Netanyahu: ‘Absurd’ UNESCO vote heralds ‘change’ in world support
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Netanyahu: ‘Absurd’ UNESCO vote heralds ‘change’ in world support

Opposition lawmakers brand resolution denying Israeli claims to Jerusalem as 'anti-Semitic' as PM applauds increased backing for Israel at UN

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a welcoming ceremony for diplomats in Israel for Israel's 69th Independence Day, at the President's residence in Jerusalem, May 2, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a welcoming ceremony for diplomats in Israel for Israel's 69th Independence Day, at the President's residence in Jerusalem, May 2, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday derided as “absurd” a resolution passed by the UN’s cultural body denying Israeli claims to Jerusalem, at the same time lauding what he described as increased global support for the Jewish state in international forums. “Enough,” he declared. “The theater of the absurd when it comes to Israel has to stop.”

Politicians from the opposition, meanwhile, branded the vote — which coincided with Israel’s Independence Day — as “anti-Semitic.”

“Today there are more countries abstaining or supporting Israel than countries against Israel,” the prime minister said. “That is a change, for the first time.”

Submitted to UNESCO’s Executive Board by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan, the resolution on “Occupied Palestine” referred to Israel as the “occupying power” when discussing Jerusalem, indicating that it has no legal or historical ties to any part of the city. The resolution passed with 22 votes in favor, 23 abstentions, 10 opposed, and representatives of three countries absent.

Speaking at a reception for foreign diplomats held at the President’s House in Jerusalem to mark Israel’s Independence Day, Netanyahu — who also holds the position of foreign minister — highlighted the progress made in convincing countries to stop backing anti-Israel votes.

“In the past two days I had talks with many of the leaders of your countries, heads of state, foreign ministers… regarding the absurd vote that is being held now in the UN,” Netanyahu said.

“The result is that the number of countries supporting this absurd vote in UNESCO is getting smaller. A year ago, 32 [countries supporting similar votes], half a year ago it went down to 26, and now it has gone down to 22.”

“My goal is to have no votes in UNESCO on Israel,” Netanyahu said.

“Last year UNESCO said that the Jewish people have no connection to the Temple Mount,” he recalled. “Can you imagine?” He laughed at the notion, then continued: “3,000 years ago Solomon built his Temple there, and UNESCO said a year ago that we have no connection to the Temple Mount.”

View of Jerusalem showing the Old City in the foreground against new parts of the city in the background, January 9, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
View of Jerusalem showing the Old City against new parts of the city in the background, January 9, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The 10 countries that voted against the resolution were the US, the UK, Italy, the Netherlands, Lithuania, Greece, Paraguay, Ukraine, Togo, and Germany.

In its wording the resolution was slightly less harsh on Jerusalem than previous resolutions, in that it did affirm the importance of the city to the “three monotheistic religions.”

Israeli officials on Tuesday condemned the outcome of the vote, but, like Netanyahu, were quick to cheer what was perceived as a diplomatic win for Israel.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely declared in a statement that UNESCO is “continuing to falsify history.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely in Jerusalem, February 12, 2017. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely in Jerusalem, February 12, 2017. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

The resolution, she wrote, “only harms the relevance of the organization that is supposed to protect heritage and culture yet again and again abuses its position when it comes to Israel. Israel doesn’t need approval from political bodies for its historical and undisputed connection to our eternal capital Jerusalem, a 3,00-year-old connection that speaks from every stone in the city.”

“Israel appreciates the countries that stood on the side of truth and didn’t give in to politics that is distorting history,” she added.

In a Twitter post, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan thanked the countries that voted against the resolution.

“You are on the right side of history and the truth,” he wrote.

Some opposition lawmakers on Tuesday alleged that the UNESCO resolution was motivated by anti-Semitism.

Opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog said in a statement that “the UNESCO resolution today against Israel is an anti-Semitic and anti-Israel disgrace that distorts the history of the Jewish people and its unshakable connection to its eternal capital Jerusalem. It is a sad decision without any standing or validity that will find its way to the dustbin of history, just like allegations that Zionism is racism.”

Fellow opposition lawmaker and Yesh Atid party leader MK Yair Lapid said in a statement that “the resolution is unfounded and anti-Semitic.”

“No one, including UNESCO, can rewrite Jewish history. Certainly not on the day when Israel is celebrating 69 years of independence as a strong and democratic country. Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel, it always was and always will be,” he said.

“Once again today we saw how a string of representatives in the United Nations, instead of following the truth, surrender to the anti-Semitic campaign that is led by anti-Israel organizations,” Lapid added.

In a speech to diplomats at the reception attended by Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin noted that since the establishment of Israel diplomats have been meeting top Israeli officials in Jerusalem, even though their embassies are located in Tel Aviv.

“It is time to put an end to the absurd. It is time to recognize Jerusalem, as the official capital of the State of Israel. De facto, not just de jure. It is time to move all the official embassies here. To Jerusalem.”

Tuesday’s resolution, unlike previous resolutions, does not refer to the Temple Mount only as Haram al-Sharif, or to the Western Wall Plaza only as al-Burak plaza, the respective sites’ Muslim names. In fact, these sites are not mentioned at all.

Furthermore, Resolution 201 EX/PX/DR.30.1 affirms “the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions.” It also notes that the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb near Bethlehem, both of which are in the West Bank, “are of religious significance for Judaism, Christianity and Islam” — though it calls them “Palestinian sites.”

However, the resolution still contains many red flags for Israel. For instance, Israel is referred to throughout the document as the “occupying power,” indicating that it has no legal or historical ties to any part of Jerusalem.

Earlier this week, Israel officials acknowledged that the resolution that passed Tuesday was somewhat easier to stomach than previous versions, but emphatically urged Western countries to vote against it.

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