The Jewish world was united in incredulity on Thursday after the passing of a UNESCO resolution acknowledging Temple Mount’s importance to Islam – with no reference to its Jewish significance.
The 58-member United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) passed the “inflammatory” resolution with 24 votes in favour and 26 abstentions. Six countries, including the UK and the US, voted against.
The incendiary motion was proposed by several Muslim countries, including Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan, but Yachad, a British Jewish organisation, said it would “set back the cause of peace,” because it would “play into the hands of those on both sides of the conflict who see it as a holy war”.
In a letter to Britain’s ambassador to UNESCO, Yachad director Hannah Weisfeld said: “Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, as a key holy site in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, is a flashpoint in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
She added: “A decision by UNESCO to affirm the important Islamic connection to the site without also recognising its crucial place in Judaism as the location of the First and Second Temples can only be seen as an inflammatory denial of Jewish history.”
Zionist Federation chairman Paul Charney agreed, saying: “UNESCO’S motion white-washing the Jewish character of Judaism’s holiest sites is an acute example of institutional anti-Semitism.”
Board of Deputies Senior Vice President Richard Verber said the motion “is a disgraceful and frankly ridiculous attempt to erase thousands of years of Jewish history for political ends. It is telling that the Palestinian Authority abuses its place in the international sphere to undermine coexistence and rewrite history. We expect that work will continue to right this wrong and we would like to thank the UK Government for taking a principled stance on this issue as one of only six countries to vote against the motion.”
Simon Johnson, the CEO of the Jewish Leadership Council said the “decision makes a mockery of the institution. It is comparable to removing the association of Bethlehem from Christianity or pretending that the Old Testament never existed. It ignores years of history and archaeological proof of the Jewish connection to Jerusalem. Whilst we would like to thank the UK Government representative for voting against the motion, UNESCO has proved itself spineless, biased and politically motivated.”
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis posted a statement on Facebook, in which he says the resolution “whitewashes our deep and eternal relationship with Judaism’s holiest site”. He calls it “an affront to our identity and undermines positive dialogue for peace in the region.”
Israeli envoy Carmel Shama Hacohen said: “The Jewish people don’t need UNESCO’s or any other country’s confirmation of the special connection between the Jewish people… and the holy sites like the Western Wall and the Temple Mount.”
She added: “There is no connection of another people to another place in the world that comes close to the strength and depth of our connection to Jerusalem from a religious, historical and national perspective, a connection that has stood the test of 2,000 years.”
A joint statement was issued by Conservative Friends of Israel, from Parliamentary Chairman Sir Eric Pickles MP, CFI Honorary President Lord Polak CBE and CFI Executive Director James Gurd, calling the vote “an affront to both history and the Jewish community worldwide.” They add: “The UK’s principled vote against this deplorable motion deserves praise and we hope that the UK will impress upon its international partners how unacceptable this move is”.
World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder called the move ‘shameful’. He said in a statement, that “it is hard to believe that only six countries had the courage to vote against this one-sided, hateful text which promotes a political agenda at UNESCO aimed at pillorying Israel and at denying the Jewish link to Jerusalem”. He added, “We urge all democratic nations to work hard to revert this decision.”
President Reuven Rivlin said: “The festivals of Israel all highlight the inextricable bond between our people and our land, and no forum or body in the world can come and deny the connection between the Jewish people, the Land of Israel and Jerusalem. Any such body that does simply embarrasses itself.”
He added: “We can understand criticism, but you cannot change history.”