innocent residents, including children, who were indiscriminately killed by the rain of 4,300-plus rockets during the 11-day spree. Next, there was no reference to the roughly 50 of 200 or so Palestinian deaths that were victims of misfired Hamas missiles or those that fell short of targets in Israeli villages and cities. That’s quite a glaring omission for an international news organization.
Any reader with a heartbeat will feel anything from empathy to outrage against a perpetrator of such a result, particularly if the newspaper has a built-in bias against Israel, the Zionist entity that it wants you to believe targets innocent civilians, engages in apartheid policy, occupies stolen land as a step-child of the United States. It is clever work that most freedom-loving people would expect from government-run newspapers from Tehran, Moscow, or Beijing. But this was on the front page of The New York Times, winner of more than 130 Pulitzer Prizes since 1917.
As for the “doctors, artists and leaders,” what parent doesn’t have big dreams for their children? At the very least, parents want their children to be happy and prepare for full lives.
The problem with lofty career/life aspirations—doctors, artists, and leaders—is that Hamas can’t deliver that opportunity. Hamas has one goal—to train jihadists to create the Islamic state in place of Israel. More specifically, Hamas advocates the “obliteration or dissolution of Israel.”
As with the May 28 front-page presentation in The Times and ancient blood libels of pogroms and expulsions past, today’s lies inflame and incite acts of anti-Semitism in the United States with such terms as apartheid and stolen and occupied land. The charge that Israel intentionally targets children is simply false. Hamas and the Palestinian Authority know it. Most Western countries know it but fear reprisals in their own countries if they acknowledge it. Even radar images from Israel Defense Forces planes show bombing raids called off when images detect children.
The “nation” of Palestine lives daily in a fantasy: flags, rockets, and all. They do so in the United Nations and in foreign capitals to create an impression for cameras and social media propaganda. A generation with little education nor respect for history has accepted the propaganda. The Times has accepted it as if its readers were born yesterday.
Palestinian leaders seem to lack the appetite to negotiate differences with Israel. Victimhood certainly is more profitable, at least for warlords, than building an economy in which future doctors, artists, and leaders can flourish. Palestinians have even captured the imagination of movement-hungry Americans, even many Jews, who’ve swallowed hook, line, and sinker the Palestinians’ false narratives.
I hope the Palestinians find a way to build a nation of doctors, artists, and leaders in a future generation or sooner. I hope they take the 141 square miles in Gaza and portions of the West Bank to do so. I pray that the doctors, artists, and leaders show the capacity to partner with Israel, the “Startup Nation,” to build a real economy. Many already are. I truly hope they find the vision to replace actually starting wars with building an economy. The paradise that jihadists seek is available in demilitarized territories and along Gaza’s Mediterranean coastline.
Again, there is no right way to do something wrong. As for The Times, its writers and editors certainly have a right to their opinions. But the reputation and integrity of a news organization with a slew of Pulitzers depend on a full picture of valid and verifiable information, all presented responsibly. Only then will their example serve the future doctors, artists, and leaders to fuel a vision of working in tandem with Israel. Only through partnerships will the world find peace.
Read President Kaufman's expert take in Inside Sources.
Charles O. Kaufman is president of B'nai B'rith International.
As Palestinians and Israelis are again locked in conflict, innumerable citizen advocates aim to promote the side with which they identify. Supporters of Israel face structural disadvantages in a fight for hearts and minds that can have real-world implications. Here’s why.
Going back nearly a century, the Zionist position was not against the creation of a Palestinian Arab state, simply in favor of reviving the Jewish state alongside it.
By now, a pragmatist element of Palestinian leaders has technically accepted Israel’s existence but failed to abandon domestic messaging that demonizes and delegitimizes Israel. Moreover, jihadist groups like Hamas—which seized control of the Gaza Strip—remain openly committed to Israel’s destruction.
While this extremism might be expected to bolster the standing of Israel’s defenders, it deprives them of stridency that can resonate: Typically these defenders do remain on the defensive, while Palestinian activists go on the offense. Mainstream Israel-advocates appeal for coexistence, for calm. Often, however, pro-Palestinian voices demand “justice.” That can be impactful.
Justice can imply the existence of one victim and one villain, a convenient narrative in an era of zero-sum populism and social media platforms that favor easy-to-rouse hashtags. Anti-intellectual, “anti-elite” sentiment on the far-right is increasingly matched by disdain for moderation and nuance on the far-left.
And so, a tendency has hardened among some to see power as confirmation of unjust privilege—and also to recognize only certain forms of power. Palestinians are seen to be stateless and weaker than Israel militarily. But too many do not ask whether Palestinians have had opportunities for statehood, as they have, or whether Palestinians “offset” military inferiority, as their combatants do, through asymmetric warfare that exploits limitations on a uniformed military.
Too many see a blockade on Gaza, but not the violence and explicit threats that precipitated it. Too many see Israel’s relative strength, but not its longtime vulnerability in the midst of a vast Arab world, let alone nearly 60 Muslim-majority states at the United Nations.
The UN condemns Israel, the Middle East’s sole democracy, more than all other countries combined. UN bodies tend to dedicate extraordinary attention to Israel only after it responds to attacks—not before.
But the realities are even more daunting outside such halls of power. Not all Muslims or Jews are animated by the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but the fact that the world is home to some 1.5 billion Muslims and only around 15 million Jews affects what goes viral on social media, the size of solidarity rallies, and that which politicians and news outlets hear.
After a year of the pandemic, audiences are eager to change focus. Among Palestinians, the realization that more Arab governments have recently shifted toward accepting Israel has sparked a determination to regain visibility.
Progressives also perceive conservatives as generally supportive of Israel—and react by emphasizing Palestinian goals over regional peacemaking. Palestinian activists’ campaign to tie their nationalism to the Black Lives Matter movement—while stigmatizing Jews’ nationalism as “racist”—is giving their efforts yet another edge.
An under-appreciated reality is that there is little cost or risk to excoriating Israel, something that isn’t true of major world powers or authoritarian regimes.
Israel is one of the world’s smallest countries and it long lacked natural resources, in contrast with its oil-rich neighbors. With fewer than 10 million citizens, it does not wield a tremendous consumer market. Additionally, Israel remains isolated and boycotted by adversaries. Its assets are strained by the need for defense against relentless, recurrently existential, threats.
Despite this, political debate is always robust in Israel—which can do little to silence critics abroad.
The fact that many vilify the Jewish state does not confer guilt; it shows that detractors face few consequences for doing so.
Journalists are fallible. From story placement to selective data, and from editorializing in reportage to objective errors, providing true context to complex subjects is a tall order.
These hazards especially apply to Israel—the focus, quantitatively and qualitatively, of unsurpassed scrutiny. No other nation is so critiqued for counterterrorism efforts, let alone equated with terrorist aggressors. Why are terrorists described as such elsewhere but often called “militants” when their targets are Israelis? Why are Israeli leaders labeled “hard-line” but Palestinian nationalists, Lebanese or Iranians rarely are? Why are the terms “occupation” and “settler” applied to Israeli Jews but few others? Why does endemic Palestinian incitement go unreported?
More people have been killed in numerous countries than in Israeli operations against Hamas. Unequal reporting devalues the lives of those deemed unworthy of attention and advocacy.
Finally, at a time when new technology is available to document facts, imagery can also be manipulated—or tell just part of a story.
Are observers aware that Israel acts to minimize civilian casualties, while Hamas seeks (however successfully) to maximize them? Have readers been reminded that Palestinian violence spiked after Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005? Do viewers know that Israel has maintained Muslim administration of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount—Judaism’s holiest site?
Too often Palestinians are treated as powerless people, but Israel as a faceless state.
In reality, there is real suffering among both peoples—and each side holds critical responsibilities.
But this is likely too nuanced a message for the moment. Israel contends with asymmetric warfare not only on the battlefield but also in the battle for public opinion.
Read David's expert analysis in InsideSources.
David J. Michaels is Director of United Nations and Intercommunal Affairs at B'nai B'rith International, where he began working in 2004 as Special Assistant to the Executive Vice President. A Wexner Fellow/Davidson Scholar, and past winner of the Young Professional Award of the Jewish Communal Service Association of North America, he holds degrees from Yale and Yeshiva University. Click here to view more of his content.
President Op-ed in InsideSources: Facebook, Twitter on the Right Side of History With Bans on Holocaust Denial
Anti-Semitism’s lengthy history is built on ignorance and the perpetuation of lies by people who hate Jews. It’s a disease far more incurable than a pandemic.
Over the centuries, despots disliked a people whose theology introduced a code of morality and justice that flipped civilizations. From pharaohs to Hitler and too many others to name, rulers responded with force and power, mostly sentencing Jews to slavery, ghettos and death.
Today, people continue to foment hate fueled by ignorance and lies, and still targeting Jews. The weapon of choice for ignorance and lies is a platform of recklessness called social media. Oh sure, when used responsibly, social media is a very productive tool. Such responsible behavior is not common these days.
But on Oct. 12, Facebook, with its users representing one-third of the world’s 7.8 billion people, decided to do something really bold about this recklessness by simply acting responsibly — the social media platform decided not to allow people to lie about the Holocaust.
Days later, Twitter announced its “hateful conduct policy” issued its own prohibition of “attempts to deny or diminish” violent events, including the Holocaust. Twitter has taken aim primarily at white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
Facebook’s Monika Bickert announced in a blog a hate speech policy update, specifically “to prohibit any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust.”
The company’s decision was prompted by the recent rise in anti-Semitism, not just vandalism or insults, but shootings and physical attacks, and an “alarming level of ignorance about the Holocaust.” Bickert noted a recent survey that showed that one in four American adults between ages 18 and 39 believed the Holocaust is a myth.
One might wonder how on earth is this ignorance possible in the United States?
For decades, survivors have made presentations. Newsreel footage starkly shows the horrifying, shocking images. Books on the subject fill libraries. Two-thirds (34) of the states in the U.S. mandate some form of Holocaust or genocide education.
About the same number of states have impressive museums, mostly in major population centers, or monuments seen by many others. The 16 U.S. states without such mandates have less population cumulatively than California.
There are 43 countries in the world with Holocaust museums or memorials. In Europe, Germany boasts 22 memorials and museums. France has 13 Holocaust memorials or museums. Greece has 10 museums and monuments. Those numbers don’t include memorials and displays in synagogues and temples.
Yad Vashem — The World Holocaust Remembrance Center — makes available “ready to print” exhibitions. Auschwitz-Birkenau is widely visited, but the solemnity of this hallowed earth is lost with eye-catching signage that welcomes tour buses.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center has exhibitions ready for travel. Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation has created captivating holographic interviews of survivors that will give life to eyewitness accounts long after survivors take their final breaths.
The United Nations and its agencies, notably UNESCO (the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization), with all of its flaws, embraces Holocaust education with permanent displays of art and various publications.
In May, the latest Holocaust-related legislation passed in Congress was the Never Again Education Act. More than 30 countries have adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism.
Despite all of the access to information, what has the world learned? It has learned that ancient hate thrives in the modern world.
So, Facebook’s banning of Holocaust denial is an important, courageous act of media leadership.
It’s been a long time coming and B’nai B’rith International has long advocated such a move. CEO Mark Zuckerberg is to be commended, though the company admits that enforcing the policy, policing the platform, will be quite a challenge.
Twitter’s announcement is equally welcome. But if the bright Facebook and Twitter coders can write algorithms and direct users with hashtags and other tools, they should be able to identify keywords that will curb the volume of hate posts before they hit the digital universe.
Germans worked hard to keep the Holocaust secret.
Rumors swirled as work camps becoming death camps — Dachau, Chelmo, Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec, Auschwitz — were shockingly real. But the Nazi’s own record-keeping carefully lays out the horrific truth of the Holocaust.
Nazis even documented mass shootings, starvations, experimental surgeries, the crematoria, the piles of skeletal bodies. Thousands of camps dotted Nazi-controlled European countries. Eleven million people, more than six million Jews, were systematically murdered.
Of course anti-Semitism didn’t begin, or end, with the Holocaust, and rulers have been complicit in Jew hatred for thousands of years.
With the modern Jewish State of Israel maturing nicely at 72, the lies that generated anti-Semitism continue today from across the political spectrum, from extreme Islamists and with U.N. resolutions denying any ancient Jewish connection to the Western Wall, not to mention any Jewish roots there in general.
The United Nations could and should learn from the example of Facebook. Resolutions that deny undeniable Jewish history insult the U.N. mission. As for other media — all media — they should learn from the Facebook and Twitter examples.
For a media platform that could never police itself adequately from lies, rage baiting and hate — all things wrong — Facebook got this one right.
And Twitter followed.
Read Charles' expert analysis in InsideSources.
Charles O. Kaufman is president of B'nai B'rith International.
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