The United Nation Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) passed a draft resolution on Thursday that failed to acknowledge the Jewish people's ties to the Temple Mount, raising ire in Israel.
The proposal "strongly condemns the Israeli escalating aggressions and illegal measures against the Waqf Department and its personnel, and against the freedom of worship and Muslims’ access to their Holy Site Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al Sharif, and requests Israel, the Occupying Power, to respect the historic Status Quo and to immediately stop these measures."
It omits the Jewish name for the holy site—the Temple Mount—and instead refers to it only by its Muslim name—Al-Haram Al Sharif.
The Palestinians have demanded that an international delegation experts be sent to the holy sites to examine what they have described as the destruction of historical and archeological heritage by Israel. They allege that this has been carried out in a variety of manners, including the building of the Jerusalem light rail and archeological excavations.
The Palestinians are seeking, inter alia, to appoint a UNESCO permanent observer in Jerusalem and to appoint a series of condemnations of Israeli activities, such as the alleged demolition of a school in Kfar Adumim. Israel claims that it was a dilapidated caravan that was destroyed and "not a school."
The draft resolution, submitted by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, and Sudan, will be referred to UNESCO’s executive board for formal approval next week.
Twenty-four countries voted in favor of the proposal: Algeria, Bangladesh, Brazil, Chad, China, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Malaysia, Morocco, Mauritius, Mexico, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan and Vietnam.
Six countries voted against it: Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, The Netherlands, United Kingdom and United States.
While 26 countries abstained from the vote: Albania, Argentina, Cameroon, El Salvador, France, Ghana, Greece, Guinea, Haiti, India, Italy, Ivory Coast, Japan, Kenya, Nepal, Paraguay, Saint Vincent and Nevis, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda and Ukraine.
Serbia and Turkmenistan were absent from the vote.
Israel, along with the United States, has been working in recent weeks to reduce the majority support within UNESCO's executive board. These efforts bore fruit, leading France, Sweden, Slovenia, India, Argentina, and Togo, who initially supported the resolution, to abstain instead.
As part of these efforts, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has released a pamphlet of the historical Jewish connection to Jerusalem, which has been distributed to all 120 permanent delegates to UNESCO whose countries have diplomatic relations with Israel.
Israel slams draft resolution
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the decision to adopt the resolution, saying “The theatre of the absurd continues with UNESCO and today the organization has made its most bizarre decision by saying the people of Israel have no connection to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall.”
“Obviously they have never read the Bible," he continued, “but I would advise UNESCO members to visit the Arch of Titus in Rome, where they can see what the Romans brought to Rome after they destroyed and looted the Temple Mount two thousand years ago. One can see engraved on the arch the seven-branched menorah, which is the symbol of the Jewish people as well as the symbol of the Jewish State today.”
“Surely UNESCO will say that Emperor Titus was a part of Zionist propaganda,” he noted wryly.
“To say that Israel has no connection to the Temple Mount and Western Wall is like saying China has no connection to the Great Wall of China or Egypt has no connection to the pyramids. With this absurd decision, UNESCO has lost what little legitimacy it once had. However, I believe that the historical truth will prevail,” he concluded.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked added that “the UN is breaking its own record of ignorance and anti-Semitism. An organization that purports to represent science and education, instead presents the rotten politics of dictatorial Islamic countries. Instead of enlightened Western countries leading the organization, some are blindly following the shameful decision.”
Israeli efforts against the resolution
In an unusual move, Israel on Thursday sought the Holy See's help in forestalling the adoption of the resolution, arguing that it will also harm Christians.
In addition, Israel's permanent delegate to UNESCO, Ambassador Carmel Shama Hacohen, explained that the Palestinians enjoy an automatic majority of support at UNESCO and so his goal was to expand as much as possible the number of those opposed.
"We are mobilizing to erode and drive a wedge in the automatic majority that has stood against us for the past two years," he said. "The efforts are indeed bearing fruit: From the situation we were in when only the USA voted for us alone, we've gradually increased the number to six countries and also increased the number of abstainers."
Shama Hacohen went on to say that "Israel and the Jewish people don't require UNESCO's or any other country's confirmation of the special connection between the Jewish people and the State of Israel and Jerusalem in general and the holy sites therein like the Western Wall and the Temple Mount in particular."
The ambassador continued, "There is no connection of another people to another place in the world that comes close to the strength and depth of our connection to Jerusalem from a religious, historical and national perspective, a connection that has stood the test of 2,000 years."
US Permanent Delegate to UNESCO Ambassador Crystal Nix-Hines has explained in the past to UNESCO's executive board that unilateral decisions on the Middle East have made it harder for the American administration to resume paying its UNESCO membership fees.
Shama Hacohen noted that the US Congress has blocked President Barack Obama's efforts to resume the payments, some €80 million per annum, as both the Republicans and Democrats have opposed UNESCO's decisions regarding Jerusalem.
Earlier Thursday, before the passing of the resolution, President Reuven Rivlin remarked that "There is no festival more connected to Jerusalem than Sukkot. The festivals of Israel all highlight the inextricable bond between our people and our land, and no forum or body in the world can come and deny the connection between the Jewish people, the Land of Israel and Jerusalem—and any such body that does so simply embarrasses itself."
Rivlin added that "We can understand criticism, but you cannot change history."