Unesco bill may not be put to vote Tuesday
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), at its executive board meeting Thursday in Paris, passed a Palestinian-backed measure which referred to holy sites in Jerusalem only by their Islamic names, appearing to deny Jewish historical connections to the Temple Mount and Western Wall.
The Unesco resolution also uses the term Buraq Plaza, placing “Western Wall Plaza” in quotes, appearing to deny a Jewish connection to the site, where the Jewish Temple stood until the middle of the first century CE and whose retaining walls are made of distinct stones associated with the Jewish king Herod. The Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, another Herodian structure, is referred to as the al-Ḥaram al-Ibrahimi, and Rachel’s Tomb, outside Bethlehem, is noted as the Bilal ibn Rabaḥ Mosque.
Although it was provisionally passed by an overwhelming majority – 24 votes in favour, six against, and 26 abstentions, Worbs’ statement that he hoped it would be delayed to allow the Board to re-evaluate its decision is likely indicative of the Board not having realised they were being sucked into such a contentious issue, or not realising the backlash it could face.
RIGHT: Unescoseems to be all over the place. Were they side-swiped?
US and Israeli politicians (and both US presidential candidates) slammed the resolution on Thursday, with Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett saying the country would suspend its co-operation with Unesco over the decision, which he said “denies history and encourages terror”.
Closer to home, the ACDP questioned SA’s vote in favour of the “UN resolution promoting narrative that Temple Mount is exclusively a Muslim place of worship”, said the party’s whip and long-standing MP Cheryllyn Dudley. Dudley called on the SA government to assure South Africans of its commitment to protecting and promoting cultural and religious rights. “The area is the historic home of all three Abrahamic religions,” said Dudley, calling on SA and the UN to support access for all faith groups to the Temple Mount area and for free religious expression.
Earlier last week, 39 Democratic and Republican US lawmakers sent a letter to the Unesco executive board urging it to reject the proposal, which the letter called “unnecessarily divisive and selective,” and said would “further damage the prospects of peace between Israel and the Palestinians”.
Unesco’s director-general, Irina Bokova, seemed to express a different view from that expressed in the resolution last Friday. “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 https://www.sajr.co.za/images/default-source/People/dudley—cheryllyn.jpg” class=”sfImageWrapper”> Dudley said that “concerns have been raised that the resolution promotes the narrative that the site is exclusively a Muslim place of worship, despite the well-known fact that this area is historic home of three Abrahamic religions.”
She added that the resolution was being seen as “an attempt to erase the Christian and Jewish connection to the area and promote an extremist and false version of biblical history.”
LEFT: ACDP Parliamentary whip Cheryllyn
Dudley will be asking questions of the SA Minister of International Relations.
Pointing out that the Palestinian Minister of Religious Affairs Mahmoud Al-Habbash was reported as saying: “This is a holy site for Islam, and only for Islam. Al-Aqsa Mosque is a Muslim site, and we do not recognise any of the stories about the Temple,” Dudley said the action could be “seen as an attempt by the Palestinian Authority to seize control of the site and to the exclude all other faiths”.
Added Dudley: “For SA, a country that respects the cultural and religious rights and values of all peoples, to back this resolution makes no sense and is disturbing.: She is asking the Minister of International Relations to “explain this decision and to give SA Christian and Jewish communities the relevant information regarding the department’s position on this matter”.
DG Irina Bokova seems to agree
Unesco’s director-general, Irina Bokova, was quick to ensure that she had a different view from that of her board of directors and distanced herself from the resolution on Friday. “To deny, conceal or erase any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site,” said the DG in her own statement.
She said the resolution “runs counter to the reasons that justified its inscription on the Unesco World Heritage list”.
RIGHT: Irina Bokova, Unesco secretary-general, was clear in her rebuttal of the resolution.
Opponents of the resolution were upset by the fact that, while the Unesco resolution affirms “the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions,” it refers to the Temple Mount several times only as Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif, the Islamic term for the Temple Mount, without mentioning its Jewish names in Hebrew or English.
The resolution also uses the term Buraq Plaza, placing “Western Wall Plaza” in quotes, appearing to deny a Jewish connection to the site, where the Jewish Temple stood until the middle of the first century CE.
Both the Trump and Clinton campaigns slammed the Unesco resolution on Friday as well. Donald Trump went as far as saying he would recognise the city as Israel’s capital.
“The United Nations’ attempt to disconnect the State of Israel from Jerusalem is a one-sided attempt to ignore Israel’s 3 000-year bond to its capital city, and is further evidence of the enormous anti-Israel bias of the UN,” said the statement released by Trump on Thursday evening.
LEFT: Despite serious problems, in his campaign, Trump took time out to comment
“I have said on numerous occasions that in a Trump administration, the United States will recognise Jerusalem as the one true capital of Israel,” he said.
Laura Rosenberger, a senior foreign policy adviser to Hillary Clinton, said that “it’s outrageous that Unesco would deny the deep, historic connection between Judaism and the Temple Mount”.
US lawmakers have slammed the vote across the political spectrum. Israel and American Jewish leaders also have ripped the vote.
Among the many other published reactions of outraged were:
- Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said he was “outraged” by the vote, which he said in a statement “denies thousands of years of Jewish connection to Jerusalem’s Western Wall. Would Unesco vote to deny the Christian connection to the Vatican? Or the Muslim connection to Mecca?” he asked. “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.”
- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement: “To say that Israel has no connection to the Temple Mount is like saying that China has no connection to the Great Wall of China or that Egypt has no connection to the pyramids. With this absurd decision, Unesco has lost the modicum of legitimacy it had left. But I believe that historical truth is stronger and that truth will prevail. And today we are dealing with the truth.”
- Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog, head of the Zionist Union, accused Unesco of giving a “bad name to diplomacy” in a statement posted on Facebook. “Whoever wants to rewrite history, to distort fact, and to completely invent the fantasy that the Western Wall and Temple Mount have no connection to the Jewish people, is telling a terrible lie that only serves to increase hatred,” he said. “On this matter there is no disagreement among the people of Israel, and I urge Unesco to withdraw this bizarre resolution and to engage in protecting, not distorting, human history.”
- American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris called the resolution “another attempt to undermine the very foundation of the State of Israel and the documented, age-old historical Jewish connection to the land. And unlike previous such resolutions, notably, not one European nation lent its support this time.”
- The United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Lithuania and Estonia joined the United States in voting against the resolution. Other European countries abstained.
- The Anti-Defamation League said in a statement that the resolution “essentially expunges the 3 000 years of Jewish connection to Jerusalem. Resolutions such as these poison the atmosphere and sow mistrust making steps toward reconciliation all the more difficult,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said.
- AIPAC said in a statement that by approving such a resolution, Unesco “undermines efforts to seek a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by giving support to forces in the Palestinian community that reject reconciliation. Unfortunately, this resolution is also demonstrative of Palestinian efforts to circumvent direct negotiations by manipulating international institutions. We commend the nations that stood up for historic truth and rejected this malignant resolution,” the pro-Israel lobby said.
- T’ruah, the New York-based rabbinic human rights group, said the vote “represents an offensive and anti-Semitic attempt to erase thousands of years of Jewish history”.
A similar resolution, deploring Israel’s presence at and maintenance of various holy sites, was adopted by UNESCO’s executive board in April.