The United Nations’ cultural arm on Thursday passed a resolution ignoring Jewish ties to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall in a move derided in Israel as “anti-Semitic” and absurd.
The resolution, adopted at the committee stage, used only Muslim names for the Jerusalem Old City holy sites and was harshly critical of Israel for what it termed “provocative abuses that violate the sanctity and integrity” of the area.
Twenty-four countries in the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization backed the document, while six voted against and 26 abstained at a meeting in Paris. UNESCO’s executive board is expected to approve it next week.
The tally was a slight improvement over a similar vote in April, which was supported by 33 countries, with six nations opposing and 17 abstaining.
Voting in favor were: Algeria, Bangladesh, Brazil, Chad, China, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Malaysia, Morocco, Mauritius, Mexico, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan and Vietnam.
Voting against were: Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, The Netherlands, United Kingdom and United States.
Abstaining were: Albania, Argentina, Cameroon, El Salvador, France, Ghana, Greece, Guinea, Haiti, India, Italy, Ivory Coast, Japan, Kenya, Nepal, Paraguay, Saint Vincent and Nevis, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda and Ukraine.
Absent were: Serbia and Turkmenistan.
The controversial resolution starts by affirming the “importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions,” but then goes on to accuse Israel — which it consistently calls “the occupying power” — of a long list of wrongdoings.
The text “firmly deplores the continuous storming” of the Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram AlSharif — Muslim names for the Temple Mount compound and the mosque located there — “by Israeli right-wing extremists and uniformed forces.”
It also decries Israeli works in the Western Wall Plaza, which it terms the al-Burak plaza after the Muslim name for the site.
The Western Wall, the outer retaining wall of the Second Jewish Temple, is the holiest site where Jews today can pray, and sits at the bottom of the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest spot.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque, regarded by Muslims as the third-holiest site in Islam, sits atop the Mount, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, along with the Dome of the Rock.
While Jews are allowed to enter the site, their worship there is banned under arrangements instituted by Israel when it captured the area from Jordan in 1967.
The Temple Mount compound has been a repeated flash-point for clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces.
The UNESCO resolution “deeply decries the continuous Israeli aggressions against civilians including Islamic religious figures and priests, decries the forceful entering into the different mosques and historic buildings” into Muslim holy sites by Israelis, including employees of “the so-called ‘Israeli Antiquities,’” Israel is urged to “end these aggressions and abuses which inflame the tension on the ground and between faiths.”
In June, the Palestinian delegation to UNESCO claimed Israel was preventing free Muslim access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, a claim Israel has vociferously denied.
President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday led the choir of Israeli denouncements, slamming the resolution even before the vote had taken place in Paris.
“No forum or body in the world can come and deny the connection between the Jewish people, the Land of Israel and Jerusalem – and any such body that does so simply embarrasses itself,” he said at an event in his Jerusalem residence. “We can understand criticism, but you cannot change history.”
Agricultrure Minister Uri Ariel sent an urgent letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling on the prime minister, who also holds the position of foreign minister, to act by encouraging nations to end funding for the UN.
“We in the government in general, and you as the foreign minister, should demand that the nations of the world condemn these anti-Semitic decisions, and immediately stop funding the UN,” he wrote.
He also called for the government to “strengthen the Temple Mount, and to to increase the control and Jewish presence in the holiest place for Jews — the Temple Mount.”
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog said UNESCO is giving a “bad name to diplomacy.”
“Whoever wants to rewrite history, to distort fact, and to completely invent the fantasy that the Western Wall and Temple Mount have no connection to the Jewish people, is telling a terrible lie that only serves to increase hatred,” he said. “On this matter there is no disagreement among the people of Israel, and I urge UNESCO to withdraw this bizarre resolution and to engage in protecting, not distorting, human history.”
Though Thursday’s resolution passed it failed to get a majority of yes votes. Notably, France, Spain, Slovenia, Argentina and India changed from a yes to abstention.
The change in voting patterns was likely the result of an intensive lobbying effort by the Israeli government that followed the passing of the April resolution.
At the time, Netanyahu wrote an angry letter to French President Francois Hollande, who later conceded that Paris’s support for the resolution was a mistake.
Russia and China, along with the resolution’s sponsors — Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan — and other Muslim nations voted in favor.
In July, Irina Bokova, director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), issued a statement affirming that the Old City is sacred to the three monotheistic faiths.
“The heritage of Jerusalem is indivisible, and each of its communities have a right to the explicit recognition of their history and relationship with the city. To deny or conceal any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site, and runs counter to the reasons that justified its inscription in 1981 as a World Heritage site,” Bokova said in the statement.