PM quotes Bible to lambast UNESCO decision on Hebron

Lashing out at agency, Netanyahu says Jewish connection to city’s Tomb of the Patriarchs possibly without parallel in human history

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, attends the weekly cabinet meeting on July 9, 2017. (Ohad Zweigenberg/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, attends the weekly cabinet meeting on July 9, 2017. (Ohad Zweigenberg/Flash90)

Raging over a decision by a UN body to declare Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs a part of endangered Palestinian heritage, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday recited Biblical verses meant to prove the millennia-old Jewish connection to the West Bank site.

On Friday, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted to list Hebron’s Old City, home to the shrine holy as the burial place of Abraham and other biblical patriarchs and matriarchs, as an endangered Palestinian world heritage site.

According to the Bible, the burial cave was purchased by Abraham to inter his wife Sara. Later, he and his descendants were also buried there, according to Jewish tradition.

“And Abraham hearkened unto Ephron; and Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver, which he had named in the hearing of the children of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant… And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah before Mamre — the same is Hebron — in the land of Canaan. And the field, and the cave that is therein, were made sure unto Abraham for a possession of a burying-place by the children of Heth,” said Netanyahu wearing a skullcap while quoting verses 16-19 from chapter 23 of the book of Genesis.

The prime minister said the UNESCO motion was “delusional.”

“The connection between the Jewish People and Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs is one of purchase and of history which may be without parallel in the history of peoples,” he said.

Attempts to make legal or diplomatic cases based on Biblical accounts are most often ridiculed or not taken seriously.

Israel reacted furiously to the UNESCO decision, which came despite a flurry of diplomatic activity, and Netanyahu said Friday he would cut $1 million from money Israel gives the UN. He said the funds would instead go toward “the establishment of a ‘Museum of the Heritage of the Jewish People in Kiryat Arba and Hebron’” and to other projects related to Jewish heritage in Hebron.

Illustrative: Worshipers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. (Hebron Spokesperson's Office)
Illustrative: Worshipers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. (Hebron Spokesperson’s Office)

Netanyahu said he also ordered the completion of a visitors center at the City of David archaeological site in lieu of a separate May decision by UNESCO’s executive board to ratify a decision disputing Israel’s claim to Jerusalem.

“The entire world will see the truth and the first visitors whom I will invite there will be UNESCO and UN delegations,” he said of the Kedem Visitors Center.

The cut brings Israel’s slashing of funds to the UN to $10 million since December of last year. The announcement Friday marks the fourth time in eight months that Israel has reacted to UN resolutions it deems biased against it by announcing the slashing of its payments to the body. Israel will now pay just $1.7 million into the UN budget.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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