UNESCO gave preliminary approval Thursday, Oct. 13, to a resolution treating the Temple Mount as strictly a Muslim holy site, repeatedly deriding Israel as “the occupying power” in Jerusalem, accusing Israel of violations of Muslim religious rights, and blaming Israelis for all the violence that has occurred on and near the Temple Mount in the past year.
The resolution, expected to receive final approval next week from the executive board of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, never uses the term “Temple Mount.” It instead uses the Muslim term for the site, Al-Haram Al-Sharif, and talks about the main mosque on the site, Al-Aqsa.
Regarding the Western Wall, which is the outer retaining wall built in Herod’s time for the Second Temple, the resolution uses Al-Buraq Plaza, although it does include “Western Wall Plaza” (in quotes) while condemning Israeli plans to establish an egalitarian prayer area near the Mughrabi Gate.
The resolution acknowledges that the Old City of Jerusalem is important to “the three monotheistic religions” but treats all the Old City’s ancient sites, as well as the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem, as part of “the cultural heritage of Palestine.”
The only reference to Judaism appears in an acknowledgment of the religious significance of the sites in Hebron and Bethlehem to Judaism, Islam and Christianity. The only use of “Jewish” comes in the criticism of the planned prayer area near the Mughrabi Gate. Jews are not mentioned.
“What’s next?” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted. “A UNESCO decision denying the connection between peanut butter and jelly? Batman and Robin? Rock and roll?”
In a statement, he compared denying Israel’s link to the Temple Mount to saying China has no link to the Great Wall or Egypt has no connection to the pyramids.
“Would UNESCO vote to deny the Christian connection to the Vatican? Or the Muslim connection to Mecca?” Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said. “The UNESCO vote claims that there is no connection between the Jewish people and the Western Wall. In fact, it is the UNESCO vote that has no connection to reality.”
The decision came the day after Yom Kippur and a little more than three days before Sukkot starts at sundown Sunday, Oct. 16.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin pointed out the connection between Jerusalem and Sukkot, when Jews would make a pilgrimage to the holy city.
“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, and any such body that does so simply embarrasses itself,” Rivlin said. “We can understand criticism, but you cannot change history.”
UNESCO passed a similar resolution in April, and Israel could claim a minor victory: France, Spain, Slovenia, Argentina and India, which voted in favor of the earlier resolution, were among 26 nations that abstained Thursday.
“The fact that more states abstained than supported the resolution underscores the deep reservations of many states with regard to this shameful resolution,” Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said. “The countries that supported this resolution have lent their voice to the lie propagated by the Palestinians that the Temple Mount is an exclusively Islamic site. This falsification of history is an affront to the ancient Jewish and Christian connections to Jerusalem.”
Voting for the resolution at the meeting in Paris were its sponsors, Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan, as well as Bangladesh, Brazil, Chad, China, the Dominican Republic, Iran, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Senegal, South Africa and Vietnam.
Voting no were the United States, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
American Jewish leaders joined Israeli officials in condemning UNESCO.
“At a time when so many archaeological discoveries reaffirm the historical Jewish ties to Jerusalem and the sanctity and security of the holy places of all religions has been re-established after decades of neglect and discrimination between 1948 and 1967, these results simply ignore facts and deny reality,” said a statement from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations’ top leaders, Stephen Greenberg and Malcolm Hoenlein. “We thank the U.S. for their leadership opposing these discriminatory resolutions and deeply regret that France, Argentina and others still did not vote against the resolution, even though they abstained. This is a moral issue. There can be no equivocation.”
“What happened today in Paris is anti-Semitism on steroids. It is a total travesty and an insult to the Jewish people to pretend that the holy sites in Jerusalem are only Muslim sites and to ignore the fact that Temple Mount was already the holiest place of Judaism well before the advent of Islam,” World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder said.
“Just yesterday, at the conclusion of the holy day of Yom Kippur, Jews around the world ended their hours of prayer and fasting with the statement ‘Next year in Jerusalem.’ They did so because of the centrality of the holy city in our faith and national identity, a central role Jerusalem has played for more than 3,000 years,” said Nathan Diament, the executive director for public policy of the Orthodox Union. “UNESCO’s leadership has approved a blatantly biased resolution that attempts to erase the specific, deep-rooted, historical connection of Jews (and Christians) to Jerusalem, Israel’s eternal capital. It also unjustly singles out Israel with false accusations and criticism with regard to recent acts of terrorism.”
Diament said the nations that voted for the resolution, an effort to delegitimize Israel, should be ashamed.