Zion and antisemitism

Denying the Jewish right to the Land of Israel is a crime against humanity.

The Jerusalem skyline seen from the Mount of Olives, May 19, 2008. Photo: Nati Shohat/Flash90
The Jerusalem skyline seen from the Mount of Olives, May 19, 2008. Photo: Nati Shohat/Flash90
Farley Weiss and Leonard Grunstein
Farley Weiss and Leonard Grunstein are authors of the new book Because It’s Just and Right: The Untold Back-Story of the U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

At the conclusion of the traditional Yom Kippur service, we joyfully declare, “Next year in Jerusalem.” It is a heartfelt and reinvigorating moment after a grueling day of fasting and prayer, and many dance while singing it. Similarly, on Passover, everyone participating in the seder makes the same declaration.

Judaism is unique in its attachment to Jerusalem. The Tanach mentions Jerusalem more than 650 times. The Quran, on the other hand, does not mention it at all. Psalms 137:5 declares, “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand lose its skill.” There is no comparable expression in non-Jewish scripture.

In Judaism, Jerusalem is a living focus of prayer and mourning rituals. When praying, one is required to orient heart and face towards Jerusalem. Neither Christian nor Muslim rituals and practice require this orientation. Indeed, Muslim custom is to face Mecca, not Jerusalem.

Mourning rituals are also uniquely associated with Jerusalem. Thus, the traditional condolence recited to mourners is ”May you be comforted among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” There is no such custom in Islam or Christianity.

Judaism also requires one to rip clothing upon approaching Jerusalem and the place where the Temple stood, as when mourning for a parent. First, the garment is ripped where it covers the heart in mourning for the Temple, then the rip is extended in honor of Jerusalem. There is no comparable Christian or Muslim ritual.

Even the traditional Jewish wedding ceremony is not complete until ashes are placed on the forehead of the groom, a glass is shattered and the verses from Psalm 137 expressing our integral attachment to Jerusalem are recited. This is done to express our grieving for the destruction of the Temple and remember Jerusalem, even at moments of extreme joy like a wedding.

The classic Jewish prayer service is replete with references to Jerusalem. For example, the quintessential prayer the Shemoneh Esrei  includes blessings expressly devoted to the rebuilding of Jerusalem. The prayer is recited three times daily. It was reportedly composed in the time of the Great Assembly, which included the prophets Haggai, Zachariah and Malachi, approximately 2,500 years ago. Many other prayers reference Jerusalem, including a special blessing in the grace after meals.

There are four fast days devoted to remembering Jerusalem. The most onerous is the 25-hour period of rigorous fasting and acute mourning on Tisha B’Av, which marks the destruction of the First and Second Temples.

To deny the intimate link between Judaism and Jerusalem is to deny one of the most fundamental tenets of Judaism. To deny and try to sever this connection by advocating the destruction of the State of Israel is antisemitism.

U.S. President Joe Biden, in his recent meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, summed it up when he said, “I think without Israel, there’s not a Jew in the world who’s secure. I think Israel is essential.”

During the Holocaust, there was no Jewish state to escape to. As a result, six million Jews were slaughtered by the Nazis and their collaborators. In striking contrast, when Jews were held captive in the former Soviet Union, we marched to free them and help them immigrate to the Jewish state. Thank God they were freed and many did eventually come to Israel and thrive there. When Ethiopian Jews were at mortal risk, it was Israel that, thank God, came to their rescue.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism recognizes this reality. Seeking to delegitimize, demonize and eliminate the only Jewish state on the planet is antisemitism. Israel is being singled out because that’s where the Jews are. Stop the charade: To divest the Jewish people of their own state and put them at mortal risk is to commit a crime against humanity of historic proportions.

In our new book Because it’s Just and Right: The Untold Back-Story of the U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, we thoroughly debunk the false narratives surrounding Israel and Jerusalem. We show that the Jewish people’s connection to Israel is undeniable and it is just and right that they have a state of their own.

The University of Pennsylvania recently allowed its facilities to be used for an antisemitic hate-fest called Palestine Writes. It included some of the most notorious antisemites in the United States and elsewhere.

Penn President Liz Magill wrote to co-author Farley Weiss, an alumnus of the university, “Let me state emphatically: the inclusion of speakers in this event who have a history of antisemitic rhetoric and behavior which denigrates Jewish people is deeply offensive, misaligned with the festival’s stated purpose and stands in direct contrast to the university’s values.”

However, it appears that Penn has hired faculty that contradict these values, because numerous faculty and departments cosponsored the festival. Many faculty attended and encouraged students to attend.

Will President Magill make it clear that Penn will stop hiring such faculty and that any faculty supporting attendance at an antisemitic festival should look elsewhere for employment?

Unfortunately, there appear to have been no negative repercussions for any Penn faculty who attended or promoted this antisemitic festival. Paying mere lip service to opposing antisemitism while providing a forum for antisemites is unacceptable. Would Penn provide a forum for white supremacy or for those advocating the reinstitution of chattel slavery? It is very unlikely that their dedication to free speech and academic freedom would go that far.

May the new year be one of triumph over the evil forces of antisemitism.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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