Why History Matters – Shabbat Lekh Lecha, Friday, October 23, 2015

It was not the message they were expecting.

Many friends and colleagues of mine were in Jerusalem this week, as Reform Jewish delegates to the World Zionist Congress. It’s a meeting that takes place every five years, to reaffirm and advance the cause of modern Zionism. First held under the leadership of Theodor Herzl in 1897, the World Zionist Congress spends a lot of time, effort, and money on the ties that bind Jews throughout the world to the land of Israel and the State of Israel.

It’s a great honor to be selected as a World Zionist Delegate – but my friends arrived in Jerusalem this week at a very dangerous time. In recent weeks, scores of Israelis have been killed or injured by Arabs – many of them residents of East Jerusalem — who have set upon Jews randomly on the street with knives, guns, and even ramming them with cars.
Security cameras have captured Arab teenagers wandering the streets with knives in their hands, looking for unsuspecting targets. One camera captured the moment an Arab behind the wheel of a car sped up and took aim at a group of ultra-Orthodox men at a bus stop, ramming one so hard that he was thrown six feet in the air.

Israelis are afraid to take their kids to school, afraid to go shopping. One colleague shared her Israeli husband’s first-hand account of sipping coffee with a friend at an outdoor café when an Arab went running past them, others screaming behind him – get the terrorist, he just stabbed somebody! The friend, without a moment’s hesitation, put down his coffee and ran down the terrorist, hog-tying him with a belt till the police came.

Then he returned to the café, sat back down, and went back to his coffee and his conversation.

This is the new normal for Israelis that awaited my friends. This is why they were so anxious to hear the speech from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But it was not the message they were expecting.

Netanyahu claimed that the grand mufti of Jerusalem had given Hitler the idea for the Final Solution, for the extermination of Europe’s Jews. He said that Haj Amin al-Husseini, the man overseeing the Muslim holy sites of Jerusalem, told Hitler not to deport the Jews, but to burn them.

Bibi made jaws drop for a number of reasons. First, it’s simply not true. It’s factually, historically, incorrect.

Second, his assertion has distracted the world from the Jewish blood now being shed all across Israel. Third, it has emboldened Jew-haters and anti-Semites across the globe, who now turn to each other and say, “See, we told you. It’s the Jews’ fault. They hate Arabs so much that they’ll lie to get what they want.”

Instead of engendering world support for Israel and condemnation of Arab blood-lust against Jews, Bibi managed to do the opposite – at a time when we can least afford it.

Let’s face it – the world’s news media already have trouble getting the story right. From the BBC to the New York Times, the reports and photos out of Israel emphasize Arabs shot dead in the streets – all but ignoring the fact that those Arabs are terrorists who were shot in the act of attacking Jews with knives, guns, and cars.

What’s really aggravating is that Bibi didn’t have to stretch the truth. The fact is that the Grand Mufti was both an admirer and an ally of Hitler, who who pledged his support to the Nazi cause in a meeting with the Fuhrer in 1941. The fact is that Al-Husseini was angling for the creation of a united, independent Arab entity across the Middle East, playing Germany against the British and hedging his bets on who would win the war.

It was Hitler who said in that meeting that the extermination of the Jewish people was at the top of his must-do list. But the fact is that he agreed with the Mufti that Jews should not be allowed to rebuild their homeland in what was then British Mandate Palestine – something that Britain had supported as far back as 1917, in the wake of the First World War and the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire.

And here’s why Bibi’s mistake is so costly: Because it’s obscuring what’s really going on in Israel today. Which is that the Palestinian leadership is trying to rewrite the Jews out of the history of the Jewish homeland. The homeland for which Jews yearned during two thousand years of exile. The homeland promised to by God Abraham in this week’s Torah portion:

“I will establish my covenant between me and you and your seed after you in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God to you, and to your seed after you. And I will give to you, and to your seed after you, the land where you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”

The current Palestinian leadership, including the so-called “moderate” Mahmoud Abbas, has resurrected a hundred-year-old canard to gather the masses in a bloody uprising against the Jews.

“Protect Al-Aqsa at all cost,” they declare – and the people listen and obey. It was indeed Mufti al-Husseini who, back in the early 1920s, first promoted the lie that the Jews were threatening the Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount. Twenty-five years before Israel’s independence, forty-five years before the reunification of Jerusalem in the war of 1967, the Mufti first called out the people to “protect Al-Aqsa” at all cost and trained terror groups of Fedayeen to attack and murder Jews. From that time on, over and over again, he raised the false specter of a change in the status quo at the Temple Mount to goad Arabs into rioting. Over and over again, Arabs ran into the streets eager to spill Jewish blood.

This is the same lie – the same tactic – that has led to this month’s Arab riots across Israel and Arab attacks on Jews by knife, by gun, and by car.

There is no change in the status quo. Israel could have taken over the Temple Mount in 1967 when it captured the Old City of Jerusalem, declared it wholly Jewish, and destroyed the Muslim sacred spaces as the Romans did when they obliterated all trace of Herod’s Second Temple. But Moshe Dayan promised that Israel would not do that, and that promise has held.

Yes, the charge is as much of a murderous lie today as it was 100 years ago. But today, the use of social media – as well as the public speeches by Hamas and the PLO – have made the situation exponentially more explosive. And so has the presence of Arabs who work for the United Nations agency caring for displaced Palestinians.

According to a group called “U.N. Watch,” based in Geneva, a number of Arabs on the UN payroll have taken to Facebook with photos and even music videos. I’ve seen some of these postings. They glorify terrorists who have stabbed Israelis, and calling on others to “Stab Zionist Dogs” or “fight until you defeat the aggressor.” One even published a handy-dandy, easy-to-follow graphic of where to stab a Jew for maximum effect.

This is actually the second time in the past two months that UN relief workers have been caught posting terrorist messages on their Facebook accounts. UN Watch called on the relief agency to fire 10 employees for using the cover of their jobs to promote violence – and, as of yesterday, the UN said it had “disciplined” several agency employees including suspension and loss of pay. The UN purported to be shocked at their graphic incitement to violence. But I’m not shocked at all.

After all, this is the same agency that, for decades, has kept the Palestinian Arabs in a state of statelessness, teaching generations of children in Gaza to hate Jews, allowing Hamas to turn their schools into rocket-launchers.

But what happened at another UN agency this week was a surprise. And again, it goes to the heart of the real story: that the Palestinian leadership is getting help from the Arab world in trying to rewrite the Jews out of the history of the Jewish homeland.

This week, UNESCO, the UN body responsible for the preservation of historical sites, took up an Arab resolution that would declare the Kotel, the Western Wall, to be an integral part of the Haram al-Sharif, as the Temple Mount is known is Islam. That is, UNESCO was ready to declare the holiest site in Judaism not Jewish at all but culturally, historically, religious, and archaeologically exclusively Muslim.

The resolution also referred to Jerusalem as, quote, “the occupied capital of Palestine,” even though no such entity exists now or ever has existed.

Keep in mind, that this also is not a new tactic. For decades, the web site of the PLO specifically denied there were any Jewish historical or religious sites in Jerusalem, and Palestinian leaders across the board have continued – to this day – to peddle the lie. This, despite the clear archaeological evidence of a Second Temple and historical evidence of the House of David as well. This, even despite the guide to al-Haram al-Sharif published by the Wakif itself nearly a century ago, which ties the religious significance of the site for Muslims to its history for Jews.

“The site is one of the oldest in the world,” according to the guide, which was published in English in 1924 for the benefit of Muslim pilgrims to Jerusalem. “Its identity with the site of Solomon’s Temple is beyond dispute. This too, is the spot, according to the universal belief, on which ‘David built there an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings.’” Here, the guide quotes from Second Samuel, Chapter Six – citing Jewish scripture to reaffirm millennia of Jewish connection to this holy space.

Thank goodness, international outcry over the UNESCO proposal ensued. The United States bashed it as an incitement to violence. And so did UNESCO’s own Director-General, who said it potentially (quote) “could be seen to alter the status of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls, inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.”

Let’s be clear: The head of UNESCO herself said it would be the Arabs, and not the Jews, who would be changing the status quo at the Temple Mount.

In the end, the resolution was changed. But it passed with a condemnation of Israel’s stewardship of the Holy Sites. And it declared Rachel’s Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs to be listed as Islamic sites – co-opting two Jewishly important places to which Jews have been making pilgrimage for hundreds of years. At both sites, as at the Temple Mount, mosques have been built over existing Jewish shrines – in an effort to de-Judaize sacred spaces whose importance traces back to the Bible itself.

Here’s the crux of the matter: Israel exists, Israel will continue to exist, and Jews will continue to come to Israel and live in Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. Over and over again, the combined Arab armies of Egypt and Jordan and Syria have tried and failed to make the holy land Judenrein. And if their military might did not succeed in 1948, or in 1956, or in 1967, or in 1973, a relative handful of Arabs murdering Jews on the street in cold blood will not do the job either.

The PLO and Hamas and the others know this. Their vile rhetoric aside, they know they cannot wipe the Jewish state of Israel off the map. So they’ve taken another tactic. They’ve tried to wipe it out of history. They’ve tried to convince the world that Jews never had sovereignty in the land. That there was no Second Temple and certainly no First. That the modern state of Israel is in no way connected to the two thousand year-old dream of returning to Zion reflected in our Bible and our poetry and our music.

They’re now getting help from UNESCO, which has de-Judaized two important Jewish holy sites and tried to take away from us the most precious place on earth. They’re getting help from so-called scholars among the Palestinians, such as the Gaza university dean who proclaimed this week that it’s okay to murder Jewish women and children.

“The Jews of Palestine are fair game today,” declared Dr. Subhi al Yaziji – again invoking a non-existent entity to try to deny Jews our history, if not our present.

And they’re now getting help from the ignorance and antisemitism rampant in the so-called BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions), which deliberately rewrites Jews out of the history of the Middle East – notwithstanding the obvious fact that, if there was never a Jewish temple or a Jewish presence in Jerusalem, then there also was no Jesus and no basis for Christianity.

The Palestinian leadership banks on international ignorance of history, and hatred of Jews, to win the public-relations battle. It is not to the credit of the world that they have had some measure of success. The MSNBC news network had to issue an apology this week for using a series of maps put out by the BDS movement to try and explain the street violence of Arab against Jew. The maps are absolutely false. They completely distort the last century of Middle East history. But the fact that a reputable news network would accept them as fact is a pathetic reflection of what the world really understands about the Middle East and Israel – and how much the world really cares.

There’s always some reason given why Arabs murder Jews in cold blood. It’s the settlements. It’s the fence. It’s Jenin. It’s Gaza. But Arabs were murdering Jews in cold blood decades before there were any fences or any settlements, or any talk about Gaza or the West Bank.
Here’s the real reason, explained beautifully this week in an essay by Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the former head of the Union for Reform Judaism:

“What kind of a national movement unleashes 13-year-olds to do its dirty work? How does a child sacrifice, or at the very least an after-the-fact justification of child sacrifice, bring honor to the Palestinian cause? Once again, the leaders of Palestinian nationalism have led their people down the long, cruel path of violence, suffering, and death.” And Rabbi Yoffie repeated the words he spoke in 2001, after the Palestinian leadership walked away from a remarkably brave offer of peace from then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak: “The Palestinian national movement is one of the most stupid, murderous, and bloodthirsty national liberation movements in all of human history.”

It is sad, and pathetic, that these words are as true today as they were 14 years ago. It is unconscionable that the Palestinian leadership, which has plundered billions of dollars from international donors and robbed their people of a hopeful future, is not held accountable for its crimes against either Jews or its own people. It is unacceptable that Jews in Israel are afraid to send their children to school, that they themselves are afraid to go to the market.
Israel will protect her people, with all the power she has. And she will have the right to do so – as long as it takes, as much as it takes.

I am no fan of Benjamin Netanyahu, who through two terms as Prime Minister as far back as 1996, has yet to come up with a single strategy to resolve the Palestinian problem. It is to the discredit of the current Israeli government that it has no long-term plan in place – not even the kernel of a proposal – to separate Israel from the Palestinian territories once and for all, and thus remove any doubt as to the cause of the violence against Jews.

But, as Rabbi Yoffie writes, “all decisions regarding a long-term solution must wait until there is calm and quiet on the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Afula and Raanana. When terror reigns, thinking stops and fanaticism thrives. The terror must end, and Israel must do what is necessary to end it.”

It is with sadness that I end my remarks tonight on this note, but, tonight, there is no alternative.

Let the terror end and the talks begin soon, so that at a time will come when, as the prophet Micah wrote, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war any more. But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken it.”

Ken yehi ratson. Be this God’s will and our own. As we say together: Amen.
©2015 Audrey R. Korotkin


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