Ahead of a new UNESCO vote on a resolution that erases Jewish ties to Jerusalem, the head of the UN cultural agency vowed to combat efforts to undermine Israel’s right to exist, “including those drawing on partial or distorted visions of culture and history.”
In a letter dated October 18, UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova responded to Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s suspension of ties with the organization over a controversial resolution passed by its member states and ratified last week, which ignored Jewish and Christian ties to the Temple Mount.
The body’s World Heritage Committee is set to vote later this week on a similar text omitting Jewish connections to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.
“Allow me to reassure you of my absolute commitment to continue all efforts in countering all forms of anti-Semitism, including those drawing on partial or distorted visions of culture and history, as well as those that seek to challenge the existence of Israel,” Bokova wrote in the letter, a copy of which was distributed by Bennett’s office on Sunday.
“I am determined to continue working towards this objective and to redouble efforts to build trust on the basis of respect and mutual understanding, which are the guiding principle of the organization.”
Bokova noted that UNESCO decisions are taken by its member states rather than by the director-general of the organization and stressed she had in the past urged UNESCO members against exacerbating tensions with Jerusalem.
Following the controversial Temple Mount vote last week, Bennett announced he would end cooperation with UNESCO, saying the motion was a denial of history that “gives a boost to terrorism.”
The UNESCO resolution approved last week, which was sponsored by several Arab countries, referred to the Temple Mount and Western Wall only by their Muslim names and condemned Israel as “the occupying power” for various actions taken in both places. As the site of the two Biblical temples, the mount is the holiest place in Judaism.
Israelis and many Jews around the world viewed the move as the latest example of an ingrained anti-Israel bias at the United Nations, where Israel and its allies are far outnumbered by Arab countries and their supporters.
In her letter Bokova noted a statement she published after the approval of the October 13 UNESCO resolution on the Temple Mount in which she rebuked member states for the vote.
She also pointed out that in the past she had “appealed to the UNESCO Executive Board to take actions that do not further inflame tensions on the ground and that encourage respect for the sanctity of the Holy Sites.”
In what she said was an example of UNESCO’s commitment to peace and dialogue, Bokova highlighted a 2014 international UN exhibit on the history of the Jewish people’s ties to the Land of Israel — the opening of which had been delayed for six months due to pressure from Arab states that sought to cancel the event altogether.
The exhibit, entitled “People, Book, Land: The 3,500 Year Relationship of the Jewish People to the Holy Land,” was authored by Israeli historian Robert Wistrich for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which partnered with UNESCO on the initiative.
The exhibition was originally scheduled to open on January 20 that year, but due to pressure from Arab UNESCO delegates, who argued it would disturb Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, the event was postponed.
Following intense criticism of UNESCO’s decision, including by senior United States officials, the organization quickly rescheduled the exhibition for June 11, 2014.
AFP contributed to this report.