Just when you think that the reductio ad absurdum has reached its lowest point, it slides a little lower. On Friday, April 15, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted in favor of a declaration that Israel has no claim on Temple Mount. It referred to it only by its Palestinian names, Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif, and ignored its thousands of years of Jewish history. In the release, every time the word, “Israel,” is mentioned, the epithet, “the Occupying Power,” follows it—a total of 16 times in a document of less than five pages.
The declaration does not mention the Jews’ right to worship in or around the Temple Mount even once. Instead, it “strongly condemns the Israeli aggressions and illegal measures against the freedom of worship and Muslims’ access to their Holy Site Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al Sharif.”
The vote, as one might expect in the current milieu at the UN, was overwhelmingly favorable. The member states of the board voted 33 in favor of the decision, 6 against it, and 17 abstentions.
From here to a decision calling for an all-out elimination of the state of Israel due to “infringement of Palestinian rights,” there is a very short distance. We should acknowledge that the vast majority of UN member states would rather the state of Israel did not exist. UNESCO’s benighted declaration does not express their ignorance of Jerusalem’s history, but rather their anger and hatred of the Jewish state.
We can view the UN’s persistent and intensifying anti-Israel sentiment as a crisis, but I think we should view it as an opportunity. It is our chance to reconnect to the reason we settled in the land of Israel in the first place—not in the State of Israel, but in the land of Israel, back in the days of our forefathers.
The Jewish people did not begin in Israel. When Abraham established his first group of followers, he had hoped to transform the society of his homeland. He watched his countryfolk become increasingly alienated, as is happening today, and sought to help them find a way to reunite. But when met with too much resistance to his plea, he left his home and started a new nation. The centuries old composition, Pirkey de-Rabbi Eliezer (Chapters of Rabbi Eliezer), describes how the builders of the Tower of Babylon bemoaned the fall of every stone in the tower, crying, “When will another come up in its stead?” But, “if a man fell and died they would pay him no mind.” In consequence, the book concludes, “When Abraham, son of Terah, walked by and saw them building the city and the tower, he had cursed them” and left them.
As Abraham wandered through what is today’s Near East, he gathered more and more people who supported his ideology of unity and brotherhood. In his monumental composition, Mishneh Torah, Maimonides describes how he “began to call out to the whole world… wandering from town to town and from kingdom to kingdom until he arrived in the land of Canaan.”
Abraham taught the principles of unity and brotherhood to his descendants, and by the time Israel had escaped from Egypt they were ready to embrace the law of absolute altruism known as “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The ancient Hebrews’ method was simple: When hatred strikes, cover it with love. Or in the words of King Solomon (Proverbs, 10:12): “Hatred stirs up strife, and love covers all crimes.”
The people of Israel experienced many conflicts, but they always managed to unite above them. As long as they had kept their brotherhood above their disputes, they stayed in the land of Israel. But when unfounded hatred prevailed over unity, they dispersed and were exiled.
When Israel united “as one man with one heart” and became a nation, they were given the task to be “a light unto nations.” That light was the light of unity they had achieved. But when they fell into unfounded hatred they could not spread it and the essence of the nation had been broken.
Since then, the world feels that the people of Israel do not deserve their own land. They may not express it in words, but they feel that Jews have no claim in the holy land, and that they are not the holy people. Last weekend’s vote by UNESCO was merely a reminder that this is what the world thinks.
But it is also a wakeup call. We must return to our vocation. We cannot stay fragmented and expect the world to appreciate us for our scientific achievements. Humanity does not, and will not listen to our words of reason since their anger does not stem from reason. They do not think, they feel that we are causing harm. And the harm we are causing is our own disunity.
The more the world declines into the chaos of conflicts and struggles, the more it will blame us for it. Before the world formally decides that establishing the state of Israel was a mistake, and the existence of the Jewish people is by and large a bad idea, we have to return to the core of our nation—to unity and brotherhood above differences.
Differences among us will continue. They are unavoidable and often unsolvable. However, they are not meant to be solved; they are meant to be covered with love. When we cover our differences with love they turn from hatred to a bond. Disputes covered with love strengthen our unity rather than weaken it, and this is the example we need to set. In a world where people and nations are alienated and hostile, learning to cover hostility with love is the cure that everyone needs.
We can provide it and we are expected to. We must not wait.