Responding to the Paris ‘Peace’ Conference
Last Sunday, officials from 70 countries gathered together in Paris for a one-day conference to discuss the future of the moribund Middle East peace process. The most remarkable aspect of this event was the absence of the two parties directly affected by its conclusions: Israel and the Palestinians. To be fair, the Palestinians were well represented by most of the delegates at the conference, who seemed mainly concerned for only the Palestinians’ interests. This conference marked a regression in international diplomacy compared to a remarkably similar international conference that took place in Paris almost exactly 98 years ago.
In the Spring and Summer of 1919, in nearby Versailles, borders were redrawn and countries were formed by the various nations that had recently won the First World War. But the diplomatic representatives of these nations — flawed as they may have been (see World War II) — were not so foolish as their counterparts in 2017. The Versailles peacemakers conducted their deliberations only after hearing directly from the residents and stakeholders of the territories under discussion.
Each national group with an independent territorial claim had its own delegation at the Versailles conference — which, ironically, was also known as the “Paris Peace Conference” — and each delegation was given the opportunity to present its case. Indeed, it was at Versailles that a Jewish delegation, headed by Lord Rothschild, Nachum Sokolow and Chaim Weizmann, formally presented their national aspirations to the international community for the very first time in nearly 2,000 years. A parallel Jewish delegation was also there to present an alternative perspective, in an attempt to undermine the Zionists fighting for the creation of a Jewish state. But that is a story for another time.
It certainly did not occur to the international statesmen who presided at Versailles that the final borders and conditions for the establishment of national territories would be determined without the involvement of the affected parties. So much for progress in international affairs.
The greatest irony of all is that the inequitable handling of Jewish related matters is a narrative that stretches back to the dawn of our history. This week, we begin to read the portions of the Torah that address the origins of our nationhood. A new pharaoh decides to enslave the Jews in ancient Egypt because, as he says to his advisers and friends, the Jews might one day pose a threat to Egypt if the Egyptians found themselves at war with foreign invaders. That the pharaoh was willing to impose such draconian measures based on unfounded far-fetched prognostications is a shameful act, only compounded by the exclusion of the Jews from any involvement in the discussion.
Time after time, Jews have been mislabeled and subjected to ludicrous accusations without being offered the chance to respond. Christ-killers, anarchists, greedy capitalists, traitors, anarchists, revolutionaries, spies, rootless cosmopolitans — you name the collective “crime,” and at some point in our history we have been in the frame. And the modern era is no different: Jews and Israel remain at the top of the international criminal hit-list, charged with undermining world peace, mainly for having the audacity to build houses on land that has been associated with Jews for thousands of years.
The absurdity of this particular “crime” defies explanation. Why should Jews wait until the Palestinians decide to face the reality of their situation before moving forward? After all, in which other country in the world is the ability to build residential neighborhoods impeded by the unreasonable aspirations of a disgruntled minority who accompany their grievances with violence? Everyone knows Israel is not to blame for the current situation. Using the construction of settlements as the excuse to vilify Israel, when it is clear that nothing would be resolved even if settlement construction ended tomorrow, is beyond injustice.
The liberation of Jews from Egypt and the emergence of a Jewish nation was predicated on a covenant made by God that the land of Israel belongs to the Jewish nation. As He explained to Moses: “I have come down to save the nation from the hand of Egypt and to bring it to the land flowing with milk and honey.” God’s encounter with Moses at the Burning Bush only took place after He heard the “cries” from a nation in “pain.”
When we can hear a powerful statesman like John Kerry declare that the choice for Israel is either to be Jewish or democratic, but not both and we say and do nothing to counter such a travesty, we become complicit in our own demise.
If we wish for God to send us a Moses in the shape of the Messianic redeemer, we must raise our voices in protest and prayer — proclaiming our pain and discomfort, and demonstrating our deep attachment to our land, to our faith and to our heritage, so that no matter how hardened Pharaoh’s heart may be, our destiny will prevail, and our nation will be triumphant.