United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) chief Irina Bokova has received “death threats” after issuing a statement criticising a series of controversial Arab-backed resolutions which seek to erase the Jewish connection to holy sites in Jerusalem, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations said, quoted by Israeli and international media.
“The director general has received death threats and her protection has had to be reinforced,” Carmel Shama Cohen told Israeli public radio.
“These threats were made after her criticism” of two resolutions adopted last week at committee stage ahead of a final vote, Cohen said, accusing Arab countries of “appalling conduct” over the drafts.
In the draft resolutions, Israel was condemned for “violations” at Jewish holy sites and the holiest sites in Judaism are referred to solely by their Islamic names, describing them as holy only to Muslims.
Israel suspended co-operation with Unesco on October 14. Japan suspended its funding for Unesco.
“The heritage of Jerusalem is indivisible, and each of its communities has a right to the explicit recognition of their history and relationship with the city. 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,” Bokova said in her October 14 statement.
Israel’s education minister Naftali Bennett said the Unesco draft decision concerning Jerusalem “denies history and encourages terror”.
Bennett said Bokova’s statement was insufficient. “Words are important, but they are not a replacement to the actions of the organisation she heads,” he said.
The European Jewish Press reported that major Jewish groups expressed outrage after the Unesco board approved the resolution that ignores the Jewish people’s ties with Jerusalem holy sites, the Temple Mount and the Western Wall.
Twenty-four countries voted in favor of the Unesco Executive Board resolution – initiated by the Palestinians- and six — the US, United Kingdom Germany, Holland, Lithuania and Estonia — voted against. 26 countries abstained, including France, Italy, Slovenia, Spain, Argentina and India, and two countries were missing from the vote.
The vote on the resolution — which was submitted by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan — had been postponed from July. However, a previous similar resolution was approved in April.
“What happened today in Paris is anti-Semitism on steroids,” said World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder who called the passage of the resolution “shameful.”
“It is a total travesty and an insult to the Jewish people to pretend that the holy sites in Jerusalem are only Muslim sites, and to ignore the fact that the Temple Mount was already the holiest place of Judaism well before the advent of Islam…There are Hebrew names for the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, and they exist for a reason: because these are Jewish holy sites. One would expect a body like Unesco, which was created to safeguard important sites like this, not to succumb to political pressure from governments that want to play politics with UN bodies.”
Lauder noted, “next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem. Since then, the State of Israel has protected that all major religions with ties to the city — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — enjoy access to their holy sites. The text adopted by Unesco in Paris shows that these sites cannot be entrusted to other governments.”
American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris said in a statement, “A minority of Unesco members, led by the Palestinian Authority and Arab countries, has sought for a long time to exploit this body to castigate Israel. The United States, United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Lithuania and Estonia have asserted moral leadership by firmly and unequivocally rejecting this blatant historical revisionism. Let’s be clear what’s at work here: This is 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 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) characterized the Unesco resolution as an “affront to the truth and a crude attempt to delegitimize the Jewish state.”
“By approving such an untruthful and one-sided 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,” AIPAC said. “Unfortunately, this resolution is also demonstrative of Palestinian efforts to circumvent direct negotiations by manipulating international institutions.”
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) condemned the resolution which, it said, “essentially expunges the 3,000 years of Jewish connection to Jerusalem.”
ADL CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt, said in a statement: ‘’Yet again, member states of the Unesco Executive Board have perpetuated outrageous and false allegations against Israel and blatantly denied the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount and Jerusalem.’’
Similar resolutions have been adopted by Unesco political bodies in the past.
The resolution continued to refer to the Temple Mount/Holy Sanctuary solely by its Islamic name, Haram al Sharif, and referred to the Western Wall Plaza in quotation marks, referring to it first as the Al-Buraq Plaza, its Islamic name.
Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO, issued the following statement: ‘’Yet again, member states of the Unesco Executive Board have perpetuated outrageous and false allegations against Israel and blatantly denied the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount and Jerusalem.’’
‘’To expunge the Jewish connection to Jerusalem is to deny the very cultural heritage of Jerusalem. This is not only unethical, but it contradicts the role of Unesco to build intercultural understanding and protect cultural heritage.’’
‘’Resolutions such as these poison the atmosphere and sow mistrust making steps toward reconciliation all the more difficult,’’ Greenblatt added, expressing appreciation to the United States, United Kingdom, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Estonia and Germany, who all voted against the resolution.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles — said the vote ‘’was a full-blown assault on Jewish history and the rights of the Jewish people. And it’s something that we’re going to have to do our best to combat and make sure that this false narrative isn’t allowed to gain further traction around the world. I think this is one of those situations in which all Jewish groups have to join with the State of Israel in ensuring that the truth gets out.”
‘’One piece of good news, Cooper said, was that no European country voted in favor of the resolution.
Cooper also noted the irony of countries like Morocco, Qatar and Sudan — “three paragons of human rights,” as he sarcastically put it — backing the resolution,’’ Rabbi Cooper said.
Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice President of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said Unesco’s disregard of the Jewish people’s historic connection with Jerusalem represented a “war on Jewish history.”
‘Unfortunately, truth and history have become the latest victims in the UN’s hostilities towards Israel and the Jewish People,” Moshe Kantor, President of the European, Jewish Congress said. “This vote is purely an attempt to eradicate the Jewish People from the pages of history.”
“If there is no Jewish connection to Jerusalem then there is obviously no Jewish People or history. All nations which didn’t vote against this unprecedently absurd and dishonest resolution will now wear the ‘mark of Cain’ as a result.”
Palestinians, who seek an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza, welcomed the measure.
“This is an important message to Israel that it must end its occupation and recognise the Palestinian state and Jerusalem as its capital with its sacred Muslim and Christian sites,” said Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Palestinian authority president Mahmoud Abbas, the BBC reported.
(Photo of Bokova: Unesco/Danica Bijeljac)