UNESCO to vote on text describing Temple Mt, Western Wall as Muslim holy sites
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UNESCO to vote on text describing Temple Mt, Western Wall as Muslim holy sites

In letter ahead of debate, 39 US legislators urge agency to reject resolution, slam ‘obsessive hostility towards Israel’

An aerial view of the Temple Mount as seen on March 1, 2013. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
An aerial view of the Temple Mount as seen on March 1, 2013. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

A group of 39 US lawmakers called on UNESCO to oppose a resolution that would challenge Jewish and Christian historical ties to the Old City of Jerusalem.

In a letter initiated by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) to the Executive Board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the lawmakers from both houses of Congress slammed what they called the UN’s “obsessive hostility towards Israel.”

That hostility, they wrote, “will be on display yet again this week as UNESCO considers another blatantly biased resolution that unjustly singles out our close ally Israel with false accusations and criticism, and attempts to erase the specific deep-rooted, historical connection of Jews and Christians to Jerusalem, Israel’s eternal capital.”

UNESCO’s Executive Board is meeting in Paris from October 4 to 18. Item 25 on the board’s agenda, under the title “Occupied Palestine,” “seems to prioritize the Muslim heritage of the Old City, while diminishing the ties of either of the other religions,” the letter reads.

Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas and 2016 presidential candidate, listens at a campaign stop at the Jewish Center of Brighton Beach in the Brooklyn borough of New York, U.S., on Thursday, April 7, 2016. (Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg/via JTA)
Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas and 2016 presidential candidate, listens at a campaign stop at the Jewish Center of Brighton Beach in the Brooklyn borough of New York, U.S., on Thursday, April 7, 2016. (Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg/via JTA)

The resolution, postponed from July’s meeting of the board in Istanbul, refers to holy sites in Jerusalem and its environs solely by their Muslim name.

It refers to Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs as the al-Ḥaram al-Ibrāhīmī and to Rachel’s Tomb outside Bethlehem as the Bilāl ibn Rabāḥ Mosque.

According to the lawmakers, “the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, along with the Western Wall, where Jews from all over the world have come to pray, are described exclusively as Muslim holy sites and referred to only by their Muslim names. When the Western Wall is referenced, it is only with quotation marks, implying that the title is unofficial and not based on historic fact.”

Ros-Lehtinen slammed the resolution’s “ill intent.”

Its purpose, she said, was “to deny the historical record of the Jewish peoples’ connections to their holiest city and to imply that Jerusalem is inconsequential to Jews and Christians, with the intent of laying the groundwork for additional UN efforts to delegitimize Israel and undermine its status as the capital of the Jewish State,” she wrote.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida. (AP/Harry Hamburg)
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida. (AP/Harry Hamburg)

The document relating to the agenda item shows that the resolution under discussion in Paris was itself a toned-down version of a virulently anti-Israel proposal raised in Istanbul.

The resolution removed a call for a return to what it called “the historic status quo” at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. Israel is no longer referred to as the “occupying power,” and the Western Wall is no longer referred to as the Al-Buraq Plaza.

In June, the Palestinian delegation to UNESCO claimed Israel was preventing free Muslim access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, a claim Israel has vociferously denied.

Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque is built on the site of the two biblical Jewish temples, Judaism’s holiest spot. Muslims regard it as the third-holiest site in Islam.

While Jews are allowed to enter the site, their worship there is banned under arrangements instituted by Israel when it captured the area from Jordan in 1967.

The latest document notes that in July “the Director-General issued a statement on the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls… recalling notably that… the Old City of Jerusalem is the sacred city of the three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and that each of its communities has a right to the explicit recognition of their history and relationship with the city.”

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