Israel slammed a UNESCO resolution passed on Friday declaring Hebron's Old City—and with it the Cave of the Patriarchs—as a Palestinian World Heritage Site.
In response to the decision, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to cut another $1 million from the membership fees Israel pays the UN and use that money instead to build a museum of Jewish heritage in Kiryat Arba and Hebron, as well as promote other heritage projects in the city.
This is the fourth time the State of Israel has reduced its funding to the UN in protest of anti-Israeli decisions.
Israel cut $6 million in January in protest of UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which condemned Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank; $2 million in late March in protest of "hostile resolutions" adopted by the UN Human Rights Council; and $1 million in protest of a previous UNESCO decision failing to acknowledge Jewish ties to Jerusalem.
After the four cuts, Israel will only pay the UN $1.7 million a year in contributions. The cuts leave Israel in arrears to the UN, and it risks losing its voting rights at the world body.
Netanyahu protested the fact UNESCO determined the Cave of the Patriarchs was a Palestinian site, "meaning not Jewish... Is this not a Jewish site?! Who's buried there? Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Sara, Rebecca and Leah. Our patriarchs and matriarchs!"
The prime minister also took issue with the declaration of the site as a world heritage site in danger. "Only where Israel is present, like in Hebron, the freedom of religion for all is guaranteed," Netanyahu said. "In the Middle East, mosques, churches and synagogues are being blown up everywhere else—where Israel is not present. We will continue protecting the Cave of the Patriarchs, the freedom of religion for all, and we will also continue protecting the truth."
President Reuven Rivlin asserted the decision "once again proves this is a body determined to continue spreading anti-Jewish lies, while at the same time sticking to its silence while the regional heritage is being erased by brutal extremists."
A spokesman for Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the decision was a "moral blot" on UNESCO. "This irrelevant organization is promoting fake history. Shame on UNESCO," said spokesman Emmanuel Nachshon.
Israel's Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon called the vote "a disgraceful decision that destroys any shred of credibility UNESCO had left," adding that "this grave attempt to cut the ties between Israel and Hebron and the graves of the fathers and mothers of our people is an ugly move, which is offensive to the Jewish people."
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman condemned the decision, calling UNESCO "a politically biased, disgraceful and anti-Semitic organization, which passes outrageous decisions."
"No resolution from this irrelevant organization can hurt our thousands of years old historical right over the Cave of the Patriarchs, or our right over Israel," Lieberman added, further saying he hoped the US helps defund UNESCO.
"This decision also proves, once more, that the Palestinian Authority is not looking for peace, but rather to incitement against and besmirching of Israel in the world," the defense minister concluded.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement that "Jewish ties to Hebron are stronger than the disgraceful UNESCO vote."
Bennett went on to say he was disappointed to see "how UNESCO, time after time, denies history and distorts reality to serve—knowingly—those who try to erase the Jewish state off the map."
He declared that "Israel will not resume cooperation with UNESCO as long as the organization is being used as a tool for political ends rather than a professional body."
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked joined the chorus of condemnation, saying the resolution "is another stain on the international organization and on each of the countries that voted in favor of it."
She noted that "The Cave of the Patriarchs and Hebron are not just Jewish heritage sites, but also sites over which the people of Israel have a historical, possessory and legal right, based to international law as well."
Shaked vowed to "work to ensure our right over these important sites will be realized."
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin took issue with the fact "the hypocrites and history deniers sitting in UNESCO had decided this time to erase Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, from history. Just as one cannot erase the Bible and all that had taken place in the Cave of the Patriarchs, our historical and eternal right over the Land of Israel and specifically over Hebron and the Cave of the Patriarchs cannot be erased either."
Levin called on his fellow government ministers to approve a series of moves in the Cave of the Patriarchs that have been delayed for a long time, including putting roofing over the Jewish prayer area.
Minister of Science, Technology and Space Ofir Akunis called UNESCO's decision "stupid, false and pathetic."
"This embarrassing decision has no significance, and no lie could change the 4,000 years long connection between the Jewish people and Hebron and Jerusalem, or our right over our country," Akunis added.
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz took comfort in the fact that "When no one remembers what UNESCO was anymore, Jerusalem will still be Israel's eternal capital."
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan lamented there was "no end to hypocrisy. The Palestinians continue their campaign of incitement and lies using UNESCO... while ISIS is destroying heritage sites in Aleppo, Palmyra, Mosul and elsewhere, UNESCO chooses to focus on Hebron and the Cave of the Patriarchs that never were and will never be in danger for as long as the State of Israel exists. You can't rewrite or erase history. Abraham paid for the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron in full and it has always been our forefathers' place of burial."
Both deputy ministers Tzipi Hotovely and Eli Ben-Dahan dismissed the credibility of the decision, saying even if the Palestinians came up with absurd resolutions, such as declaring the sun rises in the west or the world was square, UNESCO would still adopt it.
Hotovely called the decision "a badge of shame for UNESCO, which time after time chooses to stand on the side of lies," further vowing that "Israel will not surrender to historic distortion and will continue the fight against the bias of UN institutions."
Ben-Dahan, meanwhile, asserted that "fortunately, the majority of the world, including the Muslim world, understands one cannot just erase the rich past of a people and a nation and replace it with made-up and rewritten history of a made-up Palestinian people."
The heads of the Land of Israel Lobby at the Knesset, MKs Yoav Kisch (Likud) and Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi), said in a joint statement the UNESCO decision was "no less than the denial of history. Hebron is the first Hebrew city, and the Cave of the Patriarchs is the burial plot for the forefathers of the people of Israel."
The two, who are members of the coalition but not of the government, called on the ministers "not only to reject the UNESCO decision, but also clarify with actions that Hebron and the Cave of the Patriarchs are the heritage sites of the people of Israel."
Members of the opposition also slammed the decision, with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid calling the vote "a despicable falsification of history," adding that "at best (it) stems from utter ignorance and at worst from hypocrisy and anti-Semitism."
Settlers call on government to take action
The Yesha Council, which represents Israeli settlers in the West Bank, also slammed the decision, saying, "Hebron is Judaism's second holiest site, denying 4,000 years of Jewish history is pure anti-Semitism."
"UNESCO prefers to disseminate outlandish conspiracy theories that paint Israel in a bad light, than to do its mission and defend the truth. The revisionist history being churned out of UNESCO only strengthens our resolve in Judea and Samaria to keep building a better future for generations to come," said Oded Revivi, the chief foreign envoy of the Yesha council.
The Jewish settlement in Hebron also issued a statement condemning the decision, calling it a "delusional, ridiculous and anti-Semitic decision, typical of the hate-filled ignorant group in UNESCO."
"The Cave of the Patriarchs is the foundation of Jewish history, where the first 'Israel' in the world is buried, and the magnificent structure over it was built by Jews 2,000 years ago, hundreds of years before the appearance of Islam," the Kiryat Arba settlers said in their statement.
"Unlike the time of the Muslim occupation, there is now freedom of access and worship to members of all faiths, and the place is safe and protected," the settlers added.
They called on the Israeli government to stop funding for UNESCO and use this funding to bolster Hebron instead.
Furthermore, the settlers called to renew school trips to the Cave of the Patriarchs; build a visitor center for tourists at the site; improve conditions at the site by building an elevator for the disabled and installing roofing for worshippers; and ,finally, to approve Jewish construction and development in Hebron.
TPS contributed to this report.