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A UN ‘Nakba’ Exhibit Goes Beyond the War of Words

Poster for a 2022 Seattle ‘Nakba Day’ rally.

JNS.orgWalk into the U.N.’s New York headquarters, graced with impressive sculptures, tapestries and an uplifting Marc Chagall stained glass, and one has a palpable sense of the U.N.’s mission to limit conflicts to wars of words. That is, until one witnesses an exhibition in the lobby marking the nakba—Arabic for “catastrophe”—the Palestinians’ name for a defamatory narrative of Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.

With Hamas’s Oct. 7 atrocities still raw, the timing of the exhibit—which opened on Nov. 29—could not be worse.  Nov. 29, 1947 was the day the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Partition Plan for then-Mandatory Palestine. In 1977, the UNGA desecrated this date by calling for Nov. 29 to be transformed into an annual observance of an “International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.”

The current 24-panel exhibit concentrates entirely on what it portrays as a vibrant Palestinian Arab society in pre-Israel “Palestine,” ignoring the fact that Jews lived there vibrantly as well. The exhibition begins with “Life Before the Nakba,” mostly consisting of images from Jaffa, and continues with “Life Upended,” “Longing: Life Uprooted,” “Belonging: Struggle for Life” and “Life: Against All Odds.” The pathos is so over-the-top as to verge on camp.

The “Palestine: A Land With a People” narrative begins with the premise that in 1948 “more than half of the Palestinians became refugees, tens of thousands were killed, and 500 villages and communities destroyed.” This tendentious narrative is not exactly how the Palestinians “became” refugees.

In fact, the Arab League made the Palestinians into refugees when it told them to leave the land, to which they could return after the Arab states had slaughtered the Jews of the Land of Israel and installed the Palestinian Arabs as supreme rulers.

As instructed, the Arabs left, but the Arab armies were defeated and their genocidal plans thwarted. The Arabs who defied orders and stayed in the new State of Israel became full citizens with equal rights. They are represented in all walks of Israeli life, serving as members of Knesset, mayors, judges and even in the army.

But multiple wars and intifadas later, the nakba narrative continues to underpin and justify the desire to destroy Israel “from the river to the sea.”

Indeed, the current exhibit’s narrative invokes a “mandate” given to the Division for Palestinian Rights of the Secretariat in support of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. It calls for an end to the “Israeli occupation that began in 1967 and of the two-state solution on the basis of the pre-1967 borders, with an independent, sovereign and viable State of Palestine, living side by side in peace and security with Israel.”

The exhibit, of course, ignores the fact that the Palestinian leadership has consistently rejected such a state numerous times. The PLO and Hamas “covenants” calling for the destruction of Israel are still in place. Tens of thousands of missiles from Gaza and attacks by Hamas, Hezbollah and other jihadists prove that this ambition remains the same, culminating in the horrific Oct. 7 massacre.

In the end, one feels that the purpose of the exhibit is not to commemorate the nakba. It is intended to reemphasize and reinforce the U.N.’s obsessive dedication to hardline Palestinian nationalism.

This obsession regularly results in two-thirds approval of any anti-Israel resolution brought before the UNGA, which has occurred a stunning 79 times since 2010. It has also resulted in the corruption and politicization of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva and UNESCO in Paris and enables the Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA to collaborate with terrorists and poison the minds of the next generation of Palestinians with murderous hatred of Jews.

The U.N. has even granted “Palestine” a bizarre “quasi-nation” status, even though there is no “Palestine” and even the Palestinian Authority-controlled areas have no identifiable borders beyond Area A of Judea and Samaria—a failed remnant of the Oslo Accords that the Palestinians themselves destroyed with a campaign of terrorism. “Palestine” might speak and act like a state, but it is not a state.

In the end, the purpose of this exhibit seems to be only somewhat about the Palestinian Arabs. First and foremost, it is about the U.N. It is an attempt to validate a jumble of words that justify a growing number of expensive and biased U.N. committees and investigations.

Future U.N. exhibits should refrain from self-serving and tendentious narratives. As the world contemplates “day after” scenarios to the Israel-Hamas war, perhaps the U.N. should consider a blank canvas.

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Israel Can Limit the ICJ’s Potential Damage

General view of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands December 11, 2019. Photo: REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

JNS.orgIsraelis on Friday displayed what is called Jewish joy—they celebrated that the pogromniks only broke the windows, but did not kill anyone. The good news was the International Court of Justice did not effectively order us to wait to be tortured and murdered, by demanding a halt to the Gaza War. That is certainly good—but only in the twisted world where the ICJ is putting Israel, not Hamas, on trial for the absolutely absurd charge of genocide.

Otherwise, the decision was horrible. The court accepted South Africa’s argument that it has jurisdiction and that Israel could possibly be proven to be committing genocide. The case is not over and will go on for years. In the meantime, the court has made clear that it considers itself to have authority to review and superintend every aspect of Israel’s war for survival—and demands monthly reports. No other country receives such treatment, and it is designed to make the military constantly look over its soldiers’ shoulders.

The ICJ is not an independent body—it is an organ of the United Nations. Its justices serve a renewable nine-year term, further undermining their independence. The judges are elected by the General Assembly and Security Council, and their positions largely track the foreign policy of their home countries. Thus while we might get lucky sometimes, over the long run, the policy of the court will reflect the policy of the United Nations.

The General Assembly’s obsessive condemnation of the Jewish state is well known—Israel would never agree to have its fate determined by them. But agreeing to the jurisdiction of the court indirectly does the same thing. In Israel it is thought unacceptable to have judges appointed by democratically elected politicians decide the meaning of ordinary laws. Yet we have agreed to have judges elected by dictatorial regimes decide the basic question of whether we can exist—whether we can defend ourselves.

It does not have to be this way: The ICJ does not automatically have jurisdiction over countries—they must specifically agree, typically by agreeing that The Hague can decide a specific dispute or questions under a specific treaty. In this case, Israel signed the Genocide Convention, which provides that “disputes between the…parties” about the treaty can be decided by the ICJ. But that does not mean cases like this, where a totally unrelated state has brought a purely political complaint in a matter it has no relation to. The court should not have accepted jurisdiction, and by doing so it effectively claimed for itself power to supervise the conduct of wars around the world, so long as some country claims genocide is involved.

Israel did not have to agree to the ICJ jurisdiction to be a member of the Genocide Convention, and in retrospect, doing so was a major mistake. Countries are allowed to opt out of ICJ jurisdiction in various treaties, and very commonly do so. Indeed, 16 countries have opted out of the Genocide Convention minus the ICJ jurisdiction—including the world’s largest democracies, the United States and India. Even the world’s biggest superpowers did not trust the ICJ to hear cases involving the use of force in an apolitical way.

The United States also did not agree to the provision of the Genocide Convention that deals with speech, knowing the court can twist legitimate speech into supposed “incitement.” Indeed, those who think the statements of some Knesset members are what got Israel into trouble should consider the comments of President Obama, who spoke of “eradicating a cancer” in the campaign against Islamic State, or Biden, who once said, “We should never take anything off the table when we are in war.”

But Israel did not opt out, leaving itself exposed. The Genocide Convention was a response to the Holocaust, and it seemed appropriate that the Jewish state would be fully on board. Also, Israeli officials did not expect such a gross abuse of the court’s authority. But they should have. And the Genocide Convention which Israel so respected was turned into a farce, a platform to accuse the Jews of genocide even as they defend themselves from a systematic attempt to wipe them out.

The hearings in The Hague were a judicial Oct. 7—a completely unjustified surprise attack that shows us we must fundamentally rethink our defensive posture. In this case, the extraordinary work of the State’s lawyers, and good fortune, prevented disaster.

But we must see that mere sentimentalism, or some lingering faith in international institutions, cannot be allowed to leave us open to such attack again. Even a slight change in the composition of the court or the geopolitical climate would bring a disastrous result—and hostile states like South Africa can roll the dice as many times as they want, with no consequence if they lose and a huge payoff if they win.

Thus Israel must immediately end its acceptance of the ICJ’s jurisdiction concerning the Genocide Convention. This will not end the current proceedings, but it will prevent further such attempts in this or other conflicts. Moreover, Israel must review all of its treaties for provisions granting ICJ jurisdiction and opt out of those. The United States did just that when Iran used a long-forgotten treaty to bring America to The Hague a few years ago.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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War, Antisemitism and Free Speech: A Critical Dilemma

The Constitution of the United States. Photo: Wikicommons.

JNS.orgShould governments and public institutions take punitive measures against groups or individuals who promote antisemitism through such measures as cutting funding, criminalizing aspects of their speech or even proscribing them outright?

Here in the United States, such a discussion is purely theoretical because the First Amendment protects all forms of speech, including Holocaust denial, and racist and antisemitic barbs. Because freedom of speech is a natural right, the American tradition promotes debate, fostering the optimistic, if often misplaced, notion among some that better arguments and clearly presented facts will invariably overwhelm lies and conspiracy theories. But in Europe, there is no right of absolute free speech, and in most countries, antisemitic and racist speech, as well as declared sympathies for terrorism or violence, can run you afoul of the law.

The current European dilemma is whether to tighten and strengthen these measures in a bid to bring a greater sense of security to Jewish communities facing a wave of antisemitism unprecedented in its intensity for nearly a century. The proximate cause was, of course, the Oct. 7 Hamas pogrom in Israel, but the themes incorporated in this discourse are much older, even ancient. In part because of their frustration at the sheer stubbornness of these toxins, politicians who sympathize with the plight of their Jewish constituents are examining legal means to stem the flow of antisemitic tropes.

Two weeks ago, Berlin’s State Senator for Culture and Social Cohesion, Joe Chialo, attempted to introduce a new measure that would deny funding to artists who promote antisemitism, including antisemitic depictions of Zionism and Israel. In order to determine what is and isn’t antisemitic, Chialo urged the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, which includes several examples of when anti-Zionism crosses the line into antisemitism.

Last week, Chialo was forced to withdraw his proposal. “I must take the legal and critical voices that saw this clause as a restriction on the freedom of art seriously,” he said in a statement. “Let there be no doubt: I will continue to fight for a Berlin cultural scene that is free of discrimination.” To be clear, the problem here was not the substantive argument of the IHRA definition that anti-Zionism and antisemitism are frequently the same. Rather, it centered on the issue of whether measures in Germany taken to combat Holocaust denial are—in terms of jurisprudence—appropriate when it comes to denial of Israel’s right to exist. “The denial of the Holocaust is about denying a fact, while Israel’s right to exist is about denying a right,” Professor Stefan Conen of the German Lawyers’ Association told the German parliament’s legal affairs committee last week. Another witness, Professor Michael Kubiciel, forecasted a series of procedural headaches should the proposal advance, which could only be resolved, he said, through the adoption of a “more open wording … for example by also recording the right to exist of states to which the Federal Republic has made a particular commitment, such as the E.U. member states.”

None of these objections invalidate the underlying claim of a symbiosis between antisemitism and anti-Zionism, and nor should we conclude that Chialo will abandon his efforts to banish antisemitism from the German arts scene because of one setback. However, the uncertainty around his proposal has bolstered the argument that the IHRA definition is not so much a means of understanding antisemitism as a tool for censoring Israel’s adversaries.

Last Monday, the Berliner Zeitung news outlet interviewed one of the co-authors of the IHRA definition in the context of Chialo’s stalled initiative. “The definition has often been misused as a blunt instrument to label someone as antisemitic for a variety of reasons, including criticism of Israel,” said Ken Stern, the director of the Center for the Study of Hate at Bard College and a former American Jewish Committee (AJC) in-house expert on antisemitism.

Elaborating, Stern said that this “misuse” of the definition was more pronounced “not so much for disqualifying criticism of Israel as antisemitic, but rather, for pro-Palestinian attitudes. I may not agree with some of these attitudes or statements, but calling them antisemitic is wrong, even harmful.” Later in the interview, Stern clarified that while he opposed the “boycott, divestment and sanctions” campaign targeting Israel, he vehemently objected to calling anyone who supports it “antisemitic.”

“Do I think that supporting BDS makes you an antisemite? No, I don’t think so,” he said, before adding: “Although, of course, you can be an antisemite who supports BDS.” In other words, while the campaign may attract antisemites because of its obsession with the Jewish state, it is not inherently antisemitic.

I should say, at this point, that I knew Stern professionally some years ago when I worked with him on antisemitism issues at the AJC. My assessment, which hasn’t changed, is that his overarching goal was to persuade progressives to take antisemitism seriously, and he was willing to cut them all sorts of slack in order to achieve that. What he was unwilling to acknowledge is that making these allowances undermine the very definition he helped to write! Because while the definition doesn’t explicitly say that BDS is antisemitic, it does say that “[D]enying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” is. That pretty much sums up the core philosophy of the BDS movement, which regards the boycott as an instrument to secure the eventual elimination of Israel as a sovereign state and makes no secret of this aim.

The most disturbing aspect of the interview was the sense that in his desire to mollycoddle progressive students and activists who regard as Israel as a colonial interloper, Stern has lost empathy with the actual victims of antisemitism. The atrocities and bestialities of the Hamas pogrom were straight out of the Cossack playbook of previous centuries, executed with the purpose of humiliating the enemy and denying their basic humanity because fundamentally, antisemites regard Jews as adjacent to, rather than belonging to, the rest of the human species. Yet all Stern could bring himself to say was that the conflation of anti-Zionism and antisemitism within the IHRA definition was a product of the tensions around the U.N.’s 2001 Durban anti-racism conference. “I’m not saying that every form of anti-Zionism is antisemitic, but that was the climate at the time,” he remarked—the bizarre implication being that the climate in the 2020s, in the wake of the worst outburst of antisemitic violence since the Holocaust, is, in fact, more benign.

What makes the present situation different is that antisemitism is surging against the background of a war in the Middle East that could easily intensify and expand, and whose most vulnerable front consists of Jewish communities around the Diaspora who cannot be protected by Israel’s military might.

In such an environment, when there is an unmistakable correlation between antisemitic memes spread on social media, anti-Jewish invective at pro-Hamas demonstrations and actual violence—I am thinking of the brutal assault last Saturday night on three Israelis walking through London’s West End by a mob of thugs yelling “Free Palestine”—tougher measures, including censorship, are warranted in those cases where such tools are legally available.

While we didn’t choose this outcome (as the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky said, “You don’t choose war; war chooses you”), we have no choice but to deal with it, as decisively as we can.

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Trump or Biden Must Adopt a Consistent Iran Strategy

Former US President Donald Trump attends the trial of himself, his adult sons, the Trump Organization, and others in a civil fraud case brought by state Attorney General Letitia James, at a Manhattan courthouse, in New York City, US, Oct. 2, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

JNS.orgThe personalities of leaders often take center stage in international politics. This is evident in the current discourse surrounding U.S.-Iran relations, particularly given the likelihood of another face-off between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump in the upcoming presidential election.

The American relationship with Iran has been tumultuous, to say the least. Rooted in a complex history and a tangled web of geopolitical interests, it transcends partisan politics.

The history of U.S. intervention or lack thereof in Iranian affairs is a tangled web. Beginning with the 1979 Islamic-Marxist revolt, it has been marked by failure. President Jimmy Carter badly mishandled relations with the late Shah and enabled the rise of Ruhollah Khomeini’s theocratic regime. Later, President Barack Obama ignored Iran’s civilian uprising and instead embraced the regime. While more reticent than his predecessor, Biden appears to be somewhat optimistic about dialogue with the mullah’s regime.

Given this history, the Iranian-American community—which largely opposes the Islamic regime—has become disillusioned with U.S. policies irrespective of the party in power. The community sees the U.S. as disinclined to support the Iranian people’s aspirations for democracy and freedom.

At the same time, the situation in Iran is dire. As the U.S. has dithered for decades, the Islamic tyranny has only further entrenched its dominance by brutally suppressing domestic dissent and pursuing a quest for hegemony through a policy of regional terrorist imperialism.

In such a situation, it is clear that the U.S. will play a crucial role in shaping the future of Iran. The Trump administration signaled what this role might be by assassinating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Qassem Soleimani, the architect of Iran’s Middle East terror network and imperialist strategy. Soleimani’s assassination resonated profoundly within Iran and earned Trump an undeniable reputation among many Iranians.

The Biden administration faces and a potential second Trump administration would face critical questions about the future direction of U.S.-Iran relations.

The dilemma facing the U.S. is complex. Iran’s continuing destabilization of the region must be addressed. At the same time, the Iranian opposition must be reevaluated, because despite the State Department’s and the CIA’s lack of faith in the movement, the opposition will play a crucial role in the pursuit of a democratic Iran.

Moreover, U.S. policy towards Iran must be evaluated not just in the context of bilateral relations but also broader regional dynamics. These include Iran’s deepening ties with Russia and China and their impact on global terrorism and Israel’s security.

As the 2024 presidential election approaches, it is imperative to shift focus from the individuals vying for the Oval Office to the broader policy frameworks they propose, which will determine the future stability and prosperity of the Middle East and with it, much of the world.

The path the U.S. chooses to take will have significant implications for regional stability and global security, no matter who wins the 2024 presidential election. Thus, the most important thing is for the U.S. to adopt a strategic approach to Iran and the broader Middle East that will remain consistent no matter who is president. The cause of global peace and stability depends on it.

The 1979 catastrophe in Iran gave rise to a dangerous form of Islamic terrorism. It is now crucial for the U.S. and other nations to confront this menace and advocate for a change in Iran’s government. Much as communism and apartheid were ultimately relegated to history, it is essential to do the same to Islamic terrorism. The epicenter of this turmoil is Tehran.

Regardless of whether Trump or Biden occupies the White House, the importance of pursuing regime change should not be overlooked.

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