MidEast

U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Slams UNESCO for Undermining Jewish Historical Presence in the Holy Land

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has slammed UNESCO, the cultural and educational agency of the United Nations, for denying the Jewish people’s historic connection to Judaism’s holy sites, The Algemeiner reported on Tuesday.

“The idea that there’s a question about the Jewish historical presence in the Holy Land and specifically at these sites is unacceptable and diminishes the religious rights of the Jewish people,” Commission head Gary Bauer said in a statement.

In recent years, UNESCO has been making headlines due to their chronic anti-Israel bias. In October 2016, Israel suspended ties with the organization, following a resolution that criticized Israel’s actions in and around Jerusalem’s holiest site and denied Jewish ties to the region’s holy sites.

In October 2017, Israel announced preparations to withdraw from the organization all together, just hours after the United States said it would leave UNESCO over “continuing anti-Israel bias.” Earlier in the year, UNESCO had declared the Old Town of Hebron and the Cave of the Patriarchs as a Palestinian World Heritage Site, as well as passing a series of resolutions that denied Israeli claims to Jerusalem as Israel celebrated its 69th Independence Day.

“UNESCO has no business pronouncing on territorial sovereignty or arbitrating territorial disputes,” Bauer remarked. The Commission specifically cited two resolutions adopted by UNESCO on October 10, which refer to Jewish holy sites in the West Bank cities of Hebron and Bethlehem solely as “Palestinian sites.”

UNESCO has been suffering from funding shortfalls since it accepted the Palestinian Authority’s request for membership in 2011. The U.S. administration cut $80 million a year from its UNESCO budget in response to the organization’s decision.

In November 2017, Audrey Azoulay, France’s former culture minister, was confirmed as the new director-general of UNESCO, making her the first Jewish head of the agency. The World Jewish Congress (WJC) congratulated Azoulay and expressed hope that she would use her position to end the “relentless bias and double standard against Israel” at UNESCO.

“We are hopeful that Ms. Azoulay will maximize her position to address the issues of concern for Israel and the Jewish world, and push for the reforms so deeply needed to return UNESCO to its core mandate of contributing to peace and security in the world by promoting collaboration among nations through education, science, culture and communication for the sake of justice, rule of law, and human rights and freedoms,” said Robert Singer, the WJC’s CEO.

[Photo: Guillaime Speurt]