Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, spoke on Wednesday at the opening of the new Israel-related exhibition at the Paris headquarters of the United Nations' cultural agency UNESCO.
The exhibit, entitled "People, Book, Land — The 3,500 Year Relationship of the Jewish People to the Holy Land", showcases the Jewish connection to the land of Israel.
The display is a joint project of UNESCO and the Simon-Weisenthal Center, and "tells the history of the Jewish People in the Middle East, from the biblical patriarch Abraham to the present-day State of Israel," illustrating the indigenous status of Jews in Israel by showing "the uninterrupted presence of Jews in the land of Israel for nearly 3,500 years, and the fidelity of Jews to their original homeland through centuries of persecution both in Israel and abroad."
“This is truly an historic occasion because it is the first time in the history of the United Nations through its educational and cultural arm, UNESCO, that the UN has co-sponsored an exhibit which outlines the historic raison d’etre for the UN decision to recognize a Jewish homeland in Palestine in 1947: the indisputable fact that the Jewish people have an uninterrupted 3,500-year relationship with the Holy Land,” said Rabbi Hier in his remarks.
“This exhibit opens at a critical stage in the efforts to bring a just and viable peace to the Middle East, especially the people of Israel and the Palestinian people. But such a peace can only come when Israel’s neighbors finally end their campaign to deny the Jewish people its national identity. No one can bypass this obstacle by pretending it doesn’t exist. Peace is not a game like Monopoly where you can skip the inconvenient and proceed directly to Go,” he said.
“The purpose of this exhibit is very clear: To put an end to the canard that a Jewish State came into being in 1948, not because Jews had any connection with the land of Israel, but because the world took pity on them as a result of the Holocaust.”
“This exhibit will educate the world by debunking myths with historic truth. Just like Egypt is a country with a 4,000-year footprint, so Israel too, has that 3,500-year footprint in every nook and cranny of the land of Israel.”
“This is not only the belief of Jews, but a view shared by billions of people on the planet, who hold the Bible sacred. What we know from the Torah and the writings of the Prophets, Christians know from their Old and New Testament,” added Rabbi Hier.
The exhibit was meant to have been launched back in January, but was abruptly postponed after 22 Arab UN member-states claimed in a letter that it could "disrupt" the Israeli-Palestinian Authority peace negotiations.
The UN agency controversially agreed, but amid an international outcry (including criticism from Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the U.S. ambassador to the UN Samantha Power) and accusations of politically-motivated censorship stopped short of cancelling it outright.
Instead, UNESCO claimed that it needed extra time to revise "unresolved issues relating to potentially contestable textual and visual historical points", which certain member states could perceive as "endangering the peace process".