Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi on Friday said the UNESCO resolution last week that failed to acknowledge Judaism’s connections with the Temple Mount and holy sites in Jerusalem’s Old City was “incomprehensible, unacceptable and wrong.”
Italy’s ambassador to the UN’s agency of culture and education abstained during the October 13 vote, along with the envoys of most western European countries. The resolution was formally confirmed by UNESCO on Tuesday.
Renzi defended the envoy’s vote, telling radio station RTL 102.5 that he did not give the envoy special instructions but only told him to consult with the Italian foreign minister. Italy’s vote, Renzi said, was according to the “traditional position, in the sense that Italy voted this way automatically in the past” — in line with the rest of the European Union countries.
“I think we should re-discuss and think: It was not the fault of the ambassador,” he said, intimating that Italy might in future oppose such resolutions.
Renzi called the UNESCO resolution on the holy places in Jerusalem “a shocking story.” He said he asked his foreign minister to meet with him urgently, and described the resolution as “incomprehensible, unacceptable and wrong.”
“We cannot continue with these motions aimed at attacking Israel. If there is to break out of European unity because of this, then so be it,” he said.
“To maintain that Jerusalem and Judaism do not have a relationship is to argue that the sun gets dark: something incomprehensible, indefensible and wrong. I specifically told the diplomats entrusted with these issues that this cannot continue: there is no denying reality,” Renzi said.
Ruth Dureghello, president of the Jewish community in Rome, praised Renzi’s comments.
“The words of the President of the Council Matteo Renzi on the UNESCO vote on Jerusalem and on the abstention of Italy represent an important stance that needs to be heard amid the silence of these recent days,” Dureghello was quoted by Italian news website ANSA as saying.
“It was unacceptable to us as a Roman Jews to think that our government abstained facing a motion so blatantly anti-Semitic and anti-historical.”
“Now that the UNESCO vote is final Italy needs a political act that would correct its abstention” at the UN agency, Dureghello added. “We would like to understand how we got to this and what will the Government to remedy it.”
She said she was confident that “Italy will be able to take a clear-cut position to remedy this very shameful abstention.”
A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem thanked Italy for clarifying its position. “We thank and commend the Italian government for this important statement,” said ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon.
Hundreds of people protested in Rome on Wednesday against Italy’s abstention.
Protesters held up a cardboard representation of the Western Wall with blue bricks to show the Jewish connection to the historic site and waved Israeli flags. Many men wore kippot, and two men carried rainbow flags emblazoned with the star of David.
Rome contains many records of the Jewish connection to Jerusalem, including the first century Arch of Titus which depicts the sacking of the city and the spoils taken from the Jewish temple, featuring the golden candelabrum (Menorah), the golden trumpets, the fire pans for removing the ashes from the altar and the table.