It might seem strange that an exhibit stating the plain facts of history, as vetted by a U.N. agency no less, could end up the center of controversy — that is, until you consider the fantasies, propaganda objectives and political goals of the Arab world.
The exhibit, “People, Book, Land: The 3,500-year Relationship of the Jewish people to the Holy Land,” was supposed to open this week in Paris at the headquarters of the U.N. Education, Science and Culture Organization. But at the last minute, UNESCO postponed the exhibit and since no rescheduled date was set, it looked a lot like the event had been canceled. Reacting to a storm of protest from the United States, Israel and others, UNESCO has indicated the exhibit will open in June.
UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said she postponed the event on complaints from the “Arab group” within the organization who claimed the exhibit would “cause damage” to the current peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
The plain facts of the history of Jewish life in Jerusalem run counter to the fantasy and propaganda — or “Arab narrative” in the euphemistic language of diplomacy — that Jews arrived in the Holy Land only with the 19th century Zionist movement and after the Holocaust.
Hebrew University professor Robert Wistrich, who wrote the words for the exhibit, told the Times of Israel that UNESCO had demonstrated “contempt for the Jewish people and its history.” It’s worse than that. UNESCO can’t bow to Arab and Muslim history deniers without insulting the whole of history.
Of course, UNESCO animus toward Israel is nothing new, or out of line with other Israel-phobic agencies within the United Nations. UNESCO in 1975 endorsed an egregious resolution equating Zionism with racism. In 2011 UNESCO admitted “Palestine” as a full member, prompting the United States to cut off funding. Regrettably the Obama administration is now trying to find a way around Congress to restore that money.
The exhibit was the work of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and cosponsored by Israel, Canada and Montenegro. The United States rightly condemned the postponement but, to its discredit, the State Department refused to sign on as a cosponsor, citing “this sensitive juncture in the ongoing Middle East peace process.” Sounds very similar to the objection of the UNESCO Arab group. This is wrong because any appearance of acquiescing to the Arab fiction of Jews as late comers to Jerusalem is in itself an obstacle to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It reinforces the Arab intransigence that has doomed all peace efforts. Arab and Muslim refusal to recognize Israel as the Jewish homeland is the barrier to peace.
Rejection of Israel is also a rejection of the West’s universal values. As Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper put it in a recent speech to the Knesset, “Israel is the only country in the Middle East which has long anchored itself in the ideals of freedom, democracy and the rule of law,” which “have proven to be the only ground in which human rights, political stability and economic prosperity may flourish.”
UNESCO disrespected the plain facts of history and hopes for peace.