UNESCO’s executive board adopts Jerusalem resolution

Despite last-ditch Israeli efforts, motion ignoring Jewish and Christian historical ties to holy sites is ratified by cultural body

Raoul Wootliff is the Times of Israel's former political correspondent and producer of the Daily Briefing podcast.

Tisha B'Av prayers at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, August 13, 2016. (Yaakov Lederman/Flash90)
Tisha B'Av prayers at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, August 13, 2016. (Yaakov Lederman/Flash90)

In spite of an Israeli effort to delay a final vote, the UN cultural agency on Tuesday adopted a controversial Arab-sponsored resolution on East Jerusalem that ignores Jewish and Christian historical ties to Jerusalem holy sites.

“It was adopted,” a UNESCO spokesman said of the resolution, which led Israel last week to suspend its cooperation with the Paris-based agency.

The resolution, passed Thursday in the committee stage of the United Nations cultural body, 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 sites.

All resolutions passed at this year’s General Conference were validated by the UNESCO Executive Board in a blanket vote.

Twenty-three nations approved the motion on Tuesday, six voted against (including the US, UK and Germany) and 25 abstained. That vote was identical to Thursday’s vote in the committee stage, except that Mexico moved from a yes vote to an abstention.

In a surprise announcement Monday night, Mexico, which originally supported the resolution, announced that it had changed its position and wanted to abstain. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said earlier on Tuesday that based on its new position, Mexico was working to utilize a rare provision to allow for a revote at the committee stage, but in the event Mexico withdrew the demand for a revote and no such revote was held. The ministry also said that Brazil had expressed opposition despite initially supporting the motion.

“Our [diplomatic] efforts will continue and we expect all countries to support our position on this issue,” the ministry said in a statement after the resolution was adopted.

Mexico's ambassador to UNESCO, Andres Roemer (Wikimedia Commons, Werther mx, CC BY-SA 4.0)
Mexico’s ambassador to UNESCO, Andres Roemer (Wikimedia Commons, Werther mx, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Mexico’s ambassador Andres Roemer, who walked out of last Thursday’s session and considered resigning in protest at his country’s initial support for the resolution, was fired from his post on Tuesday.

Despite Israeli diplomatic missions being closed Tuesday due to the observance of the Sukkot festival around the world, the Foreign Ministry allowed the UNESCO mission in Paris to work in a last-ditch effort to try to prevent the resolution from being adopted.

The head of UNESCO’s executive board, Michael Worbs, had expressed hope Friday that the resolution would not go to a formal vote on Tuesday, but would instead be deferred to give dialogue a chance.

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

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

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, Irina Bokova, also Friday signaled her dismay and opposition to the motion, 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.

Bokova’s statement came after Israel announced 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.”

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 resolution, with some accusing the UN’s cultural arm of anti-Semitism.

Lawmakers from both the right and left of the political spectrum said the decision was unbefitting of UNESCO.

AFP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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