The inauguration of a new president of Israel last week was filled with symbolism. The election of Shimon Peres, a man who has served his country in virtually every possible manner over the last six decades, is an appropriate end point to a long and distinguished career.
There are those who will always deride Peres for his undimmed support for the Oslo peace process and the "new Middle East" that he hoped would come out of it. But Peres' record of devotion to the Jewish state deserves respect from even those who have always disagreed with him. More to the point, his elevation comes at a time when the office of Israel's presidency is at a historic low. His predecessor, Moshe Katsav, disgraced the office with sexual crimes. And before him, Ezer Weizman tainted the job with financial scandal.
So what this post needs most now is someone who understands that the role of head of state requires both probity and commitment to principle. In this regard, Peres should do nicely.
Yet also last week another symbolic event occurred in Israel that garnered less notice. On Jerusalem's Temple Mount — in full view of television cameras — Palestinian bulldozers began cutting through the earth near the Dome of the Rock to lay electric cables. In doing so, the work laid bare an archaeological find. But the Muslim Wakf, which rules the mount, as well as Israeli police prevented archaeologists from sifting through the debris.
This is not the first time that Muslims have trashed a site of enormous significance to Israel and the Jewish people. Illegal construction in the recent past has resulted in what amounts to nothing less than widespread Islamic vandalism of this area. But then, as now, Israel's government has refused to stop the Wakf, preferring to avoid a showdown with Palestinian Islamists.
When any construction in Jerusalem purportedly offends Muslims, the world listens, and Israel is forced to back down, as it did last year over the repair of a bridge to the mount. This recent incident proves again that it is only Arab sensibilities that are supposed to be respected in Jerusalem. Those who think the juxtaposition of Arab outrage and Jewish indifference has no relation to the campaign to delegitimize Israel itself are simply dreaming.
The need for leaders with integrity is not unrelated to the need for defense of other Jewish symbols. Just as the honor of Israel's presidency is a symbol that must be respected and preserved, so, too, must Jerusalem's history.