WASHINGTON — A quartet of Senate Republicans is calling on the Obama administration to cut ties with UNESCO after the United Nations’ cultural organization declared the Temple Mount and Western Wall to have no connection to Judaism.
UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee adopted a resolution, crafted by Jordan and the Palestinians, keeping the Old City of Jerusalem and its walls on a list of “ world heritage sites in danger.” Submitted by Kuwait, Lebanon and Tunisia, the resolution repeatedly describes Israel as “the Occupying Power.”
Though adopted by secret ballot, the Jerusalem Post learned that Tanzania and the Philippines voted against the anti-Israel resolution. Ten countries — Lebanon, Cuba, Kuwait, Tunisia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Vietnam and Angola — voted in favor of the resolution, while eight nations abstained: Poland, Portugal, Croatia, Finland, South Korea, Burkina Faso, Peru and Zimbabwe. The resolution needed eight votes for passage.
That comes after a vote earlier this month at UNESCO’s Executive Board in which the United States and United Kingdom were among the handful of countries to vote against the resolution stating Israel has no connection to the Temple Mount. The Palestinian-drafted UNESCO resolution only referred to the site as Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif and declared that it belonged to Muslims while referring to Israeli sites as “so-called.”
Israeli Ambassador to UNESCO symbolically tossed today’s resolution into a garbage can with the word “history” on the side, then was recalled to Jerusalem for consultations.
UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said in response to the vote that “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 called the “synthesis” of religious traditions in Jerusalem “an appeal for dialogue, not confrontation.”
“We have a collective responsibility to strengthen this cultural and religious coexistence, by the power of acts and also by the power of words,” she said. “This requirement is stronger than ever, to bridge the divisions that harm the multi-faith character of the Old City.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he thanked Tanzania and Croatia for demanding a vote on the measure instead of the unanimous consent vote needed for the resolution to be implemented.
“This absurdity that we, pay attention, Israel in the Middle East, that it is we who are violating the rights of the various religions, that it is we who are not safeguarding the holy places,” Netanyahu said. “Is it possible to conceive of anything more absurd? We are not safeguarding? We are the only ones who are scrupulously, carefully and zealously safeguarding. Who would do so if not us? We all know that is happening here in the Middle East as radical Islam blows up mosques, blows up churches, blows up historic sites, slaughters Yazidis, slaughters Muslims who do not agree with them, slaughters Christians, slaughters whoever it can. Who is deserving of condemnation?”
“…But it must be understood that in the end, and it will take time, this absurdity that hurts not only historical truth and present truth, but also – in my view – hurts the UN itself, this absurdity will end as Israel’s strength grows and expands.”
Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), David Perdue (R-Ga.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) sent a letter to President Obama today stressing that both resolutions “are deeply divisive and further damage UNESCO’s credibility.”
“At a time when the Middle East is in turmoil and historical heritage sites are being destroyed by groups such as ISIS, it is imperative that the U.S. stands with Israel, our closest ally and the sole democracy in the region. Recent UNESCO resolutions that deny Jewish and Christian ties to holy sites in Jerusalem not only reinforce the necessity of withholding American funding from this counterproductive U.N. organization, but also call into question future U.S. membership in UNESCO,” the senators wrote.
“In 1984, the U.S. severed ties with UNESCO due to disparities between American foreign policy goals and UNESCO’s agenda. Because UNESCO continues to deviate from its founding mission and adopt one-sided, anti-Israel resolutions, it is time for the U.S. to stand with Israel and suspend our ties with UNESCO.”