It would seem that there is no limit to the hatred that the UN is willing to direct towards Israel and towards the Jewish people. While the mission of the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO) is apolitical at face value, it has in practice been used as a tool for the systemic delegitimization of Israel as well as denial of Jewish and Christian claims to religious sites shared across all Abrahamic faiths. It has in the past ratified resolutions referring to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, as an occupied city. It has also referred to the Western Wall and Temple Mount solely by their Islamic names, and deliberately ignored the connection that Jewish and Christian people have to these sites. The Western Wall has for thousands of years been the holiest place that Jewish people have been able to pray, and the Temple Mount is, of course, the holiest site in Judaism as well as the location where Jesus challenged Temple Authorities, likely the act which led to his crucifixion. While UNESCO has been widely criticized for its perceived erasure of Jewish and Christian identities and holy sites, UNESCO has not been deterred from its crusade against Israel.
UNESCO is meeting in Poland for its 41st session, which means it is time to go after Israel again with two new resolutions. The first, which passed on Tuesday, refers to Israel as an occupying power in Jerusalem and condemns the excavations and archeology projects which Israel has used to unearth Jewish artifacts from biblical times. The second, which passed on Friday, declares Hebron a Palestinian “world heritage site in danger.” Hebron is a biblical city, and home to the world’s oldest Jewish community, and is now in the territory administered by the Palestinian Authority. Hebron also contains the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the place where Abraham is believed to have been buried.
That said, describing Tuesday’s vote on Jerusalem as a United Nations resolution could be a bit deceptive. While the United Nations is, in theory, a body for all nations, due to the anti-egalitarian and technocratic way that UN committees work, only 21 of the 193 member states participated in the UNESCO vote on Jerusalem. Only ten voted in favor of the resolution, with eight abstaining and three opposing. The nations in favor were Azerbaijan, Cuba, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Tunisia, Turkey, Vietnam and Zimbabwe. Together, these 10 nations have a population of around 503 million, or around 6.7% of the world’s population. Due to UN rules, a small biased group of mostly undemocratic nations constituting less than a majority of an already small panel, representing a fifteenth of the world’s population has the authority to deny recognition of religious sites to millions of Jews and billions of Christians.
Not content with attacking the world’s only Jewish State, the UNESCO committee also chose to spit in the face of the Jews massacred in the Holocaust during the vote. During the proceedings, the Israeli ambassador noted the proximity of the meeting to the death camp of Auschwitz and requested a moment of silence for those who were brutally murdered there, a gesture that it is hard to imagine any decent human being taking issue with. To his credit the Palestinian Ambassador did stand for the moment of silence. Not everybody was so respectful, however. The Cuban delegate in one breath objected that only the chair was allowed to call for a minute of silence and accused the Israeli delegate of politicizing the meeting, and in the next breath without a hint of irony called for a minute of silence for the Palestinian people.
For all the tension around the Jerusalem vote, however, the vote itself was just a precursor to Friday’s Hebron vote. UNESCO has passed many symbolic votes minimizing or denying the connection between Israel and Jerusalem, and the vote that passed was actually a watered down version that at least recognized that Jerusalem is important to all Abrahamic faiths and not just Islam. The Hebron vote, which declared the city Islamic and granted sole ownership of the burial site Abraham, the Jewish Patriarch and one of the most important Christian prophets, to Palestine is unprecedented, and has drawn fierce opposition by both Israel and by the US, which cautioned that such a vote would be deleterious to the peace process. The vote breakdown was thirteen to three, with five abstentions, and votes were done through a closed ballot.
Defenders of the resolutions have argued that describing Hebron as Islamic and ascribing ownership of religious sites to Palestine does not constitute a denial of the history with those locations that Jewish and Christian people also share. But the actions of the Palestinian religious authorities paint a different picture, according to Christian and Jewish critics. Only limited numbers of Christian and Jewish victors are permitted into the Temple Mount, and only Muslims are permitted to pray there. Non-Muslims who break this rule have been subject to attack from Muslim worshippers as well as removal from the location by security forces. The Tomb of the Patriarchs is also a highly contested religious location, and while non-Muslim prayer is permitted with restrictions, and the site is administered by the Waqf, or Islamic Trust. Opponents of the resolutions argue that recognizing these sites as Palestinian and Islamic continues the pattern of denying the right to prayer and recognition at important holy sites to non-Muslims as well.
So what do the UN resolutions actually do? Not much. Israel has already declared that UNESCO was incorrect, and it seems unlikely that Israeli activity is going to change much at the recommendation of a body widely perceived as biased against Israel and deeply anti-Semitic. The only real result seems to have been the escalation of tensions, the rejection of Christian and Jewish history and prayer, and increased hostility between Israel and the primarily Islamic UNESCO panel which approved these resolutions. UNESCO, it would seem, is willing to sacrifice peace in order to spite Israel.
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