A group of US lawmakers urged members of a UNESCO panel to vote against a resolution Wednesday that ignores Jewish and Christian ties to the Temple Mount.
The United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee is set to vote on Wednesday on a resolution similar to the one ratified last week by the body’s executive board. The resolution raised hackles in Israel and among Jewish groups for excluding references to Jewish and Christian ties to Jerusalem’s holy sites, and was criticized by UN Chief Ban Ki-moon and UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.
The UNESCO heritage committee’s 21 member states are expected to vote on Wednesday in Paris on the resolution, entitled, “Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls.” As with last week’s contentious text, the latest draft is expected to pass with a comfortable majority.
In a bipartisan, bicameral letter similar to the one sent to the executive board before its vote last week, and initiated by Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida), the group of senators and congressmen call the proposed resolution “yet another attempt to rewrite history by denying Jewish and Christian ties to Jerusalem.”
“The upcoming resolution at the World Heritage Committee is every bit as divisive as the Executive Board resolution, despite Jerusalem’s inscription as a holy city for Judaism, Christianity and Islam on UNESCO’s World Heritage list,” the letter, which was signed by 10 lawmakers including Cruz and Ros-Lehtinen, read.
The lawmakers warned that “attempting to erase the Jewish and Christian connection to this sacred city will further damage the prospects of peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” calling on “member states of the World Heritage Committee to respect and protect the religious, cultural, and historical significance of Jerusalem and to uphold the values and ideals enshrined in UNESCO’s Constitution.”
Cruz said the resolution was another “pernicious effort to delegitimize Israel” and urged members to “vote against this resolution that attempts to rewrite thousands of years of Jerusalem’s Jewish identity, which has been scientifically reaffirmed by the archaeological record.”
In a Washington Times op-ed, Cruz criticized President Barack Obama for allowing the resolution at UNESCO’s executive board to go through, arguing that the president was prioritizing “his political legacy over the national security interests of the United States — which would be a secure and sovereign Israel.”
“America should be rallying our friends and allies to oppose these insidious UNESCO resolutions that attempt to undermine the historic connection of the Israeli people with all of their country, including their capital, Jerusalem,” Cruz wrote.
Ros-Lehtinen said that “some of the organization’s members appear single-minded in their efforts to attack the Jewish State, the only country to respect religious freedom in a region beset by religious violence,” and slammed “the continued hypocrisy and repeated attempts by UNESCO members to distort the truth.”
She said the move must be seen for what it is, “part and parcel of the larger anti-Israel agenda that exists across the UN system, one designed to delegitimize and isolate the Jewish State.”
The other signatories to the letter are by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.); and Reps. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Kay Granger (R-Texas), Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), and Ed Royce (R-Calif.).
A draft of the resolution set to go before the World Heritage Committee obtained by The Times of Israel once again refers to the Temple Mount compound solely by its Muslim names, “Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif,” and defines it only as “a Muslim holy site of worship.” As the site of the Biblical temples, the mount is the holiest place in Judaism.
While last week’s text did include one passage with a mention of the importance of Jerusalem’s Old City for “the three monotheistic religions,” the heritage committee’s resolution text includes no references to Jewish or Christian ties to the area’s holy sites.
According to Israeli officials, there is some chance that the Arab nations sponsoring the resolution — Kuwait, Lebanon and Tunisia — will agree to insert a similar passage in the final draft, in order to ensure that Western countries vote for the resolution, or at least abstain.
Last week’s resolution referred to Israel as “the occupying power” at the holy sites. The new resolution does not. Nor does the new version put quotation marks around the Jewish term “Western Wall,” a punctuation seen in Israel as further bolstering the original resolution’s disdain of a Jewish connection to Judaism’s holiest site. Israel’s envoy to UNESCO, Carmel Shama-Hacohen, said over the weekend that these seemingly minor changes in so hostile a text nonetheless mark significant concessions on the part of Arab states, which would not have been achievable only a few months ago.
Last week’s resolution was approved at the UNESCO committee stage on October 13 with 24 “yes” votes, six “no” votes and 26 abstentions, and then formally confirmed by UNESCO’s executive on October 18, sparking vociferous condemnation in Israel, as well as from UNESCO’s own director and several foreign leaders. A chorus of Israeli politicians, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but including left-wing lawmakers, slammed the decision as absurd and UNESCO as detached from reality.
Mexico and Brazil, which voted in favor of the resolution, later expressed regret and vowed to abstain in future votes on the matter. Italy, which abstained, said it would henceforth vote against similar resolutions.
Italy, Brazil and Mexico are not members of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, and thus will not be able to vote on Wednesday.
The 21 nations that will vote on the text are: Finland, Poland, Portugal, Croatia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Tunisia, Kuwait, Lebanon, Peru, Cuba, Jamaica, Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Angola and Tanzania.
According to Shama-Hacohen, Netanyahu instructed him to work to convince countries likely to abstain to go further and cast a vote against the resolution, arguing that an abstention is akin to support.
Shama-Hacohen added that an ambassador from a leading Arab state had told him he did not understand what the Palestinians were trying to accomplish with their resolutions, but that political pressures meant his government was forced to toe the Palestinian line.