Israel suspended cooperation with UNESCO on Friday, a day after the UN cultural agency adopted a draft resolution that Israel says denies the deep, historic Jewish connection to holy sites in Jerusalem.
UNESCO's draft resolution, sponsored by several Arab countries, uses only the Islamic name for a hilltop compound sacred to both Jews and Muslims, which includes the Western Wall, a remnant of the biblical temple and the holiest site where Jews can pray. The validated resolution is expected early next week, but the wording is unlikely to change.
Israelis and many Jews around the world viewed it as the latest example of an ingrained anti-Israel bias at the United Nations, where Israel and its allies are far outnumbered by Arab countries and their supporters.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said he was "outraged" by the resolution. "Would UNESCO vote to deny the Christian connection to the Vatican? Or the Muslim connection to Mecca? The UNESCO vote claims that there is no connection between the Jewish people and the Western Wall. In fact, it is the UNESCO vote that has no connection to reality."
Education Minister Naftali Bennett informed UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova of Israel's decision on Friday.
"Following the shameful decision by UNESCO members to deny history and ignore thousands of years of Jewish ties to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, I have notified the Israel National Commission for UNESCO to suspend all professional activities with the international organization," Bennett said.
Israel captured east Jerusalem, with sites holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims, from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War. Palestinians claim the territory as part of their future state, and its fate is a central dispute.
Jews refer to the hilltop compound in Jerusalem's Old City as the Temple Mount, site of the two Jewish biblical temples. Muslims refer to it as the Noble Sanctuary, and it is home to the Al-Aqsa mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock. It is the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.
"The heritage of Jerusalem is indivisible, and each of its communities has a right to the explicit recognition of their history and relationship with the city," Bokova, the head of UNESCO, said in a statement, the second time that she has condemned the the body that she heads for its treatment of the Jewish connection to Jerusalem.
"To deny, conceal or erase any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site, and runs counter to the reasons that justified its inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
"Nowhere more than in Jerusalem do Jewish, Christian and Muslim heritage and traditions share space and interweave to the point that they support each other," she continued. "These cultural and spiritual traditions build on texts and references, known by all, that are an intrinsic part of the identities and history of peoples. In the Torah, Jerusalem is the capital of King David, where Solomon built the Temple and placed the Ark of the Covenant. In the Bible, Jerusalem is the city of the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the KIoran, Jerusalem is the third holiest site in Islam, where Muhammad arrived after his night journey from Al Haram Mosq (Mecca) to Al Aqsa."
"In this microcosm of humanity’s spiritual diversity, different peoples worship the same places, sometimes under different names. The recognition, use of and respect for these names is paramount. The Al Aqsa Mosque / Al-Haram al-Sharif, the sacred shrine of Muslims, is also the Har HaBayit – or Temple Mount – whose Western Wall is the holiest place in Judaism, a few steps away from the Saint Sepulcher and the Mount of Olives trees revered by Christians," she said.
"The outstanding universal value of the City, and the reason why it was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list, lies in this synthesis, which is an appeal for dialogue, not confrontation. We have a collective responsibility to strengthen this cultural and religious coexistence, by the power of acts and also by the power of words. This requirement is stronger than ever, to bridge the divisions that harm the multi-faith character of the Old City."