UNESCO adopts another resolution ignoring Jewish link to Temple Mount


In secret ballot, cultural body’s World Heritage Committee approves text using only the site’s Muslim name; 10 states vote in favor, 2 oppose, 8 abstain

October 26, 2016,

UNESCO's World Heritage Committee voting on a resolution ignoring Jewish and Christian ties to Jerusalem's Old City in Paris, October 26, 2016 (screen shot UNESCO website)

An important panel at the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) on Wednesday morning approved a controversial resolution that ignores Jewish and Christian ties to the Temple Mount. The decision came a week after a similar resolution was approved by the body and elicited angry responses from Israel, several world leaders and even the body’s own director-general.

Convening at its annual meeting in Paris, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee adopted Draft Resolution 40COM 7A.13, entitled “Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls,” by a large majority, with 10 countries voting in favor, eight abstaining and two opposing the text. Eight “yes” votes were needed for the resolution to pass.

Jamaica was absent and did not participate in the vote.

The resolution, which accuses Israel of various violations, echoed last week’s decision in referring to the Temple Mount compound solely by its Muslim names, “Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif,” and defined it only as “a Muslim holy site of worship.” As the site of the two Biblical temples, the mount is the holiest place in Judaism. But unlike last week’s resolution, the draft did not mention the importance of Jerusalem’s Old City for “the three monotheistic religions.”

The Lebanese ambassador to UNESCO voting on the World Heritage Committee's a resolution ignoring Jewish and Christian ties to Jerusalem's Old City in Paris, October 26, 2016 (screen shot UNESCO website)

The Lebanese ambassador to UNESCO voting on the World Heritage Committee’s a resolution ignoring Jewish and Christian ties to Jerusalem’s Old City in Paris, October 26, 2016 (screen shot UNESCO website)

At the opening of Wednesday’s session, the chairperson of the World Heritage Committee, Turkish diplomat Lale Ülker, proposed that the resolution be adopted “by consensus,” which would have given the appearance of a unanimous decision. A majority of member states supported her proposal, but Tanzania and Croatia asked for a secret ballot. Despite vociferous opposition by Lebanon, Tunisia, Cuba and other states that pushed for “consensus,” the committee’s legal adviser eventually ruled that a secret ballot would be held on the resolution, paving the way for the abstentions.

Despite frantic Israeli efforts to convince some of the committee’s member states to oppose the resolution, its eventual adoption did not come as a surprise to anyone in Jerusalem. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said late Tuesday night that UNESCO’s second vote on the matter within a few days showed the organization remains a “theater of the absurd.” He said that while “extremist Muslim forces are destroying mosques and churches, Israel is the only country in the region that protects them and allows freedom of worship.”

Israel's ambassador to UNESCO, Carmel Shama-Hacohen watches on as the World Heritage Committee votes on a resolution ignoring Jewish and Christian ties to Jerusalem's Old City in Paris, October 26, 2016 (screen shot UNESCO website)

Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO, Carmel Shama-Hacohen watches on as the World Heritage Committee votes on a resolution ignoring Jewish and Christian ties to Jerusalem’s Old City in Paris, October 26, 2016 (screen shot UNESCO website)

According to Israel’s envoy to UNESCO, Carmel Shama-Hacohen, Netanyahu instructed him to work to convince countries likely to abstain to go further and cast a vote against the resolution, arguing that an abstention would be akin to support. He described the resolution as “diplomatic jihad” against the Jewish people, Judaism and Christianity.

“Israel respects Muslim and other faiths and their presence in our holiest of places, and it is tragic that the other side doesn’t have a leadership that will do the same, but rather one that is engaged only in doing the exact opposite,” Shama-Hacohen said Tuesday during a meeting with UNESCO’s director-general, Irina Bokova. “This is no longer an Israeli-Palestinian struggle, but an Arab struggle against the entire Jewish world. It is clear that Israel and the Jewish people will survive this, yet it remains unclear whether UNESCO will.”

Shama-Hacohen and the heads of two Israeli advocacy groups, StandWithUs and the International Legal Forum, handed Bokova a petition signed by more than 77,000 Jews and Christians calling on UNESCO “to recognize the irrefutable deep historic, cultural and religious connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel.”

UNESCO's World Heritage Committee voting on a resolution ignoring Jewish and Christian ties to Jerusalem's Old City in Paris, October 26, 2016 (screen shot UNESCO website)

UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee voting on a resolution ignoring Jewish and Christian ties to Jerusalem’s Old City in Paris, October 26, 2016 (screen shot UNESCO website)

The earlier resolution, which was approved October 13 at the UNESCO committee stage with 24 “yes” votes, six “no” votes and 26 abstentions, and then formally confirmed by UNESCO’s executive on October 18, sparked vociferous condemnation in Israel, as well as from UNESCO’s own director, Irina Bokova, and several foreign leaders.

Last week’s text referred to Israel as “the occupying power” at the holy sites. The resolution adopted Wednesday — sponsored by Kuwait, Lebanon and Tunisia — did not, which Israel considers a minor victory. In another significant divergence from the October 13 text, the new version did not put quotation marks around the designation “Western Wall,” a punctuation seen in Israel as bolstering the original resolution’s disdain for Judaism’s connection to its holiest site.

This year’s member countries of the committee made things particularly difficult for Israel. Germany, Columbia and Japan, all sympathetic nations to Israel, are no longer involved, and in their place are Tunisia, Kuwait, Lebanon and Indonesia, bringing to nine the total number of Muslim countries.

The 21 nations with voting rights on the World Heritage Committee were: Finland, Poland, Portugal, Croatia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Tunisia, Kuwait, Lebanon, Peru, Cuba, Jamaica, Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Angola and Tanzania.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

Times Of Israel

 

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