Israel is clashing with a United Nations body tasked with honoring heritage sites after it passed a draft resolution harshly critical of Israel as the “occupying power” over Jerusalem, and both US presidential campaigns joined in rejection.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed especially harsh words yesterday, dubbing the document submitted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as “delusional.” The group failed to mention by name the Temple Mount, a sacred site in Judaism believed to be located inside of the walls of the Noble Sanctuary, a religious plaza in the Old City that shelters the al-Aqsa mosque.
“To say that Israel has no connection to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall is like saying that China has no connection to the Great Wall of China or that Egypt has no connection to the pyramids,” Netanyahu said.
Israel’s ministry of foreign affairs released the type of barb it has frequently employed in recent months when faced with a political scuffle: a tongue and cheek video, in this case blasting the United Nations. In the clip a man with an English accent reads aloud from the Christian bible, replacing the words “Temple court” with “Haram al-Sharif/al-Aqsa mosque,” and wincing with each mention.
To an outsider, the messaging may seem confused. The video’s intended audience, American Christians, would recognize it as a jab at the United Nations for using the preferred Arabic or Muslim jargon to describe the religious complex in the Old City in their resolution, and not the terms favored by the Israeli government or many streams of Christianity, the “Temple Mount.”
While none of the phrases used by UNESCO innately negates the heritage of other religions to the sanctuary in Jerusalem, Israel views it as a word torpedo aimed at Judaism’s connection to Jerusalem. So do the Trump and Clinton camps, and the U.S. government, which voted against it.
The Trump campaign said, “The United Nations’ attempt to disconnect the State of Israel from Jerusalem is a one-sided attempt to ignore Israel’s 3,000-year bond to its capital city, and is further evidence of the enormous anti-Israel bias of the U.N.”
“It’s outrageous that UNESCO would deny the deep, historic connection between Judaism and the Temple Mount,” Clinton advisor Laura Rosenberger told the JTA.
The two-page document submitted yesterday by UNESCO’s board outlined a series of allegations against Israel, charging it for destruction to the ancient plaza. The brief narrowed in on Israeli programs that harm Muslim holy sites, including construction and excavations in areas of Muslim shrines, army damage to mosques in the religious complex, tourism ventures in East Jerusalem, “segregated roads” in the West Bank and the denial of a visa for a UN monitor.
The text was not without mentions of Judaism and Christianity, the areas of contention for Israel, Trump, and Clinton.
UNESCO included a paragraph stating the “importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions.” In a later section it stated the Christian and Jewish connection to heritage sites in the Bethlehem area. There is no specific mention of the Temple Mount or any explicit note of unique Jewish ties to the Old City.
However, UNESCO was quick to reply that the resolution is a rough draft and will likely be significantly altered come Tuesday, according to an official with the body in Paris. The official then directed Mondoweiss to a video statement by Michael Worbs, the chairperson of UNESCO, who said he does understand the Israeli frustration. “I understand this perception,” he said, but Jewish and Christian considerations were made.
“[B]ut [we] have also to admit for the first time, the Arab group added a paragraph saying at the beginning of the decision, saying, Jerusalem is a place of the three monotheistic religions so there is a recognition [of Judaism], although I do admit it was not balanced all over the text,” Worbs said, referencing the drafters, Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan.
The resolution passed the first vote yesterday by 24-6, with 26 abstentions. It will be finalized in another vote on Tuesday.
Not included in the flurry of condemnations today was the Palestinian government, which was busy holding a conference inside of the United Nations Security Council on Israeli settlements in the West Bank. If the Palestinians move forward, this will be their second attempt to seek Security Council intervention to end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
The roster of speakers at headquarters in New York included the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem and the organization American for Peace Now.
“After almost half a century of Israeli military control over millions of people, the occupation is only deepening, while the settlements – one of the main reasons for daily violations of Palestinians’ human rights – continue to expand,” B’Tselem said in advance of its presentation. “Under these circumstances, it would be unreasonable to consider the occupation temporary or to believe that Israel intends to change this reality in the foreseeable future.”