Crossposted from my JPost blog
It’s due to one of the most fitting coincidences ever that recently, there were two anniversaries of antisemitism: In the night of November 9-10, 1938, the Nazis targeted Jews in Germany and German-controlled areas in the “Kristallnacht;” 37 years later, on November 10, 1975, the UN targeted the Jewish state by condemning Zionism as racism.
As Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Chaim Herzog pointed out in response, “Hitler would have felt at home […] listening to the proceedings in this forum, and above all to the proceedings during the debate on Zionism.”
Herzog’s speech should be read in full every anniversary of November 10, not only because it was a superb speech, but because it remains depressingly relevant.
To be sure, the UN’s equation of Zionism with racism was eventually repealed in December 1991 – almost exactly 20 years ago – but the poisonous legacy of this resolution lives on. There is not only the continuing anti-Israel bias of the UN, but more insidiously, attempts to transform antisemitism into a publicly acceptable, even laudable stance by equating Zionism with racism have become commonplace.
The recipe provided by the UN was simple: don’t talk openly about Jews, but focus instead on the Jewish people’s quest for self-determination and declare this quest “racist” – and voilà, anti-Jewish racism can smugly pose as anti-racism!
Countless examples show that this recipe has remained popular ever since, but already back in 1975, Herzog spelled out very clearly what was going on. He emphasized that the UN’s condemnation of Zionism was “born of a deep pervading feeling of anti-Semitism” and noted that this was a sad reflection of the decline of the UN, “which began its life as an anti-Nazi alliance” but was now “on its way to becoming the world center of anti-Semitism.”
It was back then that the “new” antisemitism started to take shape, and while we tend to think that efforts to “delegitimize” Israel are a relatively recent phenomenon, a little bit of reading will quickly reveal that these efforts were already in full swing by the mid-1970s.
Of course, back then, there were hardly any Israeli settlements on the West Bank, and back then, nobody spoke of the West Bank as “Palestinian land.”
But Herzog’s speech also contains one of the best explanations of the root of the Arab-Israeli conflict – and this explanation also demonstrates that anti-Zionism is usually just a flimsy cover for antisemitism:
“The key to understanding Zionism is in its name. The easternmost of the two hills of ancient Jerusalem during the tenth century B.C.E. was called Zion. In fact, the name Zion, referring to Jerusalem, appears 152 times in the Old Testament. The name is overwhelmingly a poetic and prophetic designation. The religious and emotional qualities of the name arise from the importance of Jerusalem as the Royal City and the City of the Temple. ‘Mount Zion’ is the place where God dwells. Jerusalem, or Zion, is a place where the Lord is King, and where He has installed His king, David.
King David made Jerusalem the capital of Israel almost three thousand years ago, and Jerusalem has remained the capital ever since. During the centuries the term ‘Zion’ grew and expanded to mean the whole of Israel. The Israelites in exile could not forget Zion. The Hebrew Psalmist sat by the waters of Babylon and swore: ‘If I forget three, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.’ This oath has been repeated for thousands of years by Jews throughout the world. It is an oath which was made over seven hundred years before the advent of Christianity and over twelve hundred years before the advent of Islam, and Zion came to mean the Jewish homeland, symbolic of Judaism, of Jewish national aspirations.”
Ultimately, it is the denial of the ancient and persistent Jewish connection to “Zion” that is at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The exact location of Mount Zion may be controversial, but it is not controversial that it is a site in Jerusalem.
Yet, the world is not ready to fully recognize Jewish claims to Jerusalem, while complaints about the supposed “Judaization” of Jerusalem are widely treated as part of the long list of “legitimate” Palestinian and Muslim “grievances.”
Currently, there are reportedly plans to stage a “million man march” in Cairo next week to protest the “Judaization” of Jerusalem. The organizers are of course Islamist groups. Newly empowered by what has been aptly described as “The Muslim Brotherhood Spring,” these groups are already busy making sure that their supporters have some convenient distractions from the very serious domestic problems facing most Arab countries. It is hardly a coincidence that recently, also Tunisia’s Islamists have talked about the “liberation” of Jerusalem.
As long as the most popular forces in the region are unwilling to acknowledge the ancient Jewish connection to Jerusalem, the chances for genuine peace remain dim. But the chances for genuine peace are also not bolstered by all those in the West who prefer to ignore that anti-Zionism, and most definitely Islamist anti-Zionism, is all too often only a flimsy disguise for antisemitism.