Israel hits back at UNESCO in wake of condemnation

Palestinian-sponsored resolution on Jerusalem ‘nothing but a heap of disconnected-from-reality statements,’ Foreign Ministry says

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Jerusalem's Golden Gate, which abuts the Temple Mount. (photo credit: Keren Freeman/Flash90)
Jerusalem's Golden Gate, which abuts the Temple Mount. (photo credit: Keren Freeman/Flash90)

Israel has lambasted UNESCO over the passage of a Palestinian-sponsored resolution condemning Israel over its activities in Jerusalem, saying that such moves will eventually destroy the organization.

“This is a dark day for UNESCO, a day the organization will want to erase from its history as it demonstrates that it is acting outside the boundary of reality,” Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

In 2011, UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization — admitted Palestine as a full member. Since then, Israeli and Palestinian officials have sparred about UNESCO’s work in Jerusalem, with Israel last month suddenly canceling the visit of a UNESCO delegation seeking to inspect Jerusalem’s Old City because, officials claimed, the Palestinians sought to politicize the inspection.

During a debate at the 37th session of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, currently taking place in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the Jordanian delegation, at the behest of the Palestinian Authority, submitted a resolution slamming Israel over its Jerusalem policies.

The resolution censured Israel for a number of developments in the city, including the construction of a visitors’ center, plans to build an elevator by the Western Wall, and accusations of archeological excavations said to be damaging Muslim sites atop the Temple Mount. It also took Israel to task for allegedly failing to hand over to the committee critical information on the state of the Old City.

“The WHC requests Israel to immediately desist from all acts, omissions and the harmful excavations,” according to a joint press released issued Sunday by the Jordanian and Palestinian UNESCO delegations. “The WHC also asks Israel to stop all violations that change of facts on the ground and damages the authenticity and integrity of the Old City of Jerusalem, especially the recent escalatory measures that have been taken against al-Aqsa Mosque and the obstruction of the Jordanian Awqaf’s conservation of the Holy Sites.”

The resolution reportedly passed, with eight of the 21 World Heritage Committee member states voting in favor and 10 abstaining. Only Germany, Switzerland and Estonia reportedly voted against it.

“Passing, once more, a fabricated political decision against Israel, which portrays nothing but the outstanding creative writing skills and unique sense of imagination of both the Palestinians and Jordanians, bears devastating ramifications on the future of UNESCO,” the head of the Israeli delegation said after the vote. “It is rather unfortunate that at such a critical point in time for UNESCO, the Palestinians and their active partners consciously choose to undermine the core values and identity of this organization to an extent that will certainly lead to its ultimate  destruction.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry stated that the resolution was adopted against the better judgment of the majority and “is nothing but a heap of disconnected-from-reality statements.” There is no linkage between the language of the resolution and the actual facts on the ground, the statement continued, “as the text only reflects the clichés of the anti-Israel bubble which the Palestinians cultivate within UNESCO at the expense of the worthy causes the organization is supposed to promote around the world.”

Nevertheless, the statement said, “Israel will uphold its commitments and its sovereign responsibility by continuing to ensure freedom of worship to all faiths in Jerusalem, even as UNESCO insists on turning its back on reality and wreaking damage to the interests of member-states through the regurgitation of the dictates of Palestinian propaganda.”

Shimon Samuels, director for international relations of the Simon Wiesenthal Center — the only Jewish group accredited to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee — said he “deplored the abuse of an organization that was founded to provide protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage sites for another round of Israel bashing.”

He said that host Cambodia and laureates of newly registered heritage sites “from Namibia to China” were unhappy about having their “moment of glory marred by the Middle-East jack in the box” but that seven of the 21 member states are Muslim and so the anti-Israel resolution passed easily.

“Since Palestine was accepted as a member-state of UNESCO, to paraphrase the military strategist Von Clausewitz, heritage has become war by another means,” he said in a statement.

“This is just the latest example of the Palestinians exploiting their unilaterally-pursued elevated status within such bodies as UNESCO to push an anti-Israel agenda and to divert the UN from upholding its mission,” B’nai B’rith International President Allan J. Jacobs said in a statement. “The World Heritage Committee has important business to which it should be attending, rather than singling out Israel and continuing to fuel the Palestinians’ delusional worldview.”

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