Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Thank Heaven for Small Victories

So UNESCO, the U.N.'s cultural agency, passes a one-side resolution blaming Israel alone for "“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.” It also labels two Jewish holy sites -- Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem and the Tomb of the Patriarchs -- as solely Muslim holy sites. But since the resolution dropped prior language that also would have denied Jewish connection to a third holy site (the Western Wall), it's being portrayed as a moderate position. Because, you know, UN.

Incidentally, the "status quo" on the Temple Mount being referred to is one where Jews aren't allowed to pray there. On that point, I observed the following last week:

In moderate counterpoint, Rabbi Avi Shafran, the Director of Public Affairs for Agudath Israel in American (an Orthodox Jewish umbrella group), has an excellent column on the issue of incitement and worship surrounding the Temple Mount. One thing he observes is that, under traditional Jewish law, Jews really shouldn't be praying at the Temple Mount (and the Orthodox establishment in Israel has accordingly come down hard against it). It is a nationalist move to do so, not a religious move to do so; and Rabbi Shafran says we should have no sympathy for nationalistic provocations (to forestall "one sided leftist!" comments, the bulk of his column focuses on the inexcusability of Muslim terror attacks purportedly "caused" by Jewish incitement).

It's not that I disagree with Rabbi Shafran. I don't have any desire to pray on the Temple Mount, in large part because I don't have a gratuitous desire to inflame tensions. That said, it is up to Jews to decide how to express their religion, and I don't accept that Jewish religious ritual (even that which is not Orthodox-approved) should in a just world be a per se inflammation of Muslim religious sensibilities.

The sad thing (well, one of many sad things) is that the fact that Jews and Muslims share so many holy sites could, in a different world, be a locus point for unity and solidarity. It is, after all, the sign of a common cultural heritage. Instead, we get comments from Mahmoud Abbas saying that Jews "desecrate the mosque with their dirty feet"; because instead of finding joy in shared history, he finds Jews disgusting and their presence contaminating. This is the incitement driving the current wave of violence: the view of Jews as dangerous contagions.

This is hardly the only driver behind the press to erase Jewish connections their own religious holy sites, of course. The ancient character of these sites is also an embarrassment to those who view Jewish presence as purely colonial in character -- as if Israel came to be when a bunch of Germans with "Stein" in their name threw darts to pick a pleasant-seeming summer home. That there are identifiably Jewish sites predating the 20th century belies this narrative; it presents a different one of a common homeland to which Jews and Palestinians alike have a valid claim of patrimony towards. There are various ways to elide this, none of which are anything but historical travesties, but the end result ultimately is flat erasure -- when Jews claim that they find the Cave of the Patriarch's holy, they're just lying. As they do.

In any event, that UNESCO only considers Rachel's Tomb and the Tomb of the Patriarch's part of the lie, and not the Western Wall as well, is apparently a big concession from them. Thank heaven for small victories.

No comments: