Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett said Israel would suspend its co-operation with UNESCO, because of the UN agency’s decision to ignore Jewish ties to holy sites in Jerusalem.
Bennett’s statement on Oct. 14 followed passionate condemnations by Israel as well as international Jewish groups and communities of a vote the previous day in Paris by the executive board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Through a majority of 24 to 6 votes, the board passed a preliminary version of a resolution that calls several sites holy to Judaism only by their Islamic names without mentioning its Jewish names in Hebrew or English. The sites include the Temple Mount, referred to as Al-Haram Al-Sharif.
Israeli officials will neither meet UNESCO representatives nor engage in co-operation in international conferences or professional co-operation with the organization, Bennet said in a statement that followed the outpour of condemnations.
“Your decision denies history and encourages terror,” Bennett wrote the countries of UNESCO. “Those who give prizes to the supporters of Jihad in Jerusalem the same week that two Jews are murdered in the city could god forbid encourage more victims.”
The United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Lithuania and Estonia voted against the resolution as 26 additional countries abstained, in what Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO called an improvement to previous UNESCO votes that were supported by Western countries although they contained similar language on Jerusalem. Russia and China were among those backing it.
“We condemn this outrageous decision on the part of UNESCO, which has once again demonstrated its complete lack of credibility and commitment to its own mandate,” Shimon Fogel, chair of Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), said in a statement.
“Today’s resolution attempts to erase the centrality of Jerusalem and its holy sites to the Jewish People. This flies in the face of 3,000 years of archeological and historical evidence, which undeniably confirm the intrinsic link between the Jewish people and the Western Wall and the Temple Mount. This is all the more shameful given that these have been the holiest sites in Jewish tradition for millennia,” Fogel added.
“UNESCO’s continued anti-Israel obsession is reckless and will only inflame existing tensions surrounding the Temple Mount. This resolution is a symptom of the long-standing Palestinian and the larger Arab world’s rejection of the historical connection between Jerusalem and the Jewish People. Sadly, this rejection continues to serve as a barrier to peace.”
In a statement, B’nai Brith Canada said the resolution could provoke further terrorism against Jews.
“By furthering the libel that Israel is ‘carrying out aggressions’ against Palestinian schoolchildren and restricting Muslims from worshipping at these holy sites, UNESCO is now complicit in incitement against Jews,” said B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn. “This resolution is only adding fuel to the fire of anti-Semitism already being promoted by the Palestinian Authority.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion also signalled his displeasure, tweeting: “Deeply disappointed @UNESCO World Heritage Committee decision ignoring link of holy sites to #Judaism in #Jerusalem.”
Classified as pertaining to “Occupied Palestine,” the UNESCO resolution passed last week was submitted by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan. While it affirms “the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its walls for the three monotheistic religions,” it contains two references to Judaism: one in describing holy sites in Hebron and the other in decrying “the enforced creation of a new Jewish prayer platform south of the Mughrabi Ascent in Al-Buraq Plaza.”
The so-called al-Buraq Plaza is better known as the Western Wall Plaza – possibly Judaism’s holiest site. The use of the Arabic-language name is a recent development lifted from Hamas literature, according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.