By Joshua Marks
There is a direct line in the Middle Eastern sand between the denial of Jewish history in the land of Israel and today’s deadly violence directed at Jews in the modern State of Israel, according to Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.).
Speaking at the Nov. 18 Capitol Hill opening of the Simon Wiesenthal Center exhibition, “People, Book, Land – The 3,500 Year Relationship of the Jewish People with the Holy Land,” the ranking minority member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs said that “3,500 years of connection doesn’t lie.”
“We need to remain vigilant, pushing back against all forms of hatred, whether it’s denial of Jewish history in Israel or threats against Jewish communities around the world,” Engel said. “We need to break the cycle of dehumanization and violence and we need constant reminders, such as this exhibition, that tell history the way it actually happened — that lay out the historic and legitimate Jewish claims to Israel and that rebuke the lies and the hatred.”
Among those at the opening were Irina Bokova, director general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), one of the exhibition’s sponsors; Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer; Simon Wiesenthal Center officials and Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
The governments of the United States, Canada and Israel are also exhibition sponsors.
The exhibition travels next to the Vatican and the Knesset in Jerusalem.
Hebrew University professor Robert Wistrich, who wrote the text for the exhibition, will be honored posthumously at the Knesset. He died of a heart attack in May in Rome at the age of 70.
The exhibition opened last year in Paris after its originally scheduled debut was canceled under pressure from 22 Arab UNESCO delegates. Earlier this year, it was on display at the United Nations headquarters in New York.
It features 25 illustrated panels with detailed text documenting the Jewish people’s connection to the Holy Land from biblical times to today.
Bokova said that she had just arrived from UNESCO headquarters in Paris, “a city that suffered a devastating terrorist attack.” She said that violent extremism is a global challenge that merits responses at every level.
The exhibition aligns with UNESCO’s mission to defend history and respect culture and heritage as “the starting point for peace,” said Bokova, and it “explores the profound, unassailable connection between the Jewish people and the Holy Land.”
Said Bokova: “We need to know this history. The world needs to know this history because knowing history is important for peace today. Knowing history is important to counter hatred and anti-Semitism. This history cannot be denied. This is the core mandate of UNESCO — to promote mutual understanding, respect, to fight all forms of racism, anti-Semitism and denial. This I believe has never been so important. This is also how we must respond to violent extremism, to hatred and to intolerance.”