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Czech parliament calls for sanctions against UNESCO over anti-Israel bias

Lawmakers urge Prague to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital; President Zeman sends greetings to embassy event celebrating city’s reunification

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

File: President Reuven Rivlin (left) shakes hands with Czech President Milos Zeman during a state visit to Prague. (Mark Neyman/GPO)
File: President Reuven Rivlin (left) shakes hands with Czech President Milos Zeman during a state visit to Prague. (Mark Neyman/GPO)

The Czech Chamber of Deputies called on the nation’s government on Tuesday to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to stop paying membership fees to UNESCO until the organization stops its anti-Israel bias.

In honor of the 50th anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification, the lower chamber of the Czech Republic’s bicameral parliament passed two pro-Israel resolutions, both critical of the United Nations’ cultural and scientific agency.

In an unusual step, the country’s president also sent greetings to an event hosted by the Israeli embassy in honor of Jerusalem Day.

“The Chamber of Deputies calls on the government of the Czech Republic to stop all payments of membership fees to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) from the state budget this year,” the nonbinding resolution read.

The Czech lawmakers further resolved to urge the government to freeze payments to UNESCO in future years if it does not cease allowing itself to be politicized for an anti-Israel agenda.

Israel’s ambassador to the Paris-based agency, Carmel Shama-Hacohen, welcomed the resolution. “Another blessed decision and another sane voice against the stream of delusional resolutions on the matter of Jerusalem,” he told The Times of Israel. “This is indeed a nice present from Prague to the people of Israel on Jerusalem Day.”

Israelis on Tuesday evening started celebrating the 50th anniversary of the capture of East Jerusalem in the course of the Six Day War. Israel subsequently annexed that part of the city and declared united Jerusalem its eternal capital, a move not recognized by the international community.

An audio slideshow is projected on the ancient walls of Jerusalem's Old City on May 20, 2017, on the beginning of the week marking the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Six Day War. (AFP Photo/Gali Tibbon)
An audio slideshow is projected on the ancient walls of Jerusalem’s Old City on May 20, 2017, on the beginning of the week marking the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Six Day War. (AFP Photo/Gali Tibbon)

In an additional resolution, the Czech parliamentarians condemned the “continuing politicization of the issue of Jerusalem.” It passed with an overwhelming majority of 112 to 2.

The lawmakers declared their rejection of UNESCO’s May 2 resolution, which denied Israel’s claim to Jerusalem, and urged the government in Prague to recognize the city as Israel’s capital.

Resolution 201 EX/PX/DR.30.1, which was proposed by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, and Sudan, “reaffirms the enduring biased and hostile attitude of UNESCO to one of its Member States; as well as the unacceptable politicization of the organization” by dealing with matter that are “clearly beyond its mandate,” the Czech resolution stated.

The UNESCO vote, which coincided with Israel’s Independence Day, passed with 22 countries in favor, 23 abstentions, 10 opposed, and the representatives of three countries absent.

The Czech Chamber of Deputies further endorsed a two-state solution and called for direct Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations without preconditions. It also opposed decisions and resolutions by international organizations such as the European Union that “distort historical facts” and contain the “spirit of anti-Israel bigotry.”

On Tuesday evening, the Israeli embassy in Prague hosted 500 guests at a Jerusalem Day celebration at the Prague Castle — the official residence of the president of the Czech Republic. Built in the 9th century, Prague Castle is considered the largest ancient castle in the world.

“Let me greet you all on the occasion of this gathering that takes place on the eve of the Day of Jerusalem,” Czech President Milos Zeman said in a written message to the event’s participants. “You have gathered in this magnificent cathedral, the spiritual center of our country so steadfastly connected with our statehood.”

For Israel to celebrate in the historic is venue is more than symbolic, he continued. “It was the Czechoslovak Republic that gave the helping hand to Israel in the difficult times. And in exchange, Israel with its vitality and pride encourages us in Europe where we face the evil of terrorism.”

Zeman concluded his message by thanking the guests for supporting Israel. “It is all the more valuable in the situation when the poisonous shoots of anti-Semitism once again started to take root on the European continent.”

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