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unesco vote on jerusalem postponed

REPORT FROM  FRAN BUTENSKY, ICJW REPRESENATIVE TO UN NY,  July 12, 2016

In a victory for Israel and the Jewish People, the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO, the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, meeting in Istanbul from July 10th to 20th, postponed a vote on a draft resolution that would challenge Jewish historical and religious ties to the city of Jerusalem. 

The vote was reportedly postponed minutes before the proceedings began when the Jordanian and Palestinian delegations, which had proposed the draft, found that they would not have enough votes to ensure its adoption. 

While it is not clear at this time if they will try to bring up the draft again, the postponement is a victory for us and for the reputation of UNESCO. (The Palestinian Authority has been admitted to membership in UNESCO as “Palestine”, in violation of the UNESCO constitution, even though it is not a state.)

The draft resolution, which was a follow up to a draft adopted some months ago, would have called on Israel to halt all of its archeological and restoration work in and around the Old City of Jerusalem and would have labeled the Temple Mount as a Muslim site, thus reinforcing the Palestinian Authority’s bogus claim that the Jews have no rights there or at the Western Wall, which was built by King Herod as a retaining wall for the Temple Mount centuries before the founding of Islam. The Wall has been the most hallowed site for Jewish worshippers for over two thousand years. Such a resolution as the one proposed, probably would also incite more Palestinian Arab violence, which has derived from false Palestinian claims that Israel is endangering or is planning to endanger the Muslim holy sites on the Mount.

In a letter to UNESCO, the Director-General of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Ambassador Dore Gold, wrote “As the historical heritage sites of this area are being systematically destroyed by jihadist forces, such as the Islamic State, in Syria and Iraq, UNESCO’s adoption of utterly false allegations about Israeli archaeological practices is misplaced and hypocritical, at best.” He accused UNESCO of being “totally disconnected from reality.”

The current claim about Israel’s archaeological excavations brings to mind UNESCO discrimination against Israel dating back to the 1970s. At that time the agency voted for sanctions against Israel for conducting archaeological excavations in Jerusalem after then UNESCO Director-General, Amadou-Mahtar M’Bow’s own expert, Professor Raymond LeMaire, found the digs were carried out in accordance with established international standards, Muslim holy places were protected, and archaeological relics from all periods of antiquity were preserved.

This time, at least for now, the draft resolution, which as Director-General Gold ably put it, is “totally disconnected from reality” has not been adopted.

Credit must also go to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who repeatedly referred during his trip last week to several African countries to his Paris initiative, about which I have been in touch with him. One of his strategic goals, he stated, is to break the automatic anti-Israel majority in international forums that in the past could be counted on to vote reflexively against Israel. And, as I have reported previously, he wishes to begin with countries that wish to cooperate with Israel and derive benefit from Israel’s expertise in counterterrorism and technology.