Forgotten Christmas messages


Toward the end of each year, millions of people across Europe flock to traditional Christmas markets to enjoy hot mulled wine, listen to bands playing carols and enjoy the bright lights piercing the icy dark. Many also attend churches and concert halls for a traditional performance of Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio.” After the joyous opening, the tenor sings,“Da machte sich auch auf Joseph … aus Galilaea … in das juedische Land zur Stadt David” (“Joseph went into the Land of the Jews … to the City of David ”), followed by the alto singing “Rise up Zion, and abandon your weeping …” 

Premiered in 1734, these words were sung more than 200 years before the establishment of the Jewish State of Israel in 1948 and even longer before Israel occupied that “Land of the Jews” (renamed the “West Bank” between 1949 and 1967) following the Six-Day War.

Today, UNESCO all but denies the 3,000-year-old Jewish connection to Judea, including Jerusalem, with its magnificent Temple that the Jew Jesus visited. 

The European Union states, where hundreds of millions celebrate Christmas, just supported another United Nations General Assembly resolution condemning Israel, using the Arab/Muslim term for the Har Habayit (aka the Temple Mount.) 

Some churches, as in New Zealand, have changed references to “Israel” and “Zion” from their prayer books.

What goes through their minds as they listen to those old Christian texts?

During the same festive season, many parents take their children to productions of Mozart’s “Magic Flute,” written 57 years after the “Christmas Oratorio.” The story, incorporating Freemason themes, is based on the European Enlightenment’s age of reason, equality and liberty, which fired the imagination of both Mozart and Thomas Jefferson, his senior by 13 years. Both these men would become icons of Western civilization — the very issue being debated in a turbulent Europe today.

Has the enlightened world of Mozart and Jefferson been dumped for mindless populism and political correctness?

In contrast to Europeans today, the deeply religious Bach understood that the Jewish people were tied to the “Land of the Jews” for thousands of years, which is reflected in language, beliefs, rich archaeological finds, ancient references to the House of David, and the pilgrim festivals of Sukkot, Shavuot and Pesach that are celebrated to this very day.

In short, the Jews are the indigenous people of Israel and, despite exile, always maintained a significant presence in their lands. Indeed, the first census of Jerusalem, taken in 1840, attests to Jews being the largest group, which soon became an absolute majority.

Yet Jews are treated very differently from other indigenous people such as Native Americans, the Sami in Scandinavia or the Ainu in Japan. Why?

A major reason is that the early Christian theologian Augustine, arguably the founder of Western Christianity, asserted that Jews be regarded as “eternal witness,” as pariahs, which would render them homeless, unloved and impoverished. Their status would be seen as a triumph of Christianity and serve as a warning to Christians. 

This “eternal witness” epithet became a dominant force in the treatment of Jews. It was reflected in European culture with Wagner, Degas, Agatha Christie, T.S. Eliot and many others. Significantly, the anti-Jewish Hep-Hep riots in Germany, the Mortara Affair in Italy, the Dreyfus Affair in France and the Nazis of 1933 all occurred in post-Enlightenment Europe. 

The treatment of Jewish students on some American and European campuses today, eliciting at best tepid responses by authorities, is therefore of serious concern. A few weeks ago I wrote about the courageous aboriginal leader William Cooper, who demanded justice for both his own people and the Jewish people in Germany. 

Where are the William Coopers on campus?

Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activities against Israel occur in various forms. Magen David Adom, Israel’s version of the Red Cross, for example, is permitted to use only the Red Crystal, instead of the Star of David outside its borders, including eastern Jerusalem and other areas of “the Land of the Jews.”

Bishop Desmond Tutu is a strong advocate of Israel’s total isolation and inverts the Holocaust yet receives Germany’s prestigious prizes. The Kairos Palestine Document, which advocates boycotts against Israel, has been signed by mainstream churches and endorsed by the World Council of Churches. Conductor Daniel Barenboim, Edward Said’s protégé, who vociferously supports boycotting Israel, received Germany’s Peace Prize. Palestinian resistance advocate Felicia Langer was given Germany’s highest award by former President Horst Kohler. She speaks at churches, comparing Israel to apartheid, referring to its leaders as war criminals. Demonizing Israel has become de rigueur on campus by those who disgrace scholarship.

Students often hide their Jewishness while other Jews, such as Nathan Braude, principal violist in the Brussels Philharmonic and a professor at the Royal Conservatory Ghent, are told to sign onto BDS before accepting their positions. In Germany, official Jewish community mail is now sent in plain envelopes, minus the Star of David logo, as recommended by the police. World and community leaders do not even react to these outrages.

Any wonder then that the German Ministry of Justice has stated that the documented levels of anti-Semitism in Germany for 2015 are three times that of 2014?

What happened to the Age of Reason? Has it been replaced by mindless populism and political correctness?

The pariah status of Jews and Israel is some 1,600 years old. It is not about Jews being “bad,” but rather about being Jews as Jews. After all, Hitler said that “conscience is a Jewish invention.” 

When millions of families, academics, church goers, secular traditionalists and BDS supporters across Europe and the United States gather at their beautiful trees on Christmas Eve, will they ponder the text, “Joseph went to the Land of the Jews?” Or, will they blindly follow a populist mantra that contradicts enlightened reason, let alone historicity?


Ron Jontof-Hutter is a writer based in Melbourne and Berlin where he is a Fellow at the Berlin Center for the Study of Antisemitism. He is the author of the recently published satire on populist anti-Semitism, ”The Trombone Man: Tales of a Misogynist.”

U.S. lawmakers criticize upcoming UNESCO committee vote on Jerusalem proposal


A group of U.S. senators and congressmen have called on a UNESCO committee to vote against a second resolution that diminishes Jewish and Christian ties to the Old City of Jerusalem.

The bi-partisan letter initiated by led by Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) was sent on Monday to the World Heritage committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which is currently holding its annual meeting.

The committee’s 21 member states are scheduled to vote on Wednesday on its “The Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls” resolution. The resolution, which is expected to pass by a wide margin, is similar to a resolution passed earlier this month by the UNESCO executive board.

The letter reads: “The Old City of Jerusalem is important to the three monotheistic religions, and we celebrate the heritage and cultural ties of these religions to Jerusalem. Unfortunately, this proposed resolution is yet another attempt to rewrite history by denying Jewish and Christian ties to Jerusalem. The Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, along with the Western Wall, where Jews from all over the world come to pray, are again described exclusively as Muslim holy sites and are referred to only by their Muslim names. References to the Western Wall are in quotation marks implying that the title is unofficial and not based on historical fact.”

“Jewish and Christian ties to the holy sites in Jerusalem are irrefutable, and attempts to distort this historical truth undermine the very purpose and integrity of UNESCO. The upcoming resolution at the World Heritage Committee is every bit as divisive as the Executive Board resolution, despite Jerusalem’s inscription as a holy city for Judaism, Christianity and Islam on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. Furthermore, attempting to erase the Jewish and Christian connection to this sacred city will further damage the prospects of peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” the letter also said.

The letter is similar to one signed earlier this month by 41 U.S. lawmakers in advance of the executive board vote: 24 votes in favor and 6 against, with 26 countries abstaining.

Monday’s letter also is signed by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.); and Reps. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Kay Granger (R-Texas), Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), and Ed Royce (R-Calif.).

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in a statement issued Tuesday condemned the heritage committee for considering such a resolution.

“It is disappointing and wrong to see that UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee is considering a resolution on Jerusalem that fails to recognize and respect the deep and historic ties of the Jewish people to Jerusalem and its holy sites. Tomorrow’s planned vote follows an outrageous UNESCO vote last week on a similar resolution. I have always stood with Israel to reject these biased actions at the United Nations, and I always will,” the Clinton statement said.

Both Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump last week criticized the UNESCO executive committee for its vote.

UNESCO and the culture of denial


The resolution by the executive board of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) last week to remove any reference to a Jewish link to the Temple Mount while condemning Israeli behavior in the Old City of Jerusalem is disturbing on various levels.  

First, it fortifies the impression that a body supposedly devoted to the noble goals of cultural preservation and educational advancement is simply a tool of political propaganda. Moreover, it reveals that those responsible have a profoundly deficient sense of history. The fact that the resolution mustered only a minority of those countries eligible to vote (the vote was 24-6, with 26 abstaining) offers little succor.  Somewhat more consoling was the reaction of UNESCO’s director-general, Irina Bokova, who hastened to affirm the historical connections of Judaism, as well as Christianity and Islam, to the holy site by noting: “The Al Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram al-Sharif, the sacred shrine of Muslims, is also the Har HaBayit — or Temple Mount — whose Western Wall is the holiest place in Judaism, a few steps away from the Saint Sepulcher and the Mount of Olives revered by Christians.”

The UNESCO decision was symbolic and likely will have few real policy ramifications. But it taps into a destructive culture of historical denial that widens the chasm between Israelis and Palestinians. Denial of the other’s history is not unique to this conflict; it has been a regrettably common practice in troubled spots such as Northern Ireland, India-Pakistan and the Balkans, among other sites. It can have a toxic effect, deepening enmity, disdain and resistance to the very humanity of the other side.  

Sadly, the Palestinians are quite accomplished in the game of historical denial. No less a figure than Yasser Arafat startled his audience at the Camp David summit in 2000, including then-President Bill Clinton, by alleging that the First Temple was built by Solomon in Nablus, not Jerusalem. But classical Islamic sources, as David Barnett has shown in a 2011 study, do make reference to a bayt al-maqdis, the Arabic cognate for the “beit ha-mikdash” or Holy Temple, in Jerusalem.  

Meanwhile, in 2010, an official in the Information Ministry of the Palestinian Authority, Al-Mutawakil Taha, issued a report stating that the Western Wall was Muslim property and had no religious significance for Jews. More recently, there has been an uptick in denialism in Palestinian religious and political circles.  The current Palestinian Minister of Religious Affairs, Yusuf Ida’is, has frequently declared that the Temple Mount belongs exclusively to Muslims — and that assertions of a Jewish connection are falsifications. In similar fashion, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, a frequent denier, delivered an address in May 2016 that sought to dismiss “the Jews’ claims in the land of Palestine,” particularly in Jerusalem and around the Temple Mount. Unfortunately, this kind of historical rubbish is proclaimed on a weekly, if not daily, basis, and not on the fringes of Palestinian society, but at the center.

And yet, part of what makes the practice of historical denial so pernicious is that it invites and often requires historical denial from the other side. In their struggle to assert control over the land, Israeli Jews and supporters of Israel have also engaged in forms of erasure, including the denial of a link by Palestinians to Palestine.  

The holy bible of this argument is Joan Peters’ 1984 book, “From Time Immemorial,” in which the American author argued that Arabs were not indigenous to the land but were relatively late arrivals to Palestine. She refers, for example, to the “sparse Arab population” of Palestine around the time of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, an assertion that flies in the face of almost all other data, including those of two of the leading Jewish demographers of the 20th century, Arthur Ruppin and Roberto Bachi. 

Peters’ book was initially greeted with a good deal of praise in the United States, winning a National Jewish Book Award in 1985. Upon closer inspection, the book’s flaws were exposed, owing, in no small part, to a review in The New York Review of Books by the renowned Israeli scholar of Palestine Yehoshua Porath, who pointed out that “a large majority of Muslim Arabs inhabited the land” well before the British Mandate. Even the reliably conservative scholar Daniel Pipes characterized the book as “appallingly crafted.”

Rather than die a quick death, the Peters thesis has been championed ever since by various pro-Israel activists, perhaps no more prominently than by former Israeli diplomat Yoram Ettinger, who parlays the denial of the Palestinians’ historical roots into a new demographic claim that there are at least a million fewer of them in the West Bank than any other accepted source estimates.  This virtual depopulation has been greeted enthusiastically by Israeli Ministers Naftali Bennett and Tzipi Hotovely, who use Ettinger’s numbers to lay permanent claim to the occupied territories.  

In his review of Peters, Porath analyzes “the two contrasting mythologies that the Arabs and the Jews have developed to explain their situations.” History is often summoned to celebrate the virtue of one side’s rights entirely at the expense of another’s. Unfortunately, the Palestinians are all-too-willing participants in the game of historical denial. But the Israelis and their friends can play it, too. And now UNESCO reveals its appetite for this perverse blood sport. Rather than perpetuate imbalanced and inaccurate myths, it could have insisted on the presentation of both Israeli and Palestinian narratives regarding Jerusalem. While hardly a guarantee of success, such a dual narrative approach compels each side to acknowledge and confront the other’s past, which is a necessary, if long, step toward recognizing your enemy’s humanity. 


David N. Myers is the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Professor of Jewish History at UCLA.

UNESCO vote loco, Hispanic Christians say


Thousands of Christians from around the world are visiting Jerusalem this week tracing the footsteps of Jesus through the cobbled winding streets of the Old City as they do every Sukkot, one of the three Jewish festivals where Jews made the pilgrimage to the Temple centuries ago, but now a UNESCO resolution negates these events ever happened.

It is hardly shocking that Iran, along with several Arab countries, voted in favor of the draft resolution by the U.N cultural body last week, in a move widely viewed as denying the historic and religious ties between Jews and Jerusalem.

But among all the many absurdities of that paper, I was stunned by the fact that Latin American powerhouses Brazil and Mexico along with Nicaragua and Dominican Republic embraced the resolution.

The latest figures from the Pew Research Center show that in these countries and the rest of Latin America the vast majority of the populations identify as Christians (69% of the total population is Catholic, 19% is Protestant).

Surely these countries understand that by diminishing Jewish history, UNESCO de facto negated Christian ties to the holy city as well.

For if there was no Jewish temple as UNESCO insinuates then Jesus could never have set foot there as detailed in scripture.

Pastor Mario Bramnick, President of the Hispanic Israel Leadership Coalition (HILC) said his organization “condemns UNESCO’s decision which denies the historical Jewish and Christian connection to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.”

Pastor Bramnick told Fuente Latina, a U.S. non-profit working with Hispanic media covering Israel and the Mideast, that “Jerusalem and the Temple Mount were originally under Jewish control with later Christian influence. Jesus taught, prayed and performed miracles in Jerusalem and the Temple Mount during the time of the Second Temple.”

In case you missed it, UNESCO green lighted a resolution on Thursday called “Occupied Palestine” that names holy sites, including the location where the Jewish temples stood in biblical times, by their Islamic names only and put Jewish names for them in inverted commas, which questions their authenticity.  And this is by the body created by the U.N. in part to advance understanding between cultures.

The draft resolution, sponsored by several Arab countries, was of course not the first time that Palestinians and others have exploited the U.N. to taint Israel’s image. But this time the move hit Jews and Christians around the world on a deeper level than before as Jerusalem and its holy sites are at the heart of the faiths.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dubbed the resolution “absurd” after it was announced and later tweeted: What's next? A UNESCO decision denying the connection between peanut butter and jelly? Batman and Robin? Rock and roll?”

Similar, if more restrained, reactions came from many communities around the world.

But the resolution was mostly met with apathy in Latin America.  Brazil, Mexico, Dominican Republic and Nicaragua all historically have good relations with Israel and they all have very large Christian populations. However, in 2010, Nicaragua suspended ties with Israel.

Although governments in those countries mostly remained passive, both Christians and Jews in the Spanish speaking world are expressing their outrage over the vote and demanding answers from their representatives.

Thousands of Hispanic Christians and Jews from around the world signed several petitions to reverse UNESCO’s decision. A Spanish language social media movement, #SomosIsrael (We are Israel), initiated by Hispanic Christians, took to Twitter the night the resolution was signed and became a top trending topic in several Latin American countries, generating over five million impressions in one day and days later still continues strong.

The united voices show support for Israel and outrage for the rewriting of history with a clear demand for action so those Latin American countries reconsider their position.

Mexico has since changed its stance, withdrawing support for the UNESCO resolution and changed its vote to an abstention. Brazil expressed reservations about the language of the resolution, but did not change its official position. Let’s see if Dominican Republic and Nicaragua follow suit.

Despite protests, the controversial resolution was adopted by UNESCO’s Executive Committee on Tuesday.


Leah Soibel is founder and CEO of Fuente Latina, a U.S. non-profit, non-governmental organization that removes geographic and linguistic barriers for global Spanish language media covering stories about Israel and the Mideast. With offices in Jerusalem, Madrid, and Miami, FL is the only organization of its kind engaging international Latino media in their language and in real time. www.fuentelatina.org Follow us on Twitter @fuentelatina

UNESCO board formally approves resolution denying Jewish holy sites


The executive board of the United Nations cultural agency voted to adopt a controversial resolution that denies a Jewish connection to the Old City of Jerusalem.

The board reportedly formally approved the resolution on Tuesday morning in the final day of its meeting in Paris.

The approval comes five days after the resolution passed in a preliminary vote of the executive board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. In that vote, there were 2 4 votes in favor and 6 against, with 26 countries abstaining. The United States, the United Kingdom and Germany were among those that voted against the resolution. They were joined by Lithuania, the Netherlands and Estonia. Other European countries abstained.

On Monday, Mexico changed its vote from “in favor” to abstain, saying in a statement” “Changing the vote reiterates the recognition that the government of Mexico gives to the undeniable link of the Jewish people to cultural heritage located in East Jerusalem. It also reflects the deep appreciation that this government has for the Jewish community and in particular for their significant contributions to the welfare and economic, social and cultural development of Mexico.”

Mexico fired its Jewish ambassador to UNESCO, however, after Andre Roemer in a personal protest walked out of last week’s vote in Paris, leaving his deputy to cast the country’s vote.

Discussion and a vote on the resolution were postponed from the board’s meeting in July.

The UNESCO resolution reportedly refers to the Temple Mount several times as Al Haram Al Sharif, the Islamic term for the Temple Mount, without mentioning that it is the holiest site in Judaism, according to UN Watch. It also uses the term Buraq Plaza, placing Western Wall Plaza in quotes, appearing to deny a Jewish connection to the site. The Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron is referred to as the al-Ḥaram al-Ibrahimi and Rachel’s Tomb, outside Bethlehem, is noted as the Bilal ibn Rabaḥ Mosque.

A similar resolution was adopted by UNESCO’s executive board in April.

Mexico fires Jewish ambassador who protested UNESCO vote, but will now abstain


Mexico has fired its ambassador to UNESCO, Andre Roemer, who is Jewish, for protesting against his country’s decision to vote for a resolution denying Jewish ties to Jerusalem.

“For not having informed diligently and with meticulousness of the context in which the voting process occurred, for reporting to representatives of countries other than Mexico about the sense of his vote, and for making public documents and official correspondence subject to secrecy,” read the official statement released on Oct. 17.

However, the Latin American country announced it will now change its vote from “in favor” to abstain on the proposal concerning the preservation of cultural heritage and religion in eastern Jerusalem.

“Changing the vote reiterates the recognition that the government of Mexico gives to the undeniable link of the Jewish people to cultural heritage located in East Jerusalem. It also reflects the deep appreciation that this government has for the Jewish community and in particular for their significant contributions to the welfare and economic, social and cultural development of Mexico,” the statement also said.

For the first time since 2010, Mexico will oppose a proposal by the Palestinian-Arab bloc in UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

“Sadly, the ambassador to UNESCO was sacrificed, but it meant a change to the perennial tradition of following the vote of the Latin American bloc, which passed an absurd and biased resolution by a majority,” wrote Jewish Mexican news portal Enlace Judio.

In a personal protest, Roemer walked out of last week’s vote in Paris, leaving his deputy to cast the country’s vote. He also apparently contemplated resigning his post, but was urged not to by Israel’s ambassador Carmel Shama HaCohen, who wrote him a personal letter praising him as a friend of the Jewish state.

UNESCO’s resolution, sponsored by several Arab countries, referred to the Temple Mount and Western Wall — Judaism’s holiest sites — only by their Muslim names, and condemned Israel as “the occupying power” for various actions taken in both places.

Mexico was one of the 24 countries that voted in favor of the resolution. Six nations, including the United States, Germany and Britain, voted against and another 26 abstained.

Following the vote, Israel suspended cooperation with the UN cultural organization. In a letter sent to UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova, Israel’s Education Minister Naftali Bennett accused the body of ignoring “thousands of years of Jewish ties to Jerusalem” and aiding “Islamist terror.”

Bokova herself distanced herself from the resolutions in a statement, saying “nowhere more than in Jerusalem do Jewish, Christian and Muslim heritage and traditions share space.”

Israel suspending ties with UNESCO following vote that denies Jewish connection to Jerusalem


Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett said Israel would suspend its cooperation with UNESCO because of the U.N. agency’s decision to ignore Jewish ties to holy sites in Jerusalem.

Bennett’s statement on Friday followed passionate condemnations by Israel as well as international Jewish groups and communities of a vote the previous day in Paris by the executive board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Through a majority of 24 to 6 votes, the board passed a preliminary version of a resolution that calls several sites holy to Judaism only by their Islamic names without mentioning its Jewish names in Hebrew or English. The sites include the Temple Mount, referred to as Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif.

Israeli officials will neither meet UNESCO representatives nor engage in cooperation in international conferences or professional cooperation with the organization, Bennett said in a statement that followed the outpouring of condemnations – including by a U.S. official who called the vote “one-sided and unhelpful.”

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump called the move by UNESCO a “one-sided attempt to ignore Israel’s 3,000-year bond to its capital city” and “further evidence of the enormous anti-Israel bias” at the United Nations.

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy adviser, Laura Rosenberer, condemned the resolution.

“It’s outrageous that UNESCO would deny the deep, historic connection between Judaism and the Temple Mount,” she said.

Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s director-general, on Friday issued a statement that was deemed critical of the vote. “To deny, conceal or 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,” she said. “When these divisions carry over into UNESCO, an organization dedicated to dialogue and peace, they prevent us from carrying out our mission.”

Bennett in his statement said of the UNESCO countries, “Your decision denies history and encourages terror. Those who give prizes to the supporters of Jihad in Jerusalem the same week that two Jews are murdered in the city could God forbid encourage more victims.”

The United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Lithuania and Estonia voted against the resolution and 26 countries abstained. Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO called the voting an improvement to previous votes by the U.N. agency, saying Western countries had supported previous measures with similar language on Jerusalem. Russia and China were among those that backed the resolution.

“This vote was certainly unpleasant, but I’m very pleased with the result,” Ambassador Carmel Shama-Hacohen told Army Radio Friday morning. “Our goal was to bring back France and our friends in Europe to not support the Palestinian resolution.”

He noted that Sweden, whose government is a harsh critic of Israel and the only EU Cabinet member that recognizes the Palestinian Authority as a state, also sat out the vote, as did India, which historically has supported anti-Israel resolutions in U.N. forums.

France and Sweden both abstained from Thursday’s vote after supporting a UNESCO resolution in April that also ignored the site’s Jewish ties. The April vote saw 33 votes in favor, 6 against and 17 abstentions.

Classified as pertaining to “Occupied Palestine,” the UNESCO resolution passed Thursday was submitted by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan. While it affirms “the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions,” it contains two references to Judaism: One in describing holy sites in Hebron and the other in decrying “the enforced creation of a new Jewish prayer platform south of the Mughrabi Ascent in Al-Buraq Plaza.”

The so-called al-Buraq Plaza is better known as the Western Wall Plaza – possibly Judaism’s holiest site. The use of the Arabic-language name is a recent development lifted from Hamas literature, according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Trump, Clinton campaigns slam UNESCO Jerusalem resolution


The Trump and Clinton campaigns slammed a UNESCO resolution that upholds Muslim claims on holy sites in Jerusalem while mostly erasing Jewish claims, and Donald Trump said he would recognize the city as Israel’s capital.

“The United Nations’ attempt to disconnect the State of Israel from Jerusalem is a one-sided attempt to ignore Israel’s 3,000-year bond to its capital city, and is further evidence of the enormous anti-Israel bias of the U.N.,” said the statement released Thursday evening by Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, referring to the preliminary vote that day by the board of UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural and educational affiliate.

Laura Rosenberger, a senior foreign policy adviser to Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, told JTA that “it’s outrageous that UNESCO would deny the deep, historic connection between Judaism and the Temple Mount.”

While the UNESCO resolution affirms “the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions,” it refers to the Temple Mount several times only as Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif, the Islamic term for the Temple Mount, without mentioning its Jewish names in Hebrew or English. It also uses the term Buraq Plaza, placing “Western Wall Plaza” in quotes, appearing to erase a Jewish connection to the site, where the Jewish Temple stood until the middle of the first century C.E. and whose retaining walls are made of distinct stones associated with the Jewish king Herod.

U.S. lawmakers have slammed the vote across the political spectrum. Israel and American Jewish leaders also have ripped the vote.

Israel has cut off ties with UNESCO as long as the resolution, which may go to the full body, stands. The executive board on Thursday backed the Palestinian-backed resolution with 24 votes in favor and 6 against, with 26 countries abstaining.

Trump also said he would recognize Israel’s capital as Jerusalem.

“I have said on numerous occasions that in a Trump Administration, the United States will recognize Jerusalem as the one true capital of Israel,” he said.

Last December, Trump refused to commit to recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital while speaking to a Republican Jewish Coalition forum, but changed his tune by the time he addressed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in March.

“Jerusalem is the enduring capital of the Jewish people and the overwhelming majority of Congress has voted to recognize Jerusalem as just that,” Trump told the AIPAC assembly.

The Clinton campaign’s Israel page does not mention Jerusalem. While Congress has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, successive U.S. presidents, Republican and Democratic, have said its status should be left up to negotiations.

Rosenberger in her email cited Clinton’s record as secretary of state in President Barack Obama’s first term to uphold her pro-Israel credentials.

“As secretary of state, Hillary fought to defend Israel against biased resolutions like these at the United Nations and other international organizations and would proudly do so again as president,” she said.

Trump blamed the Obama administration for contributing to the erosion in Israel’s claim to the city. He referred to a corrected version of Obama’s eulogy at the funeral earlier this month of former Israeli President Shimon Peres. The original White House transcript was datelined “Jerusalem, Israel,” and the corrected version deleted “Israel,” conforming with U.S. policy.

“The decision by the Obama Administration to strike the word ‘Israel’ after the word ‘Jerusalem’ in the President’s prepared text was a capitulation to Israel’s enemies, and a posthumous embarrassment to Shimon Peres, whose memory the President was attempting to honor,” Trump’s statement said. “In a Trump Administration, Israel will have a true, loyal and lasting friend in the United States of America.”

UN official rejects Netanyahu invitation for seminar on Jerusalem


A U.N. official in the Middle East turned down an offer from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to host a seminar on the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount.

The U.N.’s special Middle East envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, rejected the offer proffered more than two weeks after the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization adopted a resolution that denies a Jewish connection to the Western Wall and the Temple Mount.

“UN staff in Jerusalem know the history of the region, its people and religions all too well,” Mladenov told the French news agency AFP.

He added that such invitations should be issued to the Paris-based UNESCO and the ambassadors of the agency’s member-states based there.

Netanyahu posted Friday on Facebook: “Two weeks ago, I was shocked to hear that UNESCO adopted a decision denying any Jewish connection to the Temple Mount, our holiest site. It is hard to believe that anyone, let alone an organization tasked with preserving history, could deny this link which spans thousands of years.

“That is why today I am announcing a seminar on Jewish history for all UN personnel in Israel. I will personally host the lecture at the Prime Minister’s Office. The seminar will be given by a leading scholar of Jewish history and will be free to all UN staff and diplomats, including of countries which voted for this outrageous decision.”

Netanyahu also posted the invitation, which his spokesman told international media is a serious invitation for a seminar to take place next week, on Twitter.

Some 33 countries voted to approve the resolution, which refers to the Western Wall by its Arabic name, Al-Buraq Plaza, and refers to the Temple Mount only by its Arabic designations as the Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al Sharif. Six countries voted against the resolution and 17 abstained. Four European Union countries and several with strong diplomatic relations with Israel approved the resolution.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas faces heat for UN resolution wavering


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

A set of Palestinian initiatives aimed at advancing policy through anti-Israel measures at international organizations, or using international forums, appear to be in disarray following a series of setbacks.

Late last week, Irinia Bokova, the director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was forced to repudiate a Palestinian-backed initiative that ignored all historic Jewish ties to the Temple Mount area of Jerusalem’s Old City.

“This decision was made by the economic council and the management council of UNESCO which are both management bodies, and was not made by me,” she clarified, in a statement, adding that she maintains “Jerusalem is a Holy Land of the three monotheistic religions, a place of dialogue for all Jewish, Christian and Muslim people, nothing should be undertaken to alter its integrity and authenticity. It is a mosaic of cultures and peoples, whose history has shaped the history of all humanity. Only respect and dialogue can build the trust we need to move forward – this is the strength of UNESCO, for the benefit of all.” 

It was the second time this year that Bokova, who aspires to succeed UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, was forced to step in when an anti-Israel move crossed the bounds. In January, she condemned Iran for sponsoring a conference denying the Holocaust. 

Bokova’s backtracking followed another embarrassment related to Palestinian initiatives. Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour announced that, following a Palestinian about-face, his country would not install CCTV cameras on the Temple Mount, called Haram Al-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary, by Muslims, which is the site of Islam’s holy Al-Aqsa mosque and, for Jews, known as the site of the ancient temples. 

In an interview with the semi-governmental Petra news agency, Ensour disclosed that, having disposed of initial Israeli opposition to the idea, “we were surprised since our intention to carry out the project, by the response of some of our Palestinian brethren to the project, adding that they voiced their concern and cast doubt on its aims and objectives.” 

The Palestinian government declined to explain its reversal following months of demands that cameras document “Israel police violations.” In recent weeks, as the prospect of cameras placed on the contentious site grew more plausible, a number of banners declaring, “We don’t need any cameras here. Only Allah sees all,” and “the picture is clear – so no cameras are needed,” among other mottos, have appeared.  

Ensour said “we decided to halt implementation” of the plan out of respect for “our brethren in Palestine.”   

For many Israeli observers, the volte-face, and the embarrassment to Jordan, were the consequence of long-time and inaccurate Palestinian accusations that Israel “is invading” the holy site, which were cameras present, might be exposed as frauds.

On Monday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is visiting New York, was blasted by his own political allies when it emerged that he is leaning towards shelving the Palestinian effort to secure a UN Security Council resolution condemning and declaring as illegal the ongoing construction in Israeli West Bank communities, at the behest of France, that hopes to convene its own Israeli-Palestinian peace summit this summer.

Senior Israeli and Palestinian officials have told numerous local media outlets that the French government has demanded that the Palestinian delegation stand down so as not to sabotage its own efforts.

“The opportunity to go to the Security Council will always be there and we want to give a chance to the French initiative because, in the end, this is an initiative that serves us and not one that hurts us,” one Palestinian official told the Israeli daily Haaretz.

Another setback, the third in two weeks, has provoked expressions of frustration form Abbas supporters in Ramallah, who fear their hands are tied as a long, hot summer recess looms and as issues such as the ongoing killing in Syria and the refugee crisis in Europe have overshadowed Palestinian demands in the international arena. 

Until Monday, despite hints of official wavering, Palestinian diplomats continued to assure Western diplomats and the international media that the demand for a vote on the Palestinian resolution was not in question. The confusion is such that Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki, in New York with Abbas, confirmed the Haaretz report one day after his office in Ramallah denied it.

Some exasperated senior Palestinian officials, who have not been kept in the loop of the president’s thinking, believe shelving the resolution is a mistake when, in fact, there is no inconsistency between the resolution and the French-sponsored conference.

Mustafa Barghouti, the head of the government-affiliated Palestinian National Initiative and a longtime insider of the Palestinian corridors of power, who many consider a possible successor to Abbas, said that

“It’s impossible to rely solely on the French initiative, since to this day we don’t know what it’s based on, and on the other hand, we know very well that Israel and the U.S. won’t lend a hand to implementing such an important move, and Israel will continue building in the settlements and expropriating large parts of the West Bank as if there were no global public opinion.”

“Therefore, if there’s a trend we should support in practice, it’s increasing anti-Israel boycott activity and intensifying the popular struggle.” 

French chief rabbi slams Paris’ ‘ignoring Jewish ties to Jerusalem’ in UNESCO vote


In an unusual commentary on his country’s foreign policy, the chief rabbi of France spoke out against its vote at the United Nations on a resolution that he said ignored Jewish ties to Jerusalem.

In a statement Thursday, Rabbi Haim Korsia expressed his “strong disapproval” of the April 16 resolution by UNESCO, the Paris-based UN organization dealing with education, culture and heritage, which refers to the Temple Mount area solely as Al-Aksa Mosque/Al-Haram Al Sharif, except for two references to the Western Wall Plaza that were put in parentheses.

The broad-ranging resolution, which France’s mission to UNESCO supported in a vote, condemns Israeli actions in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip but focuses in large part on Israeli actions with regard to the Temple Mount and Western Wall Plaza.

UNESCO has passed similar resolutions in the past, also with French support but the April 16 resolutions provoked particularly strong-worded condemnations from French Jewish groups, with Roger Cukierman, president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities, calling the French vote in favor of it “scandalous.”

Korsia wrote that French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, told him France did not mean to downplay Judaism’s ties to Jerusalem with the vote.

France, Russia and China were among the 33 countries the voted in favor, along with Sweden and Spain. Seventeen countries abstained while six voted against, including the United States, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam all consider the Temple Mount to be a holy site. The text approved also referred to the plaza area by the Western Wall as al-Buraq Plaza — language that the Simon Wiesenthal Center alleges was lifted from Hamas literature.

“On the eve of Passover, a holiday when Jewish pilgrims would ascend to the Temple in Jerusalem, the chief rabbi of France reaffirms the indestructible ties that unite the Jewish people and Jerusalem and urges UNESCO executive council to reconsider their position as soon as possible,” Korsia’s office wrote in the statement.

UNESCO says no Jewish history on Temple Mount; Hebron and Bethlehem ‘integral part of Palestine’


UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Association, announced a number of resolutions just before the weekend started. One, submitted by the Russian Federation, called for defining UNESCO’s role in safeguarding and preserving Palmyra and other Syrian World Heritage sites. Another was about “Enhancing UNESCO’s contributions to promote a culture of mutual respect and tolerance.”

A third was simply entitled “Occupied Palestine” and addressed the Jerusalem Old City hotspot that Jews refer to as the Temple Mount and Muslims call Haram Al-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary. Except that the Jewish link to the site, considered the holiest place for Jews, went unmentioned.

In the context of Jerusalem’s Old City, the document refers to Israel solely as “the occupying power” and refers to the site itself, the world famous esplanade flanked by the Western Wall — considered by many experts to be the last existing retaining wall of the mount that once held the ancient Jewish temples — only by its Islamic moniker. The decision refers to the plaza fronting the Western Wall only in quotation marks, except when using one of its Arabic names, Al-Buraq, a reference to the Prophet Mohammed’s ascent to heaven.

The Israeli government responded with fury.

“This is yet another absurd UN decision,” an incandescent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement released late on Saturday. “UNESCO ignores the unique historic connection of Judaism to the Temple Mount, where the two temples stood for a thousand years and to which every Jew in the world has prayed for thousands of years. The UN is rewriting a basic part of human history and has again proven that there is no low to which it will not stoop.”

Carmel Shama Hacohen, Israel’s representative to UNESCO, that has its seat in Paris, issued a press release declaring that “even if UNESCO passes dozens of resolutions, and decides to continue passing thousands more, Jerusalem will always remain as part of the capital of Israel and the Jewish people.”

On Saturday night, addressing Jordan, Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, and Sudan, the nations which presented the resolution, Shama Hacohen averred that, “As you continue on this path of incitement, lies and terror you will be sending UNESCO down a path towards irrelevance.”

The Jordan Times reveled: “Jordan triumphant in ‘diplomatic showdown’ over Jerusalem at UNESCO.”

Jews are permitted to visit the site at pre-arranged times, but under international agreements signed in 1967, when Israel captured the area from Jordan in the 1967 war, Jewish worship is banned.

Without citing specifics, the resolution also condemned Israel for “planting fake Jewish graves in other spaces of the Muslim cemeteries” and for “the continued conversion of many Islamic and Byzantine remains into the so-called Jewish ritual baths or into Jewish prayer places.”

Among the states supporting the decision were Argentina, France, Spain, Slovenia, Sweden, India and Russia, several of which enjoys ostensibly warm relations Israel.

A UNESCO spokesman declined to comment on the decision.

The Israeli government also declined to comment beyond the statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office. 

The resolution, considered a victory for anti-Israel hard-liners, also affirms that Hebron, a city that according to a most histories has a 3000-year history of Jewish life, and Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, are “are an integral part of Palestine.”

Referencing “ongoing Israeli illegal excavations, works, construction of private roads for settlers and a separation wall inside the Old City of Al-Khalīl/Hebron, that harmfully affect the integrity of the site, and the subsequent denial of freedom of movement and freedom of access to places of worship,” UNESCO also urged “Israel, the occupying Power, to end these violations in compliance with provisions of relevant UNESCO conventions, resolutions and decisions.”

This resolution is not the first attempt to designate anew holy sites in what may be the most contested spot in the Middle East.

In October, 2015, facing the rejection of Russia, China and even Cuba, that usually joins anti-Israel initiatives, the Palestinian delegation to UNESCO withdrew a proposed resolution that would have defined the Western Wall itself as an “integral part” of the compound holy to Muslims.

Anwar Ben Badis, a professor of Arabic and Aramaic at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at Al-Quds University, who often leads tours of the esplanade, said the decision was “unequivocally political, not legal or binding in any way, but at attempt to support and further the Palestinian struggle.”

Speaking with The Media Line, Ben Badis said he believes “that every decision provides international support to everything the Palestinians are doing to free Al-Aqsa and all of Palestine.”

UNESCO recognizes Israel’s Aleppo Codex in registry of world treasures


The Aleppo Codex — believed to be the world’s oldest surviving copy of the Hebrew Bible — has been officially recognized as a treasured item by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization.

The codex, which is on permanent display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, will be listed in UNESCO’s International Memory of the World Register, Haaretz reported Tuesday.

UNESCO officially recognized the codex on Monday, according to Haaretz, deciding it belongs in its registry of 300 items and collections from all over the world. The registry already includes two other items from Israel: the Israel Museum’s Rothschild Miscellany, a collection of illustrated 15th-century manuscripts, and the Pages of Testimony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, which documents the names and stories of Holocaust victims.

Written in northern Israel around 930 CE, the codex has a storied and transient history. It was smuggled into Israel from Syria 60 years ago, and since then 200 of the original 500 pages have mysteriously disappeared.

An award-winning 2013 book — “The Aleppo Codex: In Pursuit of One of the World’s Most Coveted, Sacred and Mysterious Books” — chronicles its history.

According to Haaretz, 7,200 pages of Isaac Newton’s papers, which are stored in Israel’s National Library in Jerusalem, was also added to the UNESCO registry this week.

Nazi-hunting couple to combat genocide for UNESCO


A French Nazi-hunting couple will work as genocide-prevention ambassadors for the United Nations’ education agency.

Serge and Beate Klarsfeld were recognized on Monday by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization for their work to call “societies to recognize their historical and moral responsibilities.”

They will contribute to UNESCO’s efforts to curb genocide in places such as the Middle East and Africa, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

“You have done more than hand out justice, you gave a name, a face and a unique story to those whom some aimed to wipe from the surface of the earth,” said Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s director general.

Serge Klarsfeld, 80, a French Holocaust survivor and historian, and German-born Beate, 76, created a database from documents from around the world that has helped convict multiple Nazi war criminals. They also founded the Sons and Daughters of Jewish Deportees from France association, for descendants of Jews displaced or deported during the German occupation of France.

The Klarsfelds tracked down infamous Nazi Klaus Barbie, known as the “Butcher of Lyon” for torturing prisoners while stationed in Lyon, in Bolivia and spearheaded his extradition to France in 1983.

United Nations censures Israel


This article first appeared on The Media Line.

As part of their strategy to obtain a Palestinian state using diplomatic means, Palestinians welcomed a UN resolution that sharply criticized Israel for limiting Muslim access to Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound. The site, which is the flashpoint for bloodshed and violence amid mounting tensions over the holy site, is sacred to both Muslims and Jews.

The resolution, “deeply deplores the recent repression in East Jerusalem and the failure of Israel, the occupying power, to cease the persistent excavations and works in East Jerusalem particularly in and around the Old City.” UNESCO “strongly condemns Israeli aggression and illegal measures restricting freedom of worship and access to the holy Muslim site of the Al-Aqsa mosque.”

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said the resolution “aims to transform the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a religious confrontation and its adoption is a disgrace.” Israel also said the UN must condemn Palestinian stabbing and shooting attacks that have left 11 Israelis dead in the past month. More than 50 Palestinians have died, about half of them during attacks and the other half in clashes with Israeli soldiers.

UNESCO stands for the UN’s educational, scientific and cultural organization. It is a specialized UN agency that tries to build the “defenses of peace,” according to its website. It is UNESCO that declares “world heritage sites” and while its resolutions are not binding, they play a role in the Israeli-Palestinian propaganda wall.

In this case, Arab states including Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, who submitted the resolution on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, dropped a draft that read “affirms that the Buraq Plaza (Muslim name for the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site), is an integral part of al-Aksa Mosque/ al-Haram al-Sharif.”

UNESCO director general Irina Bokova pushed hard against the draft warning that it “could be seen to alter the status of the old city of Jerusalem and its walls and incite further tensions.”

She, backed by the US, got her way but the resolution did say the Mugrabi gate, the gate used by tourists to enter the al-Aqsa mosque plaza, is part of the Haram al-Sharif, a decision that angered Israel.

The site, located in the southeastern corner of the Old City of Jerusalem, is sacred to both faiths. Jews call it the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, and part of a retaining wall of the Second Temple. Muslims call (Buraq wall) part of Haram al-Sharif, referring to the compound's Al-Aqsa mosque as the holiest Islamic building outside Saudi Arabia. Jerusalem’s Old City and walls are on the UNESCO list of protected world heritage sites.

Morad Sudan, the head of the Palestinian National Commission for Education, Culture and Science was disappointed in the watered-down resolution.

“The draft was suggested in coordination with all of the Arab and Muslim members of UNESCO,” Sudan told The Media Line. “We wanted to declare the wall an integral part of the al-Aqsa compound as a first step in forbidding Jews from approaching the holy site. They pray there and slip written prayers into the cracks of the wall.”

While Jews can pray at the Western Wall, Israel has upheld a rule since 1967 that non-Muslims are not allowed to pray at the site. Rumors that Israel was planning to change that status quo were the spark that set off the current wave of Palestinian attacks that have left 11 Israelis dead. More than 50 Palestinians have also died, half of them alleged attackers, and half in clashes with Israeli troops.

Sheikh Kamal Khatib, deputy head of the Islamic movement in Jerusalem, said the decision not to go ahead with the original draft resolution was “very dangerous, and a waiver of Islamic and historical right.”

The President of the Supreme Islamic Council in Jerusalem, Sheikh Ikrima Sabri, angered Jews when he questioned their ties to the site.

“Muslims must retain ownership of the Western Wall,” he told The Media Line. “Muslims used to pray facing the al-Aqsa mosque.”

The direction of Muslim prayer later changed to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

The Secretariat of the United Nations quoted the Deputy spokesman of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Farhan Haq, as saying: “The position of Ban Ki-moon is very clear in this regard, which calls for the need to maintain the current historical situation of the holy places.”

UNESCO votes to classify Rachel’s Tomb and the Tomb of the Patriarchs as Muslim sites


UNESCO, the U.N. cultural agency, condemned Israel for what it said are attempts to alter the status quo at the Temple Mount.

While the resolution approved Wednesday morning in Paris by the executive board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization dropped plans to label the Temple Mount a Muslim site, the organization recognized Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron as Muslim sites that are part of a Palestinian state. Both sites are holy to Jews and listed in the Bible as the burial places of the Jewish patriarchs and matriarchs.

The vote was 26-6 in favor of the resolution, with 25 abstentions.

Before the vote, the six Arab countries that submitted the proposal on behalf of the Palestinians — Algeria, Egypt, Kuwait, Morocco, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates — removed from the proposal a statement declaring the Western Wall in Jerusalem part of the Al-Aqsa mosque complex and naming it part of the Muslim religious site. It also removed references to Jerusalem as “the occupied capital of Palestine” in order to garner support for the proposal.

The final text of the resolution included condemnation of the “aggression and illegal measures taken against the freedom of worship and access of Muslims to Al-Aqsa Mosque and Israel’s attempts to break the status quo since 1967.”

Israeli officials and American Jewish groups protested the resolution as a farce and outright lie.

On Tuesday, UNESCO head Irina Bokova said in a statement that she “deplores” the proposal and called on the board to “take decisions that do not further inflame tensions on the ground and that encourage respect for the sanctity of the Holy Sites.” She postponed the vote on the proposal from Tuesday to Wednesday.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center released a statement condemning UNESCO for “abetting the big lie spread by both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas denying the 3,500 year bond between the Jewish People and the Holy Land, but contribute to reframing the Arab-Israeli conflict into an ideological religious conflict.”

StandWithUs, a pro-Israel group based in Los Angeles, said UNESCO's reclassification “will only serve to distance any possibility of peace and exascerbate existing tensions on the ground.”

UNESCO head ‘deplores’ proposal declaring Western Wall a Muslim site


The head of the United Nations cultural agency said she “deplores” a proposal under discussion by the agency’s executive board that would declare the Western Wall a Muslim holy site.

Irina Bokova, the director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, called on the board to “take decisions that do not further inflame tensions on the ground and that encourage respect for the sanctity of the Holy Sites.”

“The protection of cultural heritage should not be taken hostage, as this undermines UNESCO’s mandate and efforts,” she said in a statement issued Tuesday.

“We all have responsibility to UNESCO’s mandate, to take decisions that promote dialogue, tolerance and peace,” she said. “This is especially important for young people, who should be nurtured and educated for peace.”

The executive board, which is holding its 197th session, could vote on the proposal on Tuesday or Wednesday, according to reports.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said it is working with friendly countries and UNESCO officials to defeat the proposal.

“This is a clear endeavor to distort history, in order to erase the connection between the Jewish people and its holiest site, and to create a false reality,” the ministry said.

Six Muslim Arab countries — Algeria, Egypt, Kuwait, Morocco, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates — submitted the proposal on behalf of the Palestinians. The proposal refers to Jerusalem as “the occupied capital of Palestine,” according to Ynet. It also blames Israel for the recent escalation of violence and seeks to confirm an earlier UNESCO decision that the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb, two West Bank sites holy to both Jews and Muslims, are part of a Palestinian state.

The Old City of Jerusalem and its walls are inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Since 1982 they have appeared on the list of World Heritage in Danger sites.

A listing on the World Heritage List makes a site eligible for UNESCO assistance and encourages other organizations and individuals to preserve the site. Listing the Western Wall as a Palestinian site as opposed to an Israeli one could detract from efforts to preserve it as Jewish.

The Wall, known in Hebrew as the Kotel, is believed to be one of the few remnants of the retaining wall of the ancient Temple, which the Romans destroyed nearly 2,000 years ago. A venue for Jewish prayer services and individual Jewish prayer, the Wall is a stop on most tours of Israel.

It is adjacent to the Temple Mount, a site holy to both Jews and Muslims. The current wave of violence in Israel was sparked by and continues over rumors that Israel plans to take over the site and change the status quo under which Jews are allowed to visit the site during specific hours but are not allowed to pray there.

Nine more Jewish symbols UNESCO should claim for other religions


On Monday, news broke that UNESCO, the United Nations cultural agency, is to vote on a Palestinian-backed proposal declaring the Western Wall a Muslim site.

The last remnant of the long-destroyed Jewish Temple, the Western Wall is hands-down Judaism’s holiest site and arguably the most famous site in Israel. It’s adjacent to the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary — once the site of the Temple and now of al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam (after Mecca and Medina).

Jews are barred from praying on the mount by both secular and religious Israeli decree. But rumors among Palestinians that Israel was plotting to change this “status quo” sparked the current surge of violence in the country, despite the assurances of Israeli leaders that nothing was changing.

While Muslim and Arab leaders have long claimed Jews have no religious claim to the Temple Mount — even questioning the historic existence of the Temple — this is the first time they have gone so far as to claim the Western Wall itself.

But why stop with the Western Wall? Here are some other Jewish things UNESCO might want to consider claiming for other religions.

1. Hanukkah: It’s coming up, so if UNESCO acts quickly, Muslims could be enjoying eight nights of candle-lighting, latke-eating and gift-giving in time in no time. Maybe it can’t compete with Christmas, but it’s definitely more fun than Ramadan.

2. The Bible: Christians might enjoy this wealth of texts  — oh wait, they already do and call it the Old Testament!

3. Challah: These braided loaves are beautiful and delicious, but they’re also kind of fattening. We’ll let the Christians have them, so long as they promise to pronounce the guttural “ch” sound.

4. Bernie Sanders: OK, we were kind of excited about the possibility of him being the first Jewish president of the United States (even if no one thinks he will actually be elected). But Buddhists have never had a president either, and Sanders’ Vermont is chock-full of Buddhist-themed yoga retreats, so they can have him.

5. Ruth Bader Ginsburg: How many Supreme Court justices do the Jewish people really need? Let a Hindu have a chance to try on those nifty black robes and interpret the laws of the land.

6. Kippahs: These head coverings, also known as yarmulkes, make a great crocheting project, but they can be annoying the way they’re always falling off unless attached with bobby pins. Since the pope already wears a hat that looks like one, we hereby donate the kippah to the Catholics.

7. Yiddish: It’s expressive and colorful, but let’s face it: Outside the haredi Orthodox community, most Jews know only a handful of words in this linguistic blend of German and Hebrew. So, we won’t kvetch too much if UNESCO wants to donate it to the Protestants of the world.

8. The Star of David: It’s symmetrical and looks nice on a necklace or Israeli flag, but we’ll let the Taoists have it if they’re willing to give us the Yin-and-Yang symbol in exchange.

9. Natalie Portman: She’s gorgeous, talented and smart, and was born in Israel (which many people believe is really Palestine). Like most Muslims, she is critical of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Just throw a hijab on her, and she’s Islam-ready.

UNESCO to vote on proposal declaring Western Wall a Muslim site


A Palestinian effort to have a United Nations agency declare Judaism’s holiest site a Muslim holy site is “an attempt to distort history,” Israel said.

UNESCO, the U.N.’s cultural body, is scheduled to vote Tuesday on the proposal concerning the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

In a statement Monday, Israel’s Foreign Ministry called the proposal “an attempt to distort history and blur the connection between the Jewish people and its holiest place and to create a false reality,” the Times of Israel reported.

Six Muslim Arab countries submitted the UNESCO proposal on behalf of the Palestinians. The proposal refers to Jerusalem as “the occupied capital of Palestine,” according to Ynet.

The proposal is believed to have a good chance of passing because the majority of UNESCO’s members have historically supported Palestinian bids.

Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, condemned the proposal, saying, “This shameful and deceitful Palestinian attempt to rewrite history will fail the test of reality.”

The Wall, known in Hebrew as the Kotel, is believed to be one of the few remnants of the retaining wall of the ancient Temple, which the Romans destroyed nearly 2,000 years ago. A venue for Jewish prayer services and individual Jewish prayer, the Wall is a stop on most tours of Israel.

It is adjacent to the Temple Mount, a site holy to both Jews and Muslims.

According to the World Jewish Congress, the proposal blames Israel for the recent escalation of violence and seeks to confirm an earlier UNESCO decision that the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb, two West Bank sites holy to both Jews and Muslims, are part of a Palestinian state.

In a statement Monday, World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder said adopting the resolution would exacerbate tensions in Israel.

The proposal “goes in the face of the UNESCO Constitution, which very clearly states the organization’s aim to contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration and coexistence,” Lauder said. “It would make a mockery of that founding principle if the UNESCO Executive Council were to back such a resolution. UNESCO must not be turned into a battleground for conflicts between religions.”​

Several other Jewish organizations, including the Orthodox Union and B’nai B’rith International, also issued statements Monday slamming the proposal.

“We call upon the international community to recognize this resolution for the absurdity that it is,” Nathan Diament, the Orthodox Union’s executive director for public policy, said in a news release.

Palestinian Perfidy at the UNESCO World Heritage Committee: A direct assault on the core of Judaism


The 39th UNESCO World Heritage Committee (WHC) has just ended its ten day annual meeting, this year in Bonn, Germany. Once again,the Wiesenthal Centre was the only accredited Jewish NGO

Since the Palestinians's admittance to UNESCO in November 2011 they have wreaked havoc, best illustrated by their voracious appetite at UNESCO's WHC:

– 2012 in St. Petersburg, Russia, running roughshod over UNESCO's professional advisor, ICOMOS, they demanded and received Christianity's prime Holy Place, the Church of the Nativity and the Bethlehem Pilgrimage Route.

– At Paris board meetings, Rachel's Tomb and the Hebron Tomb of the Patriarchs (Ma'arat HaMachpelah) were reclassified as mosques.

– 2013 in Cambodia, a wish-list appeared that included the Qumran Caves and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

– 2014 In Qatar, Battir –  the Galilee Betar redolent of Bar Kokhba's Jewish revolt against Roman occupation.

Today, the greatest provocation in its campaign of ID theft of the Jewish narrative has arrived as paragraphs 9 and 20 of the perennial Jerusalem resolution crafted by Palestinians and Jordanians. Four times this document re-names Judaism's greatest shrine, the “Kotel” or Western Wall esplanade, as “the Buraq Plaza”.

Buraq, according to Islam, is Muhammad’s winged steed, who flew the Prophet from Mecca to Jerusalem, for his night journey to heaven. He was tethered overnight to a wall until the Prophet returned to fly back to Mecca.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center discovered at the Frankfurt Book Fair and this year in the Doha, Riyadh and Muscat fairs,”The Buraq Wall”, a text exhibited by a Palestinian publisher- reportedly a Hamas front:

How a Jewish conspiracy stole the Wall to substantiate the lie of its Temple on the site of Al-Aqsa.  How that “Western Wall” must now be returned to the embrace of Islam.

Ironically, three days before the Palestinian ploy at Bonn, 17 of the 21 member-states of the World Heritage Committee (WHC) applauded the inscription of Israel's 9th Heritage site, the Beit Shearim Necropolis. This was the Tomb of Sanhedrin President, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi and fellow authors of the Mishna.  The walls of the catacomb are replete with Jewish, Greek and Roman motifs revealing an intercultural dialogue. 

Finland's Delegate noted that “the site is cosmopolitan but also provides historical evidence of the Jewish presence”.

Sadly an unpalatable argument for the four Muslim members – Algeria, Lebanon, Malaysia, Qatar – which all abstained.

The German host registered a diplomatic coup in negotiating Korean objection to a Japanese site to be voted for inscription, that had once held Korean and other slave labourers.  There was no debate as Japan acknowledged “the foreign unwilling labourers working in harsh conditions” and agreed to place there a documentation centre memorial.

The site could then be approved by acclamation.

A second German diplomatic victory was not to be.

The Palestinians had seemed to accept a toned-down version of the Jerusalem resolution, in which Germany had insisted and obtained the Wiesenthal Centre's request to remove the “Buraq” references, in favour of the term  “Western Wall”.

The final day of the meeting, Algeria,Lebanon and Qatar – fronting for the Palestinians – introduced an outrageous version,linking the Kotel (Buraq) to Al-Aqsa via the Mughrabi Ascent, effectively Islamicizing the Wall and, by association, negating the veracity of the Temple.

This was not only an embarrassment to the German hosts, but a fabricated battle-cry to the Muslim world that Al -Aqsa is under Jewish attack.

Interestingly, the document also lambasts Israel for its excavations and its improvements in Jerusalem as “damage to cultural heritage.” Yet, two days before, when Yemen's Old City of Sanaa was inscribed, no one mentioned the recent damage to that site by  Saudi bombing.

The hard-line Jerusalem resolution was passed by secret ballot with 13 for, 2 against, 4 abstentions and one absent.

The Israeli Ambassador's hard-hitting response called “UNESCO manipulated…a court-martial  of lies…the adoption of this resolution in Germany a disgrace…a Jerusalem without Israel would be no different from the Middle East [pillaged by ISIS] ..”

Of course, the resolution is not binding and serves mainly for pyrotechnics. Nevertheless, such Palestinian perfidy pushes further the ongoing delegitimization campaign against Israel. 

The 2016 UNESCO World Heritage Committee is to be held in Istanbul and Buraq, the winged steed, will surely be there.  Hopefully, he will stay grounded.

Shimon Samuels is Director for International Relations of the Simon Wiesenthal Center

Arabs and Jews quarrel over Acre’s Old City


This story orginally appeared on The Media Line.

Minarets, green domes and an Ottoman-era clock tower look out over the brightly painted fishing boats that line the quayside. Tourists stroll beside gaggles of children on outings from nearby Muslim schools. The old city of Acre is made uniquely beautiful by the sparkle of blue water from the Mediterranean Sea surrounding the ancient port town on three sides. For its examples of Ottoman architecture – a citadel, mosques, khans and a Turkish bathhouse – and for the Crusader ruins buried below, the city was awarded UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization) heritage status in 2001.

Acre features heavily in the long history of the region, with the remains of both the largest Crusader town left in the world and evidence of permanent habitation dating back five millennia. The modern day city’s 46,000 residents are mixed demographically with around two thirds being Jewish, and one third Arab.

The winding alleys and timeworn buildings are what gives the old city its atmosphere, valued by both tourists and UNESCO alike. But many of these ancient buildings are in need of repair. The beauty of such structures goes hand-in-hand with the difficulty present in maintaining them – any repairs must be done using materials which preserve the ancient look of the old city. This makes repairs unaffordable to many of the residents of the old city, an area which suffers from high levels of poverty. In an effort to counteract this, investment has been brought into the old city seeking to harness the potential income from the numerous tourists who visit the town each year. There are new bed and breakfasts and restaurants catering to tourists.

The Jewish-led municipality of Acre is using this investment as a means of permanently changing the character of the city, accuse Basel Ghattas and Aida Touma-Suleiman, both members of the mostly Arab Joint List party. Arabs make up around 28% of the city’s population but almost all of the residents in the old city. This, charges Ghattas, is something the Israeli government wants to change.

The poor state of housing in the old city, Ghattas told a small group of journalists on a recent tour, is perpetuated by the mayor in order to drive out Arab residents. Most of the people living in Acre’s old city do not own their properties, but rent them from the municipality. These buildings are in dire need of repairs, said Ghattas, but the authorities refuse to let tenants alter the buildings, in the hopes that this will eventually cause them to leave.

“They’re homes are in a very bad situation because they prevent them from maintaining the buildings. As a result, they think, the people will leave. The hidden agenda is to evacuate Acre of its Arab citizens… to throw them out of their homes,” Ghattas told The Media Line.

The aesthetics of the buildings, due to the city’s UNESCO heritage status, is being used as an excuse to refuse permission to residents to conduct repairs, argues parliamentarian Aida Touma-Suleiman. At the same time the historical buildings of the old city have been earmarked for redevelopment. Several of the khans – historical courtyards that make up several of Acre’s most iconic sites – will be converted into expensive hotels for tourists, she said, and a number of Arab families have been informed they will be evicted, Touma-Suleiman told The Media Line.

“For many years the aim was to evacuate most of the old city of its own inhabitants and to turn it into a touristic city that is mostly inhabited by artists and investors, hotels, small boutique hotels – businesses that are mainly for tourism,” Touma-Suleiman said, adding that a combination of racism against Arabs and naked capitalist interest were behind the drive to force out Arab families.

The mayor’s office sharply rejected claims that they are trying to force Arab residents out of the old city.

“This is of course not true,” Daniel Arama, Head of Tourism in Economic Companies and a representative of the municipality of Acre told The Media Line. He insisted that the municipality had in fact sought to invest in residents of the old city through projects aimed at helping locals to set up sustainable businesses – guest houses, small restaurants and crafts centers.

He dismissed claims that investment in the old city would impact on the character of the heritage site and said the city often gave permission to residents who wished to conduct repairs on their homes.

The Arab parliamentarians have written a letter to Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO, asking that the organization send an investigative team to Acre to decide if the terms of the city’s heritage nomination have been breached.

Ghattas believes that status has been compromised in two ways: firstly that certain renovations, namely large hotel constructions, will impinge on the visual atmosphere of the city; and secondly that the cultural heritage of the city is being deliberately diminished by the municipality. The MKs pointed out that improvements in the economic and social condition of local residents was identified as an important part in maintaining the city’s cultural identity and a prerequisite to Acre being recognized by UNESCO.

Ghattas and Touma-Suleiman believe that the threat of Acre losing its UNESCO heritage status will be useful political pressure to apply against the municipality – especially in the context of an Israeli government which is increasingly finding itself criticized by the international community. Acre is one of eight UNESCO heritage sites in Israel.

UNESCO is unlikely to revoke the city’s heritage status, said Arama, of the mayor’s office, adding that risking Acre’s standing was “a stupid thing to do.” He added that Acre doesn’t directly gain money from UNESCO but that the acknowledgment of the city’s unique value was important.

A level of suspicion among Arab residents towards the municipality is sometimes understandable, Professor Itzchak Weismann, of the Department of Middle Eastern History at Haifa University, told The Media Line. He pointed to Acre as the best example of a mixed city in Israel, where relations between Jews and Arabs were historically “much better” than other integrated cities in the country. But he admitted that there were incidents in the past that still lingered in Arab residents’ memories and prevented them from trusting the authorities.

In Jaffa, also a mixed city next to Tel Aviv, gentrification made rents skyrocket and many Arabs were forced to leave. Their homes were replaced with upscale restaurants and art galleries. People are afraid that will happen in Acre too, Weismann said.

“There are reasons (for Arab resident) to be worried – the state could do more,” Weismann told The Media Line, but he pointed to Shimon Lankri, the mayor of Acre, as an example of progress. Weismann suggested that Lankri was doing more for Arabs and Jews in the city and this could be seen in the last election result – “He has some support from Arabs, not 100% but maybe around half.”

“The city is very dear to my heart,” said Weismann, “there is still much to do but the city is (going) in the right direction.”

UNESCO sets date for Jews in Israel exhibit


After sustaining withering criticism for its abrupt decision to postpone a planned exhibition about the millennia of Jewish history in the land of Israel, UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural and education arm, announced Jan. 21 that the exhibition will be presented at its Paris headquarters, opening June 11.

Co-sponsored with the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, the show, “People, Book, Land — The 3,500-Year Relationship of the Jewish People to the Holy Land,” had been in the works for more than two years and was days away from its initially scheduled Jan. 20 opening when a representative for the Arab League urged UNESCO to cancel it.

In a Jan. 14 letter to UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, a representative for 22 Arab countries claimed that mounting such an exhibition could threaten the efforts being made by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to achieve a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The same day, a UNESCO staffer informed a Wiesenthal Center executive in Paris that the exhibition would be postponed “to a later date.” 

[Related: UNESCO halts Israel’s Jewish history show after Arab nations protest]

That move generated immediate outcry from Jewish leaders worldwide and from U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, who called UNESCO’s decision “wrong.”

On Jan. 21, after multiple meetings with Wiesenthal Center executives, UNESCO announced the exhibition will be inaugurated in June at UNESCO House in Paris. In the statement, UNESCO said it “was in discussions with the Wiesenthal to finalize the last points” of the exhibition. According to the Wiesenthal Center, however, the show had been ready to open by its original January date. Moreover, its content had been vetted by UNESCO staff and three separate teams of UNESCO-appointed academics over the course of its two-year development.

On Jan. 23, Rabbi Marvin Hier called UNESCO’s about-face a major victory. “It was simply ludicrous for the 22 Arab states that belong to UNESCO to attempt to torpedo the exhibition, just days before its opening, on the grounds that it interferes with Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to jumpstart the Middle East peace process,” Hier said in a statement. “Our exhibition, vetted and approved by both the UNESCO and Wiesenthal Center’s teams, had nothing to do with the peace process.”

UNESCO to go ahead with disputed Jewish exhibition


A United Nations exhibition about Jews and the Holy Land, postponed after Arab countries warned it could harm Middle East peace efforts, will go ahead in June, organizers confirmed on Monday.

The exhibition was due to open last week at the Paris headquarters of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural organisation (UNESCO) but was held up after 22 Arab member countries said could have a negative impact on peace talks.

The postponement of the exhibition entitled “People, Book, Land, The 3,500 Year Relationship of the Jewish People to the Holy Land” prompted criticism from Israel, the United States, Canada and Jewish groups around the world.

“The date has been set for June, 11,” a UNESCO spokeswoman said without elaborating. The exhibition was co-sponsored by Israel, Canada and Montenegro.

The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, co-organiser of the exhibition, said in a statement the exhibition had nothing to do with recent efforts by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts to revive the Middle East peace process.

Kerry has been on a diplomatic blitz in recent weeks to persuade Israel and the Palestinians, who resumed statehood talks in July after a three-year deadlock, to agree on an outline proposal addressing the core issues of their conflict.

“While the Arab League was trying to kill this exhibition and all the attention was focused on Paris, the U.N. headquarters in New York is hosting an exhibit entitled 'Palestine' based entirely on the Arab narrative, which was not criticised as an interference in Secretary Kerry's mission,” Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Center, said in the statement.

Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on a “two-state solution” in which Jewish and Palestinian states would exist peacefully side-by-side broke down in 2010 in a dispute over Israeli settlement construction.

Reporting by Maya Nikolaeva and Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Tom Heneghan

UNESCO postpones Israeli-Jewish history show


When UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, abruptly and indefinitely postponed the Jan. 20 opening of an exhibition in Paris on the 3,500-year history of Jews in the land of Israel, Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and co-founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Los-Angeles-based NGO that co-sponsored the exhibit with UNESCO, said he hoped Jews around the world would voice their displeasure with the decision. 

“Hundreds of thousands of letters they deserve,” Hier said on Jan. 17, three days after a representative from the Arab League persuaded UNESCO to put off the exhibition with a last-minute letter of protest. “Otherwise, UNESCO has fully adopted the Arab narrative of the history of the Middle East, and if Jews around the world don’t like that, we have to let them know.” 

In the days that followed, many did just that. Jewish leaders from around the world decried UNESCO’s decision to halt the exhibit, numerous news outlets covered the story, and the United States — even though it had refused to co-sponsor the exhibit one week earlier — called the move “wrong.” And, in a statement released Jan. 21, UNESCO said it was “in discussions with the Simon Wiesenthal Center to finalize the last points and inaugurate the exhibition in the month of June.”

The origin of the exhibit goes back to October 2011, immediately following UNESCO’s decision to admit Palestine as a full member state. UNESCO then worked for two years with the Wiesenthal Center to create the show titled “People, Book, Land —The 3,500-Year Relationship of the Jewish People to the Holy Land.” UNESCO personnel had vetted each of 24 informational panels to be displayed in the exhibition, and it had convened three separate  groups of outside academic expert overseers, who forced a few key changes to the exhibition, including removing the word “Israel” from the show’s title.

The display’s materials already had arrived at UNESCO House in Paris, thousands of invitations to the opening already had been mailed, and many dignitaries and supporters of the Wiesenthal Center already had made travel arrangements when Abdulla Alneaimi, a delegate to UNESCO from the United Arab Emirates, wrote on Jan. 14 to UNESCO, urging the organization to cancel the exhibition. 

“The subject of this exhibition is highly political, though the appearance of the title seems trivial,” wrote Alneaimi, chairman of the Arab group of countries with delegates to UNESCO. “Even more serious, the defense of this theme is one of the reasons used by the opponents of peace in Israel, and the publicity that will accompany and surely follow the exhibit can only cause damage to the ongoing peace negotiations, and the constant efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry, as well as the neutrality and objectivity of UNESCO.”

Hier said he first broached the possibility of UNESCO co-sponsoring an exhibition about the millennia-long Jewish connection to Israel on Oct. 31, 2011, the same day UNESCO granted full membership to Palestine as an official state. Six months later, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova visited Los Angeles and signed on to the idea of the exhibition. UNESCO agreed to host the exhibition; the Wiesenthal Center committed to fund the entire cost — more than $100,000 — and hired Robert S. Wistrich, a professor of European and Jewish history at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, to compose the texts for the displays.  

Three other nations — Israel, Canada and Montenegro — joined as co-sponsors of the exhibit. Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, invited the United States to join as an official co-sponsor as well, but in a letter on Jan. 9, 2014, a State Department staff member declined, citing the “sensitive juncture in the ongoing Middle East peace process.” 

Hier called the U.S. decision not to co-sponsor the exhibit “very problematic” and even speculated that, had the United States joined in, UNESCO might not have postponed the exhibit. 

“Had the United States come in as a partner, [UNESCO] would have been frightened,” Hier said. 

In the wake of the controversy, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power called UNESCO’s decision to postpone the exhibit “wrong.”  

“UNESCO is supposed to be fostering discussion and interaction between civil society and member states,” Power told Reuters on Jan. 17, “and organizations such as the Wiesenthal Center have a right to be heard and to contribute to UNESCO’s mission.”

Hier initially called the postponement of the show tantamount to an outright cancellation, but after UNESCO said in a statement on Jan. 17 that it is “committed and actively engaged to working with Member States and partners to hold the exhibition in conditions that promote cooperation and dialogue,” Cooper declared himself willing to “go one more round to find out what it is the problems are.” 

Cooper, who met with UNESCO’s Bokova on Jan. 21, the day the Paris-based agency announced the tentative June date, said the Wiesenthal Center “will only officially react when we have it in writing.”

UNESCO has asserted that some elements of the exhibit hadn’t yet been agreed upon, including “unresolved issues relating to potentially contestable textual and visual historical points, which might be perceived by Member States as endangering the peace process.”

Cooper, who led the exhibit’s development for the Wiesenthal Center and held a press conference on Jan. 20 in Paris decrying UNESCO’s decision to postpone it, told the Journal on Jan. 20 he didn’t know what elements UNESCO was referring to. 

“We don’t have any plans to change the body of that exhibition,” Cooper said from Paris on Jan. 20. “It was already ready to be hung, which means it had been vetted by UNESCO.” 

The exhibit may eventually be mounted at UNESCO House in Paris, but it remains to be seen whether that will blunt the outrage that Jews and Jewish leaders have expressed in recent days at the decision to postpone. Cooper said the Jewish reactions he’s heard have been nearly unanimous. 

“I cannot recall, frankly, since Durban, 2001,” Cooper said, recalling the World Conference Against Racism where delegates to the United Nations likened Zionism to racism, “in which there was a kind of gut-level reaction from Jews all over the world, of different religious and political persuasions, that said, ‘You know what? We’ve just been slapped across the face.’ ”

Hier, as the head of an organization that focuses a great deal of its efforts on memorializing the Holocaust, took care to note that UNESCO will commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day in Paris later this month.

“They’re excellent at commemorating the Holocaust,” Hier said. “I applaud them for that, but it’s too bad that it stops at that.

“UNESCO prides itself on being a place of education, of culture, of freedom of expression,” Hier continued. “Only one idea is verboten in UNESCO: the idea that the Jews had a 3,500-year relationship with the land of Israel. 

“That? Take that idea somewhere else.”

UNESCO halts Israel’s Jewish history show after Arab nations protest


[For documents related to this article, see below]

UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, abruptly and indefinitely postponed the Jan. 20 opening of an exhibition in Paris on the 3,500-year history of Jews in the land of Israel, after a representative from the Arab League wrote a last-minute letter expressing “great disapproval.”

The origin of the exhibit goes back to October 2011, immediately following UNESCO’s decision to admit Palestine as a full member state. UNESCO then worked for two years with the show’s co-sponsor, the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, to create the show titled “People, Book, Land – The 3,500 Year Relationship of the Jewish People to the Holy Land.” UNESCO personnel had vetted each of 30 informational panels that were to be displayed in the exhibition, and it had convened its own group of outside academic expert overseers, who forced a few key changes to the exhibition, including removing the word “Israel” from the show’s title.

The display’s materials had already arrived at UNESCO House in Paris, thousands of invitations to the opening had already been mailed, and many dignitaries and supporters of the Wiesenthal Center had already made travel arrangements when Abdulla Alneaimi, a delegate to UNESCO from the United Arab Emirates, wrote on Jan. 14 to UNESCO, urging the organization to cancel the exhibition.

[Related: U.S. presses UNESCO on cancellation]

“The subject of this exhibition is highly political, though the appearance of the title seems trivial,” wrote Alneaimi, chairman of the Arab group of countries with delegates to UNESCO. “Even more serious, the defense of this theme is one of the reasons used by the opponents of peace within Israel, and the publicity that will accompany and surely follow the exhibit can only cause damage to the ongoing peace negotiations, and the constant efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry, as well as the neutrality and objectivity of UNESCO.”

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Wiesenthal Center, labeled UNESCO’s decision a sign of the organization’s inherent bias against Israel and Jews.

“UNESCO has fully adopted the Arab narrative of the history of the Middle East,” Hier said. “The Arab world is not interested in such an exhibition. Such an exhibition goes against their narrative that the world forced Israel upon them as a result of World War II.” 

Hier said he first broached the possibility of UNESCO co-sponsoring an exhibition about the millennia-long Jewish connection to Israel on Oct. 31, 2011, the same day UNESCO granted full membership to Palestine as an official state. Six months later, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova visited Los Angeles and signed onto the idea of the exhibition. UNESCO agreed to host the exhibition; the Wiesenthal Center committed to fund the entire cost – more than $100,000 – and hired Robert S. Wistrich, a professor of European and Jewish history at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, to compose the texts for the displays. 

Three other nations – Israel, Canada and Montenegro – joined as co-sponsors of the exhibit. Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center invited the United States to join as an official co-sponsor as well, but in a letter on Jan. 9, 2014, a State Department staff member declined, citing the “sensitive juncture in the ongoing Middle East peace process.”

Hier called the U.S. decision not to co-sponsor the exhibit, “very problematic,” and even speculated that, had the U.S. joined on, UNESCO might not have postponed the exhibit.

“Had the United States come in as a partner, [UNESCO] would have been frightened,” Hier said.

Hier is still holding out hope that the U.S. will support this exhibition, which asserts the longstanding connection between the land of Israel and the Jewish people. He said he has contacted a member of the Obama administration to urge the U.S. to take a stronger stand.

“I said to them that we certainly want this exhibition to go to the United Nations in New York, and we want the friends of Israel in the countries of the world to stand up and say, “Don’t hide true history.’” 

Hier called the postponement tantamount to an outright cancellation of the show. Indeed, in a Jan. 15 letter to Hier and Cooper explaining the decision to postpone, UNESCO’s Bokova left vague future plans, saying she was looking forward “to discussing these issues further with you in order to define a modality for moving forward with our cooperation.”

[For documents related to this article, see below.]

Nimrod Barkan, Israel’s Ambassador to International Organizations, wrote a letter to other UNESCO delegates on Jan. 15, urging the director-general to “reinstate the exhibition as soon as possible,” and the Wiesenthal Center is currently marshaling its supporters to protest UNESCO’s decision.

The panels that make up the now-postponed exhibit cover aspects of Jewish history in the land of Israel beginning with Abraham and continuing up until the present day. The panels had already arrived at UNESCO House in Paris when the Arab nations voiced their protest of the exhibit. UNESCO, in a statement on Jan. 17 explaining its decision to postpone the opening, said that there remained some “unresolved issues” relating to the exhibition, including “potentially contestable textual and visual historical points, which might be perceived by Member States as endangering the peace process.” Courtesy Simon Wiesenthal Center.

A statement released by UNESCO on Friday, Jan. 17, stated that there are “[a] number of elements relating to [the exhibit that] still remain to be agreed upon,” including “unresolved issues relating to potentially contestable textual and visual historical points, which might be perceived by Member States as endangering the peace process.”

“In this context,” UNESCO’s statement reads, “regrettably, UNESCO had to postpone the inauguration of the exhibition.”

“UNESCO remains strongly committed to addressing the remaining outstanding issues with the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a longstanding official partner of UNESCO, in an associate status,” the statement concluded. “UNESCO remains equally committed and actively engaged to working with Member States and partners to hold the exhibition in conditions that promote cooperation and dialogue.”

On Jan. 20, the day the exhibit was scheduled to open, Cooper plans to conduct a press conference in Paris and Hier will do the same in Los Angeles. The Wiesenthal Center is also intending to urge its many members to write to UNESCO decrying the postponement.

Hier, as the head of an organization that focuses a great deal of its efforts on memorializing the Holocaust, took care to note that UNESCO will commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day in Paris later this month.

“They’re excellent at commemorating the Holocaust,” Hier said. “I applaud them for that, but it’s too bad that it stops at that.”

“UNESCO prides itself on being a place of education, of culture, of freedom of expression,” Hier continued. “Only one idea is verboten in UNESCO: the idea that the Jews had a 3,500-year relationship with the land of Israel.

“That? Take that idea somewhere else.”


A flyer advertising the exhibit, “People, Book, Land – The 3,500 Year Relationship of the Jewish People to the Holy Land.” Courtesy Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Click below to read from United Arab Emirates Senior Policy Planner Abdulla Al-Nuaimi:

Click below to read the letter to Simon Wiesenthal Center's Director of International Relations Shimon Samuels:

Click below to read the letter from Rabbi Marvin Hier and Rabbi Abraham Cooper to UNESCO's Director-General Irina Bokova:

Click below to read Irina Bokova's response to Rabbi Marvin Hier and Rabbi Abraham Cooper:

Click below to read the letter from Ambassador of Israel to International Organizations Nimrod Barkan:

U.S. presses UNESCO on cancellation of Jews in Israel exhibit


The Obama administration is “deeply disappointed” with a decision by UNESCO, the United Nation’s cultural arm, to cancel the opening of an exhibition on the Jewish presence in the land of Israel and is seeking its placement “as soon as possible.”

Complaints by Arab states led UNESCO to cancel the exhibition, organized by the Simon Wiesenthal Center along with the governments of Canada and Montenegro. It was scheduled to open Jan. 20 at the Paris headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

“The United States is deeply disappointed and has engaged with senior levels at UNESCO to confirm that the action to postpone does not represent a cancellation and to underscore our interest in seeing the exhibit proceed as soon as possible,” a State Department official said, speaking on customary anonymity. “We trust that UNESCO will approach this issue fairly and in a manner consistent with the organization’s guidelines and past precedent.”

[Related: UNESCO halts Israel’s Jewish history show after Arab nations protest]

UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova said Wednesday in a letter to the Simon Wiesenthal Center that the exhibit, titled “The People, the Book, the Land — 3,500 years of ties between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel,” would be postponed indefinitely. She said the decision arose out of UNESCO’s support for peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

“We have a responsibility in ensuring that current efforts in this regard are not endangered,” she wrote.

The cancellation followed a letter sent to Bokova on Jan. 14 by the Arab group at UNESCO. “The Arab group is deeply disturbed by the exhibition, which it condemns,” said the letter from the group’s president, Abdullah Elmealmi.

“This cause is championed by those who oppose peace efforts,” Elmealmi said. “The media campaign accompanying the exhibition will inevitably damage the peace talks, the incessant efforts of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and UNESCO’s neutrality.”

The State Department official said the exhibition comported with UNESCO’s mission of cultural preservation and education. “UNESCO was designed to foster just this kind of discussion and interaction between civil society and member states and the United States firmly supports the right of civil society in member states such as the Wiesenthal Center to be heard and to contribute to UNESCO’s mission,” the official said.

In an email, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s director of international affairs, Shimon Samuels, wrote that the center was outraged by Bokova’s decision. He called for an email campaign opposing cancellation.

State Department declined to sponsor canceled Israel UNESCO exhibit


Does the State Department believe that accounts of ancient Jewish ties to the land of Israel are too sensitive to endorse — or not?

We wrote today that UNESCO cancelled a Simon Wiesenthal Center-organized exhibit at the last minute because of pressure from Arab states. The exhibit, planned for the U.N. cultural organization’s Paris headquarters, was titled “The People, the Book, the Land — 3,500 years of ties between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel.”

The Arab states said the exhibit would undermine the peace process, and UNESCO agreed with them. “We have a responsibility in ensuring that current efforts in this regard are not endangered,” UNESCO’s director general, Irina Bokova, wrote in a letter to the Wiesenthal Center.

A source told me that the U.S. State Department was outraged at the cancellation, and so I put in a call. This is what I was told:

The United States is deeply disappointed and has engaged with senior levels at UNESCO to confirm that the action to postpone does not represent a cancellation and to underscore our interest in seeing the exhibit proceed as soon as possible. UNESCO was designed to foster just this kind of discussion and interaction between civil society and member states and the United States firmly supports the right of civil society in member states such as the Wiesenthal Center to be heard and to contribute to UNESCO’s mission. We trust that UNESCO will approach this issue fairly and in a manner consistent with the organization’s guidelines and past precedent.

Then another source told me that the State Department last week itself declined to co-sponsor the exhibit — at least in part for the same reason that Bokova cited, the peace process. This is from a Jan. 9 letter from Kelly Siekman, the State Department’s director of UNESCO affairs, to the Wiesenthal Center:

At this sensitive juncture in the ongoing Middle East peace process, and after thoughtful consideration with review at the highest levels, we have made the decision that the United States will not be able to co-sponsor the current exhibit during its display at UNESCO headquarters. As a rule, the United States does not co-sponsor exhibits at UNESCO without oversight of content development from conception to final production.

I spoke to Rabbi Marvin Hier, the Wiesenthal Center’s dean and founder, and he’s pleased at the more recent State Department statement but still a little baffled. The decision by the U.S. not to co-sponsor with Canada and Montenegro was a “major mistake,” he said, and gave cover to the pretext that the exhibition would unsettle the peace process.

“What the State Department needs to say is something along the lines of ‘We have vetted the exhibit, and the State Department finds that that the exhibit in no way interferes Kerry’s mission to carry out talks with leaders of Israel and the Palestinians,’” he said.

One more oddity: In her Jan. 9 letter declining the offer to sponsor the exhibit, Siekman adds: “We would like to offer to co-sponsor any exhibit opening ceremony or event that you may have planned.”

What is the substantive difference between sponsoring an exhibit and an opening?

I’ve asked State. We’ll keep you posted.

Ancient Syrian synagogue hit by looting, shelling


Theft and shelling have damaged a 2,000 year-old synagogue in Damascus, one of the oldest in the world, Syrian government and opposition activist sources said on Monday.

Syria's historic monuments have increasingly become a casualty of the civil war has killed more than 70,000 people. Parts of Aleppo's medieval stone-vaulted souk have been reduced to rubble, and many ancient markets, mosques and churches across the country are threatened with destruction.

The damage has so far been light at the Jobar Synagogue, built in honour of the biblical prophet Elijah, according to Mamoun Abdulkarim, the head of Syria's antiquities department.

“Local community officials say the place's sanctity has been violated and there were thefts but I cannot verify the nature of the thefts without investigation,” Abdulkarim told Reuters by telephone.

“Four months earlier they (Jewish authorities) tried to go in and were prevented from entering due to the presence of fighters.”

He said that authorities believed looters have mostly stolen gold chandeliers and icons dating back 70 to 100 years.

But Abdulkarim said he doubted that thousands of priceless manuscripts had been stolen from the synagogue as most of them, including Torahs in filigreed silver cases, had already been moved to the synagogue inside Damascus's Old City, a UNESCO world heritage site.

The Jobar Synagogue is inside a run-down outer district of Damascus called Jobar, which was home to a large Jewish community for hundreds of years until the 1800s.

Rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad began moving into Jobar last July and the area has suffered heavy shelling from government air strikes and artillery since then.

Pro-Assad groups blame rebels for damage to Syria's heritage, while the opposition blames the government. Video has shown both sides destroying ancient castles and shrines with shelling, gun battles and targeted explosions.

NO SITES SPARED

“Jobar has been shelled by Assad's forces for more than 60 days … There is no building that has been spared by the shelling in Jobar, whether it is holy or not,” said opposition activist Mohammed al-Shami, who lives in the area.

“But luckily many artefacts from the synagogue were removed by a local council in Jobar and are now being stored for safety,” he said, speaking by Skype.

Other Jewish sites remained unharmed and in government hands, according to the Syrian official Abdulkarim.

“We deal with these (synagogues) in their archaeological value as we are dealing with a mosque or church, no differently. It is part of our heritage. Jewish culture is preserved,” he said.

Abdulkarim said Jews still living in Damascus were storing Jewish artefacts in the Old City's Jewish Quarter at a synagogue that dates back to the Ottoman era and where Syria's tiny Jewish community, only a few dozen, still prays.

The Jobar site, built atop a cave where the prophet Elijah was believed to have hidden from persecution, has been a place of pilgrimage for Syrian and Arab Jews.

Activists said at least six mortars had hit the synagogue, but that damage was still minimal.

Video published by opposition groups in early March showed damage to the concrete outer walls surrounding the synagogue and a pile of rubble next to the entrance, which is marked with an inscription in Arabic, Hebrew in English.

Reporting by Erika Solomon and Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Jon Hemming

What is the Israeli election really telling the Palestinians?


Without a doubt, at the moment, the Palestinians in Gaza and in the West Bank are riding high, flexing their muscles, and feeling very confident about what they view as an impressive string of recent victories.  The leaders of Hamas, for their part, have excited the whole Arab world by taking on the Israelis and successfully firing hundreds of rockets into the heartland of Israel, reaching her main population centers in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to the great delight of the Arab street.

Mahmoud Abbas and his supporters in Ramallah can tout their stunning victory at the United Nations, where an unprecedented 138 nations recognized the existence of a Palestinian State and granted them observer status, even though they stubbornly bypassed any bilateral talks with Israel.

But, if that is all the Palestinians and their newfound friends in the Moslem Brotherhood in Cairo have learned from the recent outbreak, then they will be embarking on the same road that has led the Arab World from one disaster to the next for the last 65 years.  They continue to live in a fantasy world hiding from their citizens the simple fact that, in spite of their oil reserves, Israel, warts and all, is by far the most vibrant, dynamic and free country in the entire Middle East.

Yes, Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu fell far short of the vote of confidence he expected.  Nonetheless, there is no question that he will remain Israel’s Prime Minister.  Yes, all eyes are now on Yair Lapid and his party Yesh Atid, a virtual newcomer to politics, who overnight managed to build a coalition of both left of center and right of center Israelis frustrated with the countries direction, to become the leader of the second most important party in Israel.  Truth is — Lapid and Bibi agree on most of the major issues confronting Israel, including Iran and not dividing Jerusalem.

For those Palestinians sincere about seeking a way to end the Arab-Israeli conflict, they must ask themselves some fundamental questions – why is Netanyahu still going to be the Prime Minister of Israel?  Why didn’t the Israelis choose Shelly Yacimovich, the Labor Party candidate, long regarded as Israel’s peace party?  What is it about the Palestinians that still make Israelis suspicious about their intentions? 

Unquestionably, the answer is because the people of Israel do not see the current Palestinian leadership as peace partners.  If they did, they would have marked their ballots for Shelly Yacimovich or Tzipi Livni, but they did not.  The overwhelming majority of Israelis even in 2013 remain very skeptical about the Palestinians’ readiness to accept the existence of a Jewish State in the Middle East.  Most of them refuse to drink the Kool-Aid being offered by the academics and intellectuals who frequent the Tel Aviv cafés.

Can you blame them?  They remember the days when the last Labor Party Prime Minister Ehud Barak, was in power, and when he offered Yasser Arafat at Camp David the best deal he could have ever gotten, including a 95 percent Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and their capital in East Jerusalem, how Arafat shocked President Clinton and the rest of the world, by rejecting the offer and bolting the talks.

That was a seminal moment in the life of Israel that every taxi driver and worker in the country has never forgotten — just as they remembered Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and the Hamas takeover, and the subsequent campaign of terror and suicide bombings.

Can you blame them for remembering last September’s speech at the UN when President Abbas spoke before the whole world and mentioned only Islam’s and Christianity's profound ties to the Holy Land?   How he deliberately ignored Judaism, the religion with the strongest biblical roots there, and its 3,500-year connection to the land of Israel.  Is that the road to peace?  Is that the way you reach out across the aisle especially when you know that all of Israel is watching you? 

Can you really blame them for refusing to believe in Abbas’ declaration of a two-state solution, when everyone in Israel who reads a newspaper or watches television sees before them not two states, Israel and Palestine, but three States, Israel and two separate Palestinian entities, one in Gaza and another in Ramallah.  One, which continuously calls for Israel’s destruction, and the other in Ramallah, which says they want peace, but, who at the same time is willing to invite Hamas into its Government. 

Of course, the overwhelming majority of Israelis are in favor of a two-state solution, but nobody in Israel would accept two Palestinian states or even a single state where terrorists are part of the government and could one day take control of it.  Can you imagine France or England or any other democracy being asked to do that, let alone a small country surrounded by 22 hostile states?

The lesson that the Palestinian leaders refuse to learn is that their state is not dependent on public opinion in Cairo, nor can it be realized from the podium of the United Nations General Assembly or UNESCO.  Palestinian statehood, whether the Arabs like it or not, is without question inextricably linked to Israeli public opinion.  For so long as the majority of Israelis continue to believe that the Palestinians cannot be trusted as viable peace partners, their dreams for statehood will remain dreams that never came to fruition.

The Palestinian leadership must reverse tactics and embark on an entirely different course.  Rather than continuously making anti-Semitic comments about Jews, preaching hatred of Israelis, and honoring suicide bombers, they need to take the advise of a fellow Muslim, the former Commodore of the Royal Saudi Navy, Abdulateef Al Mulhim, who wrote in the Arab News a few months ago: “The Arab World has many enemies and Israel should have been at the bottom of the list.  The real enemies of the Arab world are corruption, lack of good education, lack of good health care, lack of freedom, lack of respect for the human lives… Israel now has the most advanced research facilities, top universities and advanced infrastructure.  Many Arabs don’t know that the life expectancy of the Palestinians living in Israel is far longer than many Arab states and they enjoy far better political and social freedom than many of their Arab brothers.  Even the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip enjoy more political and social rights than some places in the Arab World.”

When the leadership in Gaza and Ramallah accepts those truths, that will be the day when a Palestinian state will come into being.


Rabbi Marvin Hier is the Founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Toloerance.

‘Rescue during the Holocaust’: Honoring courage to resist


You would not suspect anything out of the ordinary was happening  as the silver-haired interviewee describes his day at the office. But Per Anger and his colleagues in Budapest, Hungary, were on a mission. His self-effacing modesty veils the significance of his role in attempting to rescue the Jews of Budapest from certain death in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

I had been searching the USC Shoah Foundation database for eyewitness testimony of Raoul Wallenberg and was right to assume that among the 52,000 audio-visual life histories, I would find survivors talking about how Wallenberg rescued them in the summer of 1944. I had not expected to find Per Anger, a lesser-known accomplice of Wallenberg. As the camera rolls, the mission comes to life: It was Anger who was the first to hand out Swedish protective papers to Jews, and it was he who first called for assistance — which Wallenberg answered. Anger describes the difficulty of snatching Jews from under the noses of the Nazis, the day he opened a cattle wagon and took out 100 Jews, and then the problem of housing and feeding 20,000 people they then had in their care.

This year, the theme of the United Nations International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust is called “Rescue During the Holocaust: The Courage to Care.” Wallenberg  would be 100 years old now, and so to celebrate his life, the United Nations and UNESCO — among many other organizations — have been highlighting the actions of rescuers such as Wallenberg and Anger.

This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the release of “Schindler’s List,” the feature film that depicts the unlikely hero Oskar Schindler. His motivation to run his factory in Poland was far from altruistic. He was knowingly invested in a system that used slave labor. Only when faced with the reality of people on his shop floor did his attitude change to the point of absolute defiance of the Nazi intention to work them to death. Schindler changed from collaborator to resistor.

My USC colleague Wolf Gruner and I have been trying to work out what it is that provides the impetus for resistance, studying those who did engage in acts of defiance, from Anger to Schindler to Wallenberg and everyone in between. Resistance came in many forms during the Holocaust, and overwhelmingly we find that Jews did not go like “lambs to the slaughter,” which is a terrible myth that has to end. Survival was a state of mind, and Jews across Europe did everything possible to survive, in direct defiance of the Nazis.

What Gruner discovered is that Jews were more actively defiant than we have hitherto understood; there were small acts of heroism every day. We also discovered many more non-Jews working in resistance networks. Many were not successful in their attempts to undermine the Nazis, but those acts are important to know about. It remains true that the vast majority of people did nothing to assist, but that should make the actions of those who did try all the more valuable. Their actions are the key to a more secure future.  

I, too, have been watching more testimony of rescuers, of which the USC Shoah Foundation has more than a thousand in its archive. The more I listen and watch the purposefulness of their decisions, the more I realize that rescuers were not primarily performing acts of altruism, although most were altruists at some level. They need to be reclassified as the ultimate resistors. As individual citizens, they chose to take actions in direct contravention of Nazi policy. Their decisions were just as ideologically motivated and personally courageous as the partisans in the forest or the fighters in the ghetto — maybe more so, as they were rarely armed and were often surrounded by collaborators and informers who were more than willing to cash in on their courage.

They may not have been in organized fighting units, but their determination to defy the Nazis, with the likelihood they would die trying, takes courage — not the courage to care (as caring as they were), but the courage to resist.

We often ask why weren’t there more who defied the Nazi’s hell-bent determination to murder every Jew without exception. As I listen to the voices one at a time of those who committed to that ultimate act of defiance, I realize we are asking the wrong question. Even if there were only one person who had such courage, I find I have to ask the question, ‘How were there so many… and how might I be like them?’


Stephen Smith is executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education.