On 13 October 2016 UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – voted by a staggering 24 to 6 (with 26 abstentions and two absentees) to negate the Jewish heritage of Jerusalem. In essence, UNESCO voted to rewrite history.
The motion itself, although recognising the significance of Jerusalem to Islam, Judaism and Christianity, chose to whitewash the Jewish history on the Temple Mount, Har-Habayit, where the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Golden Dome now stand. The site today is hugely significant to Muslims, but to betray the Jewish people by questioning or even deleting any sort of Jewish historical connection there, is a sad and dangerous route for a body of the United Nations to be travelling down. Not only does the motion not acknowledge any Jewish connection to the Temple Mount itself, but it goes even further than that, questioning the Jewish connection to the Western Wall – the Kotel, where Jews come from all over the world to pray. So to clarify, not only does it deny the existence of historical Jewish sites – it also denies of Jewishness of existing historical sites.
This isn’t a matter of religious or theological debate, like a motion questioning whether or not Moses literally parted the Red Sea. Not only is there significance of quite literally biblical proportion attached to the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount and Kotel plaza, but there is irrefutable archaeological evidence of this connection. Coins with Hebrew written on them, Jewish artefacts, archaeological discoveries at other sites referring to the Jewish temple in that location, and of course the archaeological and historical evidence of the Temple’s destruction. UNESCO has decided to ignore all of that, and completely disregard any sort of historical connection, placing only Muslim significance on the Haram al-Sharif.
The saddest part of this is clear to me. It isn’t the disregard UNESCO has shown for Judaism and the Jewish people. It isn’t the lack of mass international outrage against this or the lack of any condemnation from the UN Secretary General. The saddest part for me is held within UNESCO’s stated aims – “Building peace in minds of men and women”. This motion, simply and truthfully will do one thing and one thing alone and that is build a UNESCO shaped wedge between Jews and Muslims doing nothing to build or get closer to peace between Israel and Palestinians.
As we know, a solution to the conflict will require both sides to recognise the other and their legitimacy. UNESCO has instead rubber-stamped the fantasy held by some that if they deny Jewish history in the region long enough, so too our current presence will also somehow mysteriously evaporate.
It is sad to say that an organisation with such laudable aims has taken such a backwards step into the dark. Looking at this motion, and the disproportionate number of other motions passed by UN bodies against Israel (e.g. the U.N. General Assembly’s 2015 session adopting 20 resolutions against Israel and 3 on the rest of the world combined – Syria, Iran and North Korea) is it any wonder that Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu refers to the United Nations as the “Theatre of the absurd”?
Arieh Miller is the Executive Director of the Zionist Federation UK