UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency, approved a resolution on Thursday that denied Jewish and Christian historical ties to Jerusalem, a move that was harshly criticized by the White House as well as Israeli leaders from across the political spectrum.
“One-sided, unhelpful resolutions have been a recurring challenge at UNESCO in recent years, and the United States has strongly opposed these resolutions at the UNESCO Executive Board,” a senior Obama administration official told The Jerusalem Post. “We will not hesitate to use our vote at the current Board meeting to oppose these resolutions.” The resolution according to the official was part of a pattern of “recurring highly politicized use of the UNESCO Executive Board meetings.”
The resolution only uses Muslim names for holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem and accuses Israel of “provocative abuses that violate the sanctity and integrity” of the area. The resolution passed 24-6 with 26 abstentions.
— Israel Foreign Min. (@IsraelMFA) October 13, 2016
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referred to the resolution as part of UNESCO’s “theater of the absurd,” describing the vote as a “delusional decision that states that the Jewish People have no connection to the Temple Mount or the Western Wall.”
Even if they do not read the Bible, I would suggest that UNESCO members visit the Arch of Titus in Rome. The Arch shows what the Romans brought back to Rome after they destroyed and looted the Second Temple on the Temple Mount 2,000 years ago. There, engraved on the Arch of Titus, is the seven-branched menorah that is the symbol of the Jewish People, and today is the symbol of the State of Israel.
Soon, UNESCO will decide that Emperor Titus engaged in Zionist propaganda.
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.
“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,” Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said before the vote. “We can understand criticism, but you cannot change history.”
“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,” added opposition leader Isaac Herzog. “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.”
The UNESCO decision is “as absurd as disconnecting Christianity from the Vatican or Islam from Mecca,” Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said. “UNESCO claims there’s no connection between the Kotel and Judaism; I say there’s no connection between UNESCO and reality.”
“This resolution, while claiming to maintain the administrative status quo, in fact changes it” by making the conflict religious, former foreign minister Tzipi Livni wrote in a public letter to UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova. “I sincerely feel that this resolution brings us no closer to a just and agreed-upon solution. We can argue and critique policies, but when it comes to the historical facts connecting the Jewish People to these holy sites, there can be no politics.”
The truly sad thing about the UNESCO vote is that it further weakens the deciding factor for Palestinian freedom: Israelis' trust
— Haviv Rettig Gur (@havivrettiggur) October 13, 2016
A bipartisan letter signed by 39 members of Congress criticized the resolution for “attempting to erase the Jewish and Christian connection to this sacred city” which would “further damage the prospects of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”
As acknowledged by the draft text of Item 25, the Old City of Jerusalem is important to the three monotheistic religions. Numerous archaeological excavations have uncovered a myriad of antiquities that scientifically prove the historical connection of all three religions to Jerusalem, such as the discovery of the Pool of Siloam or the restoration of floor tiles of the Second Temple in the City of David. We celebrate the heritage and cultural ties of these religions to Jerusalem and the importance of Jerusalem to millions of people around the world.
Yet, this resolution seems to prioritize the Muslim heritage of the Old City, while diminishing the ties of either of the other religions. For example, the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, along with the Western Wall, where Jews from all over the world have come to pray, are described exclusively as Muslim holy sites and referred to only by their Muslim names. When the Western Wall is referenced, it is only with quotation marks, implying that the title is unofficial and not based on historic fact.
Brown University historian Michael Satlow wrote last year that the existence of a Jewish temple on the Temple Mount “is as historically certain a fact as one can get in the study of ancient history.” Jodi Magness, a professor of Early Judaism at the University of North Carolina, stated last year that “no credible scholars…question the existence of the two temples or who deny that they stood somewhere on the Temple Mount.”
The official Palestinian position—as expressed in the Palestinian National Charter posted on the website of the Palestinian Authority’s United Nations delegation—is that “the claims of historic and spiritual ties between Jews and Palestine are not in agreement with the facts of history or with the true basis of sound statehood.” At the Camp David summit in 2000, then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat unsettled President Bill Clinton by denying that there had ever been a Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, has repeatedly and explicitly lashed out against suggestions that Jews have links to Jerusalem, which is mentioned by name over 600 times in the Jewish bible.
Jewish, Christian, and other non-Muslim visitation to the Temple Mount currently remains highly restricted. The Islamic Waqf, which administers the site, only allows non-Muslims to use one of the complex’s eleven entrances, and non-Muslims are forbidden from praying, singing, or making any kind of religious display.
[Photo: Hadas Parush / Flash90 ]