WASHINGTON — Amid an angry outcry from Jewish organizations worldwide as well as from Israeli officials over a UNESCO resolution that would declare the Western Wall a Muslim holy site, two members of Congress called Monday evening on the US envoy to the UN body to quash the resolution.
Democratic Representatives Nita M. Lowey and Ted Deutch sent a letter Monday urging US ambassador to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Crystal Nix-Hines, to block the draft resolution that Jewish groups had castigated for asserting that the Western Wall is part of al-Aqsa Mosque.
Six Arab states on UNESCO’s Executive Board – Algeria, Egypt, Kuwait, Morocco, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates are expected to introduce the resolution for a vote as early as Tuesday.
“As members of the United States Congress committed to promoting peace in Israel and the Palestinian territories through direct, bilateral negotiations aimed at achieving a two-state solution, we urge you to use the voice and vote of the United States to prevent this draft resolution from advancing,” the two wrote to Nix-Hines.
According to the proposal, the Western Wall is a part of al-Aqsa Mosque, and is actually called “al-Buraq Plaza.” The proposal also urges that Israel be condemned for the excavations near the Temple Mount and in the Old City of Jerusalem, and for what is termed the “aggression and illegal measures taken against the freedom of worship and access of Muslims to Al-Aqsa Mosque and Israel’s attempts to break the status quo since 1967″.
In addition, it condemns Israel for measures taken by security forces following the recent escalation of violence in Israel and the West Bank, and asserts that the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb, outside of Bethlehem, are part of the Palestinian state.
“Palestinian efforts to claim exclusive ownership of religious sites such as the Western Wall, the Cave of the Patriarchs, and Rachel’s Tomb – and their denial of any Jewish claims to these sites, although Jews have prayed in them for thousands of years, reveal a central obstacle to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – Palestinian refusal to acknowledge the very existence of Jews in the ancient Jewish homeland,” the representatives complained.
Deutch and Lowy linked the UNESCO resolution to the recent arson attack at the Joseph’s Tomb site in Nablus on Friday, saying that such actions “proactively work to morph [the Israeli-Palestinian conflict] into a religious conflict” and noting that by these actions “the Palestinians are rendering the conflict all the more difficult to resolve.”
The two requested that Nix-Hines use the influence of the United States to urge other Executive Board members not to adopt this resolution and to remove it from the agenda.
The resolution initiated by the Palestinian Authority would “affirm” the Western Wall as an “integral part” of Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of two Muslim sites of worship on the Temple Mount.
For Jews, who are forbidden from praying on the Temple Mount by Israeli regulations, the Western Wall is the prayer site closest to the ancient site of the Holy of Holies inside the destroyed Temple. It is considered the holiest site where Jews are allowed to pray.
Jewish organizations came out in force against the Palestinian initiative on Monday. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations wrote a missive Monday protesting the resolution to Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO.
The organization’s chairman, Stephen Greenberg, Chairman, and CEO, Malcolm Hoenlein issued a statement in which they complained that appropriation of the Western Wall as a plaza named after the Prophet Muhammad’s horse, flies in the face of historical fact.
“In the millennia before the recreation of the state of Israel in 1948, Arab leaders largely ignored Jerusalem, laid no claim to the Western Wall or Rachel’s Tomb,” the organization asserted in a statement. “There is no explanation or legitimate rationale for this blasphemous initiative. We call upon the members of UNESCO and its leadership to absolutely reject this effort. Israel has gone to great lengths to protect the rights of Muslims at their holy sites, often limiting the access of its Jewish and Christian citizens.”
“No UNESCO or UN resolution or action can undo more than 2,000 years of history,” the statement continued. “[Palestinian Authority] President [Mahmoud] Abbas’s goal is to deny Israelis and the Jewish people their connection to the land. He seeks to cut off their past in order to cut off their future. It would be better if President Abbas would devote the same energy to reigning in the violence being perpetrated by Palestinians and to engage Prime Minister Netanyahu in meaningful talks. He well knows that his actions at UNESCO can only undermine any prospect of peace and gains his people nothing.”
The American Jewish Committee (AJC) launched a petition, aimed at showing the breadth of protest against the resolution.
“Abbas is shamelessly seeking to undermine truth, change the status quo, add to an already volatile situation that he irresponsibly created, and thereby once again set back the quest for peace and coexistence,” said AJC Executive Director David Harris.
“We urge UNESCO Executive Board member states to do the right and responsible thing — reject this naked assault on historical fact and brazen effort to strip the Jewish people of the age-old link to our most sacred site, the Western Wall,” Harris added.
World Jewish Congress (WJC) President Ronald S. Lauder complained that the proposal “goes in the face of the UNESCO Constitution, which very clearly states the organization’s aim to contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration and coexistence.”
“It would make a mockery of that founding principle if the UNESCO Executive Council were to back such a resolution. UNESCO must not be turned into a battleground for conflicts between religions,” he added. “Declaring the Western Wall of the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest place, a Muslim site would be a travesty. Instead of fostering peace, it would only encourage extremists to step up their campaign against Jews, both in Israel and beyond.”
Jonathan A. Greenblatt, the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) chief executive officer, described the move as “a cynical and incendiary manipulation to exacerbate and perpetuate already heightened religious and political tensions in Jerusalem.”
“It is a tragic irony that while the Israeli government actively recognizes Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem and across the country, and guarantees and protects freedom of worship, the Palestinians and their allies on the UNESCO executive are instead trying to diminish, deny or replace the undeniable Jewish connection to holy sites in Jerusalem,” Greenblatt continued. “In the case of the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary, Israel is committed to the long-time ‘status quo’ arrangement whereby Muslim management and access is ensured to this shared holy site.”
Like Harris and Lauder, Greenblatt also called on members of UNESCO’s Executive board to reject the resolution.
Similarly, the Jewish Federations of North America issued its own condemnation of the resolution, describing it as “an affront to the Jewish people.”
“As the violence in Israel continues to escalate, Palestinians and too much of the international community have falsely accused Israel of changing the status quo at the Temple Mount and igniting this current wave of terror,” the organization added in its statement. “However, it is the Palestinians – and their sponsors at UNESCO – who are working to change the status quo, not Israel.”
This resolution comes four years after UNESCO voted to accept the Palestinian Authority as a full member, an action that led the US to cut off funding to the UN body, and five years after another UNESCO resolution declared that the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb are both “Palestinian.”