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Op-Ed: A History Of Hanukkah Amid The United Nations’ Anti-Israel Resolution

December 30, 2016

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The day before Jews in Israel and across the world welcomed the first night of Hanukkah, the United States further abdicated its role as a world leader and protector of Israel at the United Nations. The US also made the decision to ignore history in the Obama administration’s parting shot at Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu.

When Alexander the Great died in 323BC, his empire was divided amongst his lieutenants. Seleucus became king of conquered Babylon and his successors expanded his empire to include much of the modern Middle East. At its height, the Seleucid empire stretched from the Aegean down to Gaza, through Iraq and east to the Hindu Kush mountains on the modern Afghanistan-Pakistan frontier. To the west, Ptolemy controlled modern Egypt and North Africa, and the two families intermarried and clashed over territory, namely what is modern Israel, along their shared borders.

Seleucid kings rose and fell, wars commenced and concluded, and the empire waxed and waned. While Alexander left conquered peoples free to practice their own religions and customs, to the point of adding their gods to his pantheon, not all of Alexander’s successors followed suit. Some saw the task of Hellenization as a responsibility of their rule. Antiochus IV Epiphanes attempted Hellenization of Judea set the conditions for the Maccabean revolt and the miracles of Hanukkah.

Though the stories of the Maccabees are not included in the Hebrew Tanakh, they are (and were) widely known, studied, and celebrated. In Catholic and Orthodox Christian Bibles, 1 Maccabees tells the story of Antiochus’ tyranny and his persecution of the Jews. Under Antiochus’ decree, Jews were forbidden from conducting sacrifices and observances at the Temple (1:45); the Temple, the holiest site in Judaism, was defiled with pagan idols and the sacrificing of swine (1:47); and circumcision was forbidden under threat of humiliation and death (1:60-61).

It was the Maccabees who took up arms when a Seleucid commissioner attempted to force the patriarch, Matthias, to worship pagan gods. The Maccabees waged a guerrilla war against the Seleucids to free Judea and the Jewish people from persecution. In victory they destroyed the pagan altars, circumcised boys previously forbidden from entering into the sacred covenant, and ultimately liberated and purified the Temple in Jerusalem, upon its restoration celebrated the rededication of the Temple for eight days (4:41-49), the basis of modern Hanukkah.

Since the Romans put down the Jewish Revolt, destroyed the Temple, and looted its sacred vessels in 70AD, there has not been a Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The Temple Mount has changed hands numerous times in the two millennia since then. In 1967, for the first time since the Temple was destroyed, Jewish control was established on the Temple Mount; however, Israel maintained the status quo on the Temple Mount and in the Old City of Jerusalem generally, leaving the Islamic waqf, controlled and funded by the Hashemites in Jordan, as administrators of the Temple Mount. Earlier this year UNESCO, which according to its website is “the ‘intellectual’ agency of the United Nations” ignored history and voted 24-6 to declare there is no connection between the Temple Mount, including the Western Wall, and the Jewish people.

The most recent vote at the UN Security Council intends to censure Israel for the existence and construction of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. The US failed to protect Israel by using its permanent member veto power, choosing to abstain rather than vote in favor or in opposition. It should come as no surprise as the outgoing administration has chosen to abstain from global leaderships and is led by someone who is merely present. While PM Netanyahu has already rejected the decision, which he characterized as a “gang-up,” he should not be in the position to have to face yet another threat to his nation and his people. While the UNSC vote will not likely carry any coercive action, it serves to delegitimize Israel and deals a serious public diplomacy and public relations blow on the global stage.

Much like the UNESCO vote, the UNSC condemnation of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria is a denial of Jewish history and connection to the land. One such bloc of communities, Gush Etzion, was built on land bought by Jewish immigrants in the 1920s. In the 1948 War of Independence, Gush Etzion was besieged and its Jewish inhabitants were massacred in Kfar Etzion. It was regained in 1967 and has been rebuilt as a thriving Jewish community of approximately 70,000.

The history of the Jewish connection to the land of Gush Etzion is much deeper. Through the community winds the Way of the Patriarchs, the trail where Abraham, Issac, and Jacob traveled between Hebron and Jerusalem. Within Gush Etzion is a mikve, a Jewish ritual bath placed a day’s walk, 12 miles, from the Temple, which when combined with the subtext of Genesis 22 could be the place where “Abraham caught site of the place from a distance” and left his servants and went up to Moriah and bound Isaac in an ultimate act of sacrifice.

Near the mikve is Beit Zacharyah, where 1 Maccabees recounts Elazar Maccabeus, who in an act of self-sacrifice “darted in under the elephant, thrust at it from underneath, and killed it. The beast collapsed on top of him, and he died on the spot” (6:46). This is a land where man sacrifices, not a land to be sacrificed; no matter how many votes may be taken.

Kenneth Depew is a retired Army NCO and served as an Infantryman and Human Intelligence Collector. He is an alumnus of Tel Aviv University (MA Security and Diplomacy ’16) and the University of St. Thomas (BA Political Science ’13). He served on Senator Cruz’s 2012 campaign staff and senate staff.