Israel slams UNESCO members for ‘erasing’ Jewish ties to Jerusalem
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Israel slams UNESCO members for ‘erasing’ Jewish ties to Jerusalem

UN culture body voted overwhelmingly for resolution that ignores Jewish history at Temple Mount

Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount (Qanta Ahmed)
Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount (Qanta Ahmed)

Israel’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday sent a “sharply worded letter” to members of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) who voted in favor of a resolution in which Jewish ties to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall area in Jerusalem’s Old City were wholly ignored.

Foreign Ministry director Dore Gold “complained about the attempt to erase the Jewish connection to the capital of the Jewish people Jerusalem, and to Jewish holy places,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon said in a statement.

“Although the UNESCO resolution will have no practical effect, we will not allow international actors to blur the Jewish connection to its eternal capital,” Gold wrote in his letter.

The letter was sent at the behest of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also doubles as foreign minister.

The UNESCO executive board on Thursday adopted a resolution on “Occupied Palestine” presented by several Arab countries referring to the Temple Mount by only its Arab name, Haram al-Sharif or Holy Sanctuary.

The UNESCO resolution, authorized by the executive board’s Programme and External Relations Commission, was submitted by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan.

Foreign Ministry Director General Dore Gold in Jerusalem, June 1, 2015. (AFP/Thomas Coex)

The resolution was approved by 33 states, including France, Russia, Spain and Sweden. Seventeen countries abstained while six voted against, including the United States, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

The resolution refers to Israel as the “occupying power” at every mention and uses the Arabic Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram al-Sharif without ever calling it the Temple Mount, as it is known to Jews. The text does refer to the Western Wall Plaza but places it in quotation marks, after using the Arabic Al-Buraq Plaza.

The resolution also accuses Israel of “planting fake Jewish graves in Muslim cemeteries” and of “the continued conversion of many Islamic and Byzantine remains into the so-called Jewish ritual baths or into Jewish prayer places.”

The resolution enraged Israeli officials, including Netanyahu, who called it “yet another absurd UN decision,” and accused the international body of “rewriting a basic part of human history.”

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid wrote a biting letter to UNESCO calling the decision “a part of a sustained political campaign against the State of Israel and the Jewish people.”

On Monday, UNESCO chief Irina Bokova sought to calm anger over the resolution and called for “respect and dialogue” in an effort to calm tensions.

Irina Bokova speaks with reporters on the selection of the next UN Secretary-General at the UN headquarters in New York on April 12,2016. (Kena Betancur/AFP)
Irina Bokova speaks with reporters on the selection of the next UN Secretary-General at the UN headquarters in New York on April 12,2016. (AFP/Kena Betancur)

Jews consider the complex, formerly the site of the two temples, to be Judaism’s holiest site. Muslims regard the compound — which today houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock — as the third-holiest site in Islam.

While Jewish visitors are allowed to enter the site, Jewish worship is banned under arrangements instituted by Israel when it captured the area from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War.

The site has been the focal point of violence wracking Israel and the Palestinian territories — including dozens of Palestinian stabbing attacks on Israelis — over the past several months, amid claims by Palestinian leaders that Israel plans to change the status quo on the Temple Mount. Israel has vehemently denied those charges.

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