JCRC Column: UNESCO's Negation of Jewish Ties to the Temple Mount

The UN and its constituent bodies – particularly the farcically named UN Human Rights Council – have been long-known for anti-Israel biases. Serious reviews of multiple UN agencies and organizations bear this out. Yet, yesterday’s vote (Oct. 13, 2016) by the Executive Board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization goes a step further. Despite, “affirming the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions,” the vote, “reaffirms … the obligation of Israel to respect the integrity, authenticity and cultural heritage of Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif, as reflected in the historic status quo, as a Muslim holy site of worship.” In so doing, the UNESCO Executive Board expunges entirely the sacred nature of the Temple Mount as Judaism’s holiest site.

The language, not surprisingly submitted by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan, goes on to condemn, deplore, decry, disapprove and deprecate Israel for both true (as in, factually accurate) and false (as in fabricated) offenses. It files a litany of complaints against Israel’s behavior in and around Gaza and in the West Bank but offers no context as to why the Israel Defense Force has operated in those areas. The document deplores the Israeli “… killing and injury of thousands of Palestinian civilians, including children … and … the continuous blockade of the Gaza Strip.” Hamas is not mentioned. Rocket attacks, attack tunnels, suicide bombings and the Knife Intifada are not mentioned.

As a primer to the subject, Liel Leibovitz, of Tablet wrote this very brief history lesson:

After Israel reunited Jerusalem in the aftermath of its victory in the 1967 war, then Prime Minister Levi Eshkol signed a law designed to protect the holy sites from “anything likely to violate the freedom of access of the members of the different religions to the places sacred to them or their feelings with regard to those places.” Then, in a stark measure of goodwill and respect, he handed control over the Temple Mount to the Islamic Waqf council, the Jordanian-appointed body that has served as the custodian of the Haram al-Sharif for centuries. The gesture also came with a concession, enforced with varying degrees of severity throughout the years, to keep the site, sacred to all three religions, open for prayer only to one: today, only Muslims can freely worship at the site where God is believed to have collected the dirt from which he made Adam, where Abraham nearly sacrificed his son, and where the two ancient Jewish temples once stood.

It is important to include that the site is holy to Islam which holds from there Mohamed ascended to heaven in 7th Century AD. Critically important is – with the sole exceptions of Jewish extremists, who are in their own right, as radical as ISIS or the KKK – no one in the Israeli or Jewish mainstreams is denying that connection.

The Jerusalem Post reported:

In advance of that vote, Israel’s Mission to UNESCO in Paris had given board members and international diplomats a brochure detailing the deep historical connections Judaism has to those sites, which are also holy to Christianity and Islam.

“These facts and evidences will leave no doubt, and without undermining other connection of other religions to the holy places in Jerusalem, of the deepest and longest Jewish presence in Jerusalem since ancient times,” Israel’s Ambassador to UNESCO Carmel Shama-Hacohen wrote.

The Jerusalem Post noted, “Among the evidence listed in the brochure is a 9th Century BC inscription referring to the House of David, an 8th Century BC seal from King Hezekiah, and a stone etching of the Jewish Menorah from the year 66 AD found in Jerusalem.”

Ambassador Shama-Hacohen added, 

“Every attempt to distort the history and harm the above mentioned relations of the Jewish people and Jerusalem, is an attempt to rewrite the history in a dangerous, unfair and one-sided manner.” 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the resolution, “a theater of the absurd.” On his Facebook page he asked, "Is it any wonder the UN has become a moral farce when UNESCO, the UN body tasked with preserving history, denies and distorts history?" He continued, “To say that Israel has no connection to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall is like saying that China has no connection to the Great Wall of China, and Egypt has no connection to the pyramids. With this absurd decision UNESCO erases the little legitimacy left to it.”

The International Business Times ran the news under the deceptive headline, “Palestine Wins Victory Against Israel: Jerusalem Holy Site Declared Muslim, Not Jewish, In United Nations Resolution.” To be clear, the coverage of the facts is accurate. The conclusion reached by the headline is not.

A victory for Palestinians? Hardly. While it’s easy to understand why it may seem so, this is another in a long series of steps away from a constructive peace process. The peace process is not a zero sum game; one side must not lose for the other to win. In fact, the more one side wins and the other loses, regardless of which side is winning, both parties lose. 

Sadly, the resolution was backed by 24 countries: Algeria, Bangladesh, Brazil, Chad, China, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Vietnam, and most notably Russia. Serbia and Turkmenistan were absent from the vote. Pathetically, Albania, Argentina, Cameroon, Cote de’Ivoire, El Salvador, Spain, France, Ghana, Greece, Guinea, Haiti, India, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Nepal, Uganda, Paraguay, South Korea, St. Kitts and Nevis, Slovenia, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Togo, Trinidad and Ukraine abstained. The US, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Lithuania, Germany and Estonia voted against the motion.

The Palestinian foreign ministry welcomed the resolution and that is the crux of the problem. This resolution is another one-sided move at the expense of truth and is a step away from direct negotiations between the parties – long believed the only way to peaceful resolution.

Certainly, many people who care deeply about ensuring a democratic, strong and peaceful Israel, as the homeland and nation-state of the Jewish people hold policy disagreements with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s administration (and with the policies of past Israeli administrations). Yet the astounding majority of those people recognize the holiness of that land to all three monotheistic religions.

Most regrettably for all the children of that region, while the Palestinian foreign ministry claims this as a victory, all we see is peace – further away. 

By JCRC and Israel and Overseas Director, Daniel "Doni" Fogel


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