It’s not about the Holocaust

President Obama’s famous world address from Cairo was praised by many as an important step in resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. While the overall response from the Arab and Israeli camps was relatively favorable, many supporters of Israel have found fault with the fundamental basis of his argument for Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. In justifying Jewish statehood as compensation for the Jews’ suffering during the Holocaust, some say that Obama threatens the very right he promotes.

In an article in the Wall Street Journal, Judea Pearl, father of murdered journalist Daniel Pearl, claims that President Obama’s declaration, “The aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied,” is a dangerous concession to Israel’s enemies including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It confirms the extremist Islamic accusation that the establishment of the State of Israel was a hasty response to alleviate European guilt for the Holocaust. They view this guilt-offering as an unwanted and intrusive part of the region and thus refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist. This argument is reinforced by Obama’s blatant omission of any historical or national claim that the Jews have to Israel.

The Holocaust most definitely proved that Jewish people living in exile are at constant risk of attack. It proved that anti-Semitism is rampant and threatens the very existence of their nation. It served as an impetus for the world to acknowledge the Jewish right to statehood. But it did not establish Israel as the Jewish homeland. In maintaining that Israel’s legitimacy begins with the Jewish suffering that took place during the Holocaust, President Obama denies over 2,000 years of Jewish history, which places Israel as the very core of Jewish national existence.

The Jewish claim to the land of Israel dates back to Biblical times and is supported by a plethora of archaeological and historical evidence that continues to be discovered until this day. Jews have struggled to sustain their presence in Israel since the days of Abraham. During a number of exiles and expulsions, the Jewish people were forced to establish themselves across the four corners of the globe, yet the Jews have always maintained a historical, religious and national connection to this particular land. This covenantal right to the land predates Christian and Muslim existence and cannot be disregarded.

Once these accurate historical facts are recognized, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict changes. Long before the Palestinian refugees could claim a right of return, the entire Jewish nation was expelled from its Jewish homeland and was condemned to exile and fragmentation. Their suffering was endless; their very survival threatened. Within the borders of Israel, the Jews are able to govern and protect themselves from the constant threat of anti-Semitism in a way they could not shield themselves for 2,000 years. They are finally able to again visit their ancient holy sites, to revive the language of their forefathers and to fulfill the dreams of generations of ancestors who were not able to step foot on the beloved soil of a Jewish homeland.

Denying the historic bond between the Jewish people and the land of Israel poses a fatal threat to the Middle East peace process. For the Jewish people, Israel is the physical embodiment of their nationhood, that which they have never stopped praying to return to, and never will. For the rest of the world, Israel is a critical stronghold of democracy in the Middle East, as well as a critical partner in the fight against terrorism. The world must look beyond recent history and acknowledge the ancient struggle of the Jewish people Israel’s incontrovertible right to exist.