The UNESCO resolution which referred to Jewish holy sites in Jerusalem by their Muslim names alone that passed this week made me think that we – the State of Israel – are taking the wrong path, at least if the destination is to survive and thrive.
The implication of the resolution is to deny the connection of the Jewish people to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. Despite our attachment to them, the resolution suggests that the sites ‘belong’ to Islam.
I am not going to discuss the historical or archaeological evidence, or the religious traditions in Judaism, Christianity or even Islam that the resolution contradicts. Rather, I am concerned with the political implications; what we can learn from it about our position in the world and our possible diplomatic and even military strategies.
There are 58 nations on UNESCO’s board, and 56 of them voted. Six opposed the resolution: Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, The Netherlands, United Kingdom and United States. 23 voted in favor, and 27 abstained (Mexico changed its vote before the final approval from in favor to abstain). All the Muslim-majority nations that voted were in favor except Chad and Guinea, which abstained. To Israel’s chagrin, the ‘advanced’ European nations of France, Italy and Spain abstained on a resolution which many saw as an expression of pure Jew-hatred.
Despite the recent improvement in relations between Israel and Egypt, including military cooperation, Egypt not only voted for the resolution but was also one of the seven Arab nations that proposed it. And apparently Israel’s “close” ties with Russia did not carry over to this arena, where Russia too voted for it.
In April, UNESCO passed a very similar resolution. The same six countries voted against it, but then there were 33 in favor and only seven abstentions. The changed votes were probably due to feverish lobbying by Israel, possibly with some help from friendly countries. I am not sure why there was less public indignation in April – probably because the vote was so unbalanced as to be embarrassing.
What are the lessons to be learned from this?
One is that while we might be successful in cooperating with some Muslim nations in limited ways on limited issues, there is unlikely to be an ideological breakthrough. Where the legitimacy of a Jewish state on ‘Muslim land’ (which happens to include all of our country) is concerned, there can be no compromise, even if there might be pragmatic – and temporary – acceptance. The day that Egypt will not be poisoned by Jew-hatred is far off.
Another is that, at least in the international forums associated with the UN, we can’t win. It is not paranoia to say that there they are “all against us” with only a few exceptions (and those exceptions are not guaranteed). This does not augur well for the UN Security Council resolution that is expected to be proposed immediately after the American elections to outlaw Israeli settlements across the Green Line.
We can also note the degree of cynicism – or perhaps extreme anti-Zionism or even Jew-hatred – that would cause a country like France, Spain or Italy, with a Christian tradition, to in essence deny the connection between the Jewish people and the historical Temple. From where do they believe Jesus threw out the money-changers? A mosque, some 600 years prior to Mohammad? It is not as though they were not aware of the implications of abstaining – our diplomats made sure that they did understand.
All this is just more evidence, as if more is needed, against the strategy of accommodation, the idea that if Israel would be a good “world citizen,” then its conflicts will end. Ha’aretz, in a typical editorial following the vote, said that improving Israel’s standing in the world will require “meaningful steps to moderate the occupation and serious negotiations to establish Palestine.” Really? Do you think that any such “steps” short of total surrender will satisfy the Muslim world, which almost unanimously believes that Jews have no rights to any land in the Middle East? We allowed Hamas to “establish Palestine” in Gaza, and the result is plain to see.
Yes, we need a better-organized Foreign Ministry, better direct diplomacy and better hasbara. But those things will not change the basic dimensions of the problem, which can be defined as follows: they are (more or less) all against us, and the reason is that we are Jews in a world where we are a tiny minority, non-Muslims in a Muslim region; we are considered “European colonialists” despite our truly indigenous status and the fact that half of us are not from Europe; and we are nationalists in a world where nationalism is only permitted to “people of color.”
Trying to convince the world that this isn’t so, especially through international institutions where Sudan, for example, has the same vote as the US or the UK, is not a workable strategy. Trying to be a good citizen isn’t enough, because what they demand as proof of our goodness we can’t afford to give (as Ayaan Hirsi Ali is reported to have said “even if you give them Jerusalem, there will be no peace”).
But trying to do these impossible things not only fails, it has a negative impact. Begging the world to recognize that Jerusalem belongs to us implies that we aren’t strong enough to hold onto it. Keeping Jews from praying on the Temple Mount implies that it is not ours at all.
The only strategy that might succeed is one that calls for the exercise of power. We should use our power – and we have more economic, political and military power now than at any time in the past – to hurt our enemies and help our friends. A straightforward application of power is the best way to achieve our security and other goals, as well as to “improve our image” in the only way that counts: to make our friends trust us and our enemies fear us (the American President might do well to learn this lesson too).
We are not doing this when, as the strongest military power in the region, we allow Hezbollah to establish deterrence that constrains our actions. We are not doing this when, as a sovereign state, we allow our foreign enemies to pump millions of dollars into subversive organizations here, or to interfere in our elections. And we are not doing it when we allow Muslims more rights on the Temple Mount than Jews.
Updated [21 Oct 2016 1211 IDT] for clarity and to fix typos.