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This Jerusalem Day, choose history over propaganda

American college students should learn the truth about the Middle East, though that may take leaving the ivory tower and visiting Jerusalem
Two statues stand at the Pennsylvania Avenue entrance to the National Archives Building. A man symbolizes the past, and 'Study the Past' is inscribed on the base. A woman symbolizes the future, and 'What Is Past Is Prologue' is inscribed on the base. (National Archives Building/archives.org, public domain)
Two statues stand at the Pennsylvania Avenue entrance to the National Archives Building. A man symbolizes the past, and 'Study the Past' is inscribed on the base. A woman symbolizes the future, and 'What Is Past Is Prologue' is inscribed on the base. (National Archives Building/archives.org, public domain)

There are many lessons to glean from the anti-Israel protestors marching across American college campuses. Chief among them is the importance of history — not propaganda or TikTok videos — but an unvarnished understanding of the past. Clearly, many of our most esteemed universities have decided not to teach it.

This Wednesday, Jews will celebrate Yom Yerushalayim, or “Jerusalem Day,” which is the perfect time to remember the central place that history occupies in the ongoing debate over Israel.

The holiday marks the moment, more than 55 years ago, in 1967 during the Six Day War, when Jerusalem was reunified for the first time since the destruction of the Second Temple, nearly 19 centuries prior. If you have prayed at the Kotel or the Western Wall or placed a hopeful note between its ancient rocks, your access to that holy place is part of what makes Jerusalem Day special.

Many of the lies spewed on college campuses stem from a severe case of ignorance and lack of understanding of the history that led to October 7th. Keffiyeh-wearing agitators tell us that Israel is a colonizer, an illegal occupier, an aggressor, and an apartheid state. Jerusalem Day is a repudiation to those antisemitic blood libels.

In the months and weeks leading up to the Six Day War, Israel was an even smaller country surrounded by neighbors who wanted to wipe it off the map. As Egypt, Syria, and Jordan amassed troops on their respective borders, President Lyndon Johnson urged “restraint” — a word that rings too familiar today. Only 22 years removed from the Holocaust, the tiny Jewish state refused to be a sitting duck. Between June 5 and June 10, Israel defeated its Arab aggressors and took control of the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights.

Most significantly, Jerusalem was finally unified, and Jews were allowed to visit their most holy place — the Temple Mount — a privilege denied to them under Jordanian rule. Contrary to the accusations of apartheid, under Israeli sovereignty, the Old City of Jerusalem became an international city open to Jews, Christians, and Muslims to worship freely. To this day, walking through the Old City feels like a multiracial and multiethnic kaleidoscope.

In Jewish lore, Yom Yerushalayim is a modern-day miracle. It is the story of Jewish perseverance against much larger and greater armies. It breathes life into the promise of “never again” — never again will Jews be victims of those who want to destroy us. Never again will we be forced to rely on the mercy of other countries for our survival. Never again will we give in to the one-sided call for “restraint” when there are guns pointed at our heads and Jewish hostages still being held.

Not far from the Orthodox Union offices in Washington, where I work, two larger-than-life statues flank an entrance to the National Archives building. The one representing the future — a young woman who looks up from her book — states, “What is past is prologue.” The one representing the past — a sculpture of an old man who holds a closed book and a rolled-up scroll — is inscribed with the words, “Study the past.”

This Jerusalem Day, we would all do well to remember our past so that we have an accurate roadmap to know where we are headed next. That used to be the sort of thing that we could best learn on college and university campuses that taught history with some objectivity.

Unfortunately, that is no longer what is offered at many of the most highly regarded campuses in this country. If young college students want to learn the truth about the history of conflict in the Middle East, they should leave the comfort of their ivory towers and visit the Israeli capital in all of its ancient and modern splendor. They will be shocked by what they learn.

About the Author
Nathan J. Diament is the Executive Director for Public Policy at the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.
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