January 24, 2008
Israel obligated to consider Diaspora views on Jerusalem
Do Jews outside Israel have the right to criticize Israeli policies relating to defense and security matters or eternal issues, like concessions on Jerusalem?
Some argue that while Diaspora Jews may debate a range of Israeli policies, national security and defense policies should be debated only by Israelis, seeing that only Israelis directly reap the benefits or pay the price of such decisions. But this conclusion does not follow from the premise.
We agree that Israelis alone have the right and obligation to decide what Israel should do in life-and-death questions of national security and defense. In fact, we would strongly oppose anyone other than Israelis deciding Israel's future.
But this does not mean that Diaspora Jews cannot contribute by debate and criticism to the evolution of the decisions that Israel takes. On the contrary, the onus is upon those who disagree to explain why Diaspora Jews, on matters of vital importance to the future of Israel and the Jewish people, should suddenly be struck dumb.
The legitimacy and importance of Diaspora Jewish participation in Israeli debates is all the stronger when the subject is Jerusalem. Here we are not only talking of Israel's capital but about the central inheritance of all the Jewish people.
Jerusalem is our holiest city, mentioned more than 600 times in the Bible and referred or alluded to in dozens of prayers. Major Jewish rituals, including the conclusion of the Pesach seder and Yom Kippur, end with the age-old affirmation, "Next year in Jerusalem." And these prayers and rituals refer to the historic old city with the Temple Mount in eastern Jerusalem -- precisely the areas that Palestinians are demanding that Israel give up -- not the modern suburbs of western Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is also the only city in the world in which Jews have formed a majority since the middle of the 19th century. Under the Rabin government, a "Jerusalem 3000" anniversary celebration was held, something that has not been done for any other historical Jewish city.
Against all that, Jerusalem is not mentioned once in the Quran, nor has it ever served as a Muslim or Arab capital. During the years of Jordan's illegal occupation of eastern Jerusalem (1948-67), the 58 synagogues there were destroyed, and Jewish gravestones were used to pave Jordanian army latrines.
Despite signed agreements, Jordan did not permit Jews to visit Jerusalem's holy sites. The city became a backwater, Amman remained the Jordanian capital and no Arab ruler, other than Jordan's King Hussein, visited it. Moreover, the PLO and Fatah charters do not even mention Jerusalem.
Any division of Jerusalem not only carves out part of the heart of the Jewish people but would also endanger Israel by introducing terrorists within rocket and rifle range of the western half of the city. Just as Sderot near Gaza has been subjected to years of incessant missile and mortar fire from territory handed over to the Palestinian Authority (PA), resulting in almost half its citizenry leaving for safety, the rest of Jerusalem could share the same fate if the eastern half of the city were given to PA control.
And, of course, if concessions are made over the Jerusalem's holy sites, one can only imagine -- after witnessing the torching and destruction of Joseph's Tomb and the Jericho synagogues once Israeli forces were withdrawn -- what fate would lie in store for Jewish sites once the PA obtained control.
Actually we do not even need to imagine: The Muslim waqf, which controls Jerusalem's Temple Mount, has undertaken renovations and construction programs that have already destroyed priceless Jewish antiquities on that site. Various PA officials over the years have also denied the Jewish religious and historical connection to the city.
Yasser Arafat once said, "That is not the Western Wall at all but a Muslim shrine." The former PA minister of religious affairs, Hassan Tahboub, asserted, "The Western Wall is Muslim property. It is part of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Once we control it, Jews must remain six feet away from our holy wall."
I would add that the Zionist Organization of America's opposition to the re-division of Jerusalem, contrary to what is often asserted, reflects the expressed views of Israeli public. An October 2007 Tami Steinmetz Center Tel Aviv University poll has shown that a clear majority of Jewish Israelis -- 59 percent to 33 percent -- oppose, even in return for a peace agreement, Israel handing over to the PA various Arab neighborhoods in the eastern half of Jerusalem.
And this likely reflects the feelings of most Jews throughout the world. Jerusalem is part of our heart and soul. It has great historical and religious significance to Jews, whether they live in Los Angeles, Melbourne, Montreal, Buenos Aires or Paris. That is why Israel is morally obligated to take all of the world Jewry's feelings into consideration when it comes to this critical issue.
As Eli Wiesel said, "Jerusalem for me is above politics. It represents our collective soul." Natan Sharansky has said, "Jerusalem is an integral of the identity of the entire Jewish people." That's why Jews throughout the world have prayed, "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand wither."
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said during an April 2005 meeting with American Jewish leaders that "Jerusalem will never be divided, and Israel will not negotiate on Jerusalem. Since 1860, the Jewish population of Jerusalem was larger than the Christian and Muslim population combined." He also stated to American Jewish leaders that "not only can [Diaspora Jews] interfere, but you have to interfere when it comes to Jerusalem," (Ha'aretz, Feb .23, 2001).
Current Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was emphatic when he told American Jewish leaders last week that "I welcome all thoughts from Diaspora Jews concerning Jerusalem, and I want to emphasize that they have every right to speak out about this issue."
Morton A. Klein is national president of the Zionist Organization of America.