Top UNESCO official hopes to delay full vote on Jerusalem resolution
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Top UNESCO official hopes to delay full vote on Jerusalem resolution

Head of cultural body's executive board, which is scheduled to meet Tuesday, says deferral would give dialogue a chance

The Temple Mount and Western Wall in Jerusalem, as seen from the Israeli Air Force's annual fly-by on Independence Day, May 12, 2016. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)
The Temple Mount and Western Wall in Jerusalem, as seen from the Israeli Air Force's annual fly-by on Independence Day, May 12, 2016. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

The head of UNESCO’s Executive Board, Michael Worbs, expressed hope Friday that a resolution by the cultural body effectively rejecting Jewish historical ties to Jerusalem holy sites would not go to a formal vote on Tuesday as expected, but would instead be deferred to give dialogue a chance.

The UNESCO resolution, sponsored by several Arab countries and passed Thursday in the committee stage, 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.

The resolution must still be validated by the Executive Board, but the contentious wording was not expected to change.

The 58 member states of the board normally follow the votes made at committee stage, but in this case Worbs said he hoped the vote would be postponed.

Michael Worbs, the chairman of UNESCO Executive Board (screen capture: YouTube)
Michael Worbs, chairman of the UNESCO Executive Board (screen capture: YouTube)

“We need more time and dialogue between the members of the board to reach a consensus,” he said.

“For 40 years, UNESCO has always managed to find consensual decisions on the Middle East,” he added. “But since autumn 2010 it has become more and more difficult.”

Israel and the United States suspended their funding to UNESCO in 2011 after the Palestinians were admitted as members. Both countries have lost their voting rights as a result.

The director-general of UNESCO earlier Friday signaled her dismay and opposition to Thursday’s motion. Though she did not explicitly mention the resolution, Irina Bokova made her disapproval of the motion clear, saying that efforts to deny history and Jerusalem’s complex multi-faith character harm UNESCO.

“The heritage of Jerusalem is indivisible, and each of its communities has a right to the explicit recognition of their history and relationship with the city,” Bokova said in a statement.

“To deny, conceal or erase any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site, and runs counter to the reasons that justified its inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage list,” she said.

Israel informed Bokova earlier Friday that it was suspending its cooperation with UNESCO over the vote, with Education Minister Naftali Bennett saying the motion was a denial of history that “gives a boost to terrorism.”

Bennett, who serves as president of Israel’s National Commission for UNESCO, said all meetings with UNESCO officials, participation in international forums and professional cooperation would be suspended until further notice.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaks in the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 27, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaks in the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 27, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israelis and many Jews around the world view 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.

Israeli leadership reacted furiously to the UN resolution, with some accusing the UN’s cultural arm of anti-Semitism on Thursday.

Lawmakers from both the right and left of the political spectrum said the decision was ill-befitting of UNESCO.

Twenty-four countries voted in favor of the resolution Thursday afternoon, six against and 26 abstained, though Israel’s Ambassador to UNESCO Carmel Shama-HaCohen praised the diplomatic effort that had changed several no votes in a similar resolution in April into abstentions this time around.

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