Over the weekend a conference was held in Doha, Qatar called the “International Conference for the Defense of Jerusalem” – the conference was a one sided Israel bashing affair, that focused on what speakers claimed was the ‘Judaisation’ of Al-Quds (Jerusalem), while ignoring the Jewish historical and religious connection to Jerusalem.
Tzvi Fleischer recently discussed the historical absurdity of the widespread Arab campaign against “Judaising Jerusalem” in a “Scribblings” column published in the January AIR. He noted a Jewish majority in they city going back long before the Zionist influx into Palestine and overwhelming evidence that under Israeli rule, far from being excluded or pushed out, the Arab population of Jerusalem has grown hugely, not only in terms of absolute numbers, but also a percentage of the city’s inhabitants. He also noted that there were two versions of the “anti-Judaisation” campaign:
Some of the claims about “Judaising Jerusalem” are clearly simply code words for an ahistorical and exclusivist claim that Jerusalem is properly a Muslim and Arab city in which Jews have absolutely no rights unless the rightful Muslim owners deign to let them live there as second class citizens… A slightly more sophisticated version of the claim usually comes from NGOs and involves allegations that Israel is seeking to squeeze out the Arab inhabitants of the city as matter of policy.
A majority of what was said at this conference seems to have been in the unsophisticated, exclusivist category – a simple chauvinistic claim to exclusive ownership of the city, and a rejection of any Jewish rights there whatsoever.
For instance, under the topic, ‘Jerusalem and History’, the conference website states:
“It aims at pointing out the weaknesses of the Jew’s historical arguments backing the claims to the holy city. Of paramount importance is the disclosure of Israel’s deed at falsifying history and archaeology by means of destruction, omission, modification and fabrication of historical and archaeological facts”.
The conference appears to have promoted the phenomenon known as ‘Temple denial’. At Camp David in 2000 Yasser Arafat denied there ever was a Jewish temple in Jerusalem and other Palestinian leaders have made similar statements. The campaign of Temple Denial not only flies in the face of the archaeological and historical evidence and Islamic traditions, it is also a politically motivated attempt to deny and undo an element central to Judaism and Jewish identity for over 2000 years. See previous AIJAC blog post on this issue.
The conference was hosted by the Arab League and represented a coalition of voices against Israel. The participants included representatives form the Arab League, the Muslim Brotherhood, Israeli-Arab Knesset members, UN organisations and members of the tiny and extreme anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox Jewish group Neturei Karta – which are often included in such events to avoid criticisms of antisemitism.
Some Australians were also in attendance including: Ali Kazak, Managing Director of the Australia Arab Affairs Council, Bishop Patrick Percival Power and surprisingly former Prime Minister Bob Hawke – who had a reputation for supporting Israel. Hawke was leading an Australia Gulf Council (AGC) Business Mission to the Gulf States, along with with Mark Vaile and Nicholas Sherry. However, he appears to have attended the Conference on his own.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas spoke at the conference, and questioned the Jewish connection to Jerusalem while saying that Israel was “using the ugliest and most dangerous means to implement plans to erase and remove the Arab Islamic and the Christian character of east Jerusalem.” Abbas complained of supposed Israeli “ethnic cleansing” and made inflammatory claims that the Israelis were “undermining” the Al-Aqsa Mosque, a false and explosive conspiracy theory that has been used to stoke Arab violence against Israelis and Jews for almost a century.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu released a statement calling Abbas’s speech “harshly inflammatory” from someone who “claims that he is bent on peace.” The statement also added that Jerusalem has been the eternal capital of the Jewish people for thousands of years, and that under Israeli sovereignty, it will “continue to be open to believers of all faiths” and that Abbas “knows full well there is no foundation to his contemptible remarks.”
Canadian history professor Gil Troy explored more fully how extreme Abbas’ remarks actually were:
When Abbas spoke, rather than injecting a note of responsibility into the proceedings, providing a reality check, he joined the anti-Israel pile on. He claimed Israel wants to ‘carry out continued excavations that threaten to undermine the Al-Aqsa Mosque, in order to extract evidence that supports the Israeli version of Judaism.’ He said Israelis wanted to “Judaize” the city and “were preparing models of what they call the Temple in order to build on the ruins of Al Aqsa.
Any one of these three incendiary ideas would earn an extremist street “cred” as a flamethrower. Few Israelis are proposing a Third Temple. Claiming “the Jews” wish to replace the Al-Aqsa Mosque with their own structure is a demagogic call for Arab rioting in Jerusalem and elsewhere. Second, mischievous phrases like “the Israeli version of Judaism” and “what they call the Temple,” try to rob Jews of our history, our legitimacy, our nationality. Abbas’s words echo longstanding Palestinian claims that Judaism is a religion with no peoplehood component, that the Temple never existed, and that the whole Zionist, meaning Jewish nationalist, project is a fraud…
Once again, Abbas missed an opportunity to play the statesman. He overlooked Jerusalem’s potential as a platform of unity welcoming the religiously minded, the spiritually seeking, the historically attuned, the peace loving. He played the Jerusalem card, riling his audience, and alienating Israelis. That he nevertheless passes for a moderate, demonstrates just how extreme other Palestinian voices are, such as Hamas, and just how indulgent world opinion is when it comes to coddling the Palestinians.”
Moreover, as the blogger Elder of of Ziyon discussed, Abbas even seemed to complain about Israel’s re-building of the historic Jewish quarter of the Old City, with its 50 historic synagogues, including the central Hurva synagogue which was destroyed by the Jordanians in 1948. To Abbas, it appears, “Judaising Jerusalem” means not allowing the 1948 ethnic cleansing of the Old City of all traces of its centuries as the religious centre of the Jewish people to stand as the final word in the matter.
Even Lara Friedman, Director of Policy and Government Relations of Americans for Peace Now, who was clearly invited to attend the conference because of her strongly pro-peace views and activistm, was dismayed by what she found when she arrived there and wrote about it in the Forward:
“When I was invited to this conference, I took this as a sign that the Arab League wanted to capture the full complexity of the issues related to Jerusalem, including openly pro-Israel, pro-peace voices. However, it seems that virtually every conversation I am having here involves me, to a greater or lesser degree, having to defend the two-state solution and having to assert and defend the Jewish stake in Jerusalem. The fact that I am forced to do so points to what is clearly, from my point of view, a major flaw in this event. That flaw is the absence of more voices like mine…People who care about Israel and are committed to the two-state solution, including in Jerusalem…The Arab world, and activists around the world concerned with the Israel-Palestinian conflict, do themselves no favors when they listen to voices that tell them only a piece of the story that is comfortable to their ears.”
Israel also criticised Middle East envoy Robert Serry for taking part in the conference. According to the Jerusalem Post, an Israeli diplomatic official said:
“It is extremely disappointing and infuriating that the UN secretary-general’s envoy, who never finds the time to properly condemn the shootings on Israeli territory from Gaza, has all the time in the world to take part in what is unashamedly an anti-Israel propaganda fest, intended to subvert and deny the very foundations of Jewish history…To dignify this kind of shameless bashing sponsored by the Arab League, and to dignify this with an official UN blessing, is to do a huge disservice to Serry’s mission, to the role of the UN and to the cause of peace”.
The truth is that – while this propaganda conference would never have wished to acknowledged this Israel has safeguarded religious freedom for Muslims, Christians and Jews in Jerusalem – a freedom that was not protected until Israel took control Jerusalem in 1967. Another truth is that, as Lara Friedman noted but most of the participants in the conference clearly did not, any Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement will require arrangements for Jerusalem that respect the religious and political rights and tradition of Jews, Muslims and Christians – and denying the Jewish connection to Jerusalem makes the prospects for peace more difficult.