UNESCO cannot change history

UNESCO cannot change history

There was at least one piece of good news after votes by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, over the last two weeks that effectively denied the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount: The body has made clear just how feckless U.N. diplomacy is.

More countries opposed or abstained on the resolution than voted for it in the UNESCO executive board’s preliminary balloting on Oct. 13. In that vote, France and Sweden, which had previously announced support, abstained. Those abstentions denied the Palestinian-backed resolution any European support. (On Oct. 18, the executive board formally approved the resolution.)

Voting “no” were the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Estonia. This is far from the unequivocal denunciation that Israel’s outraged friends would have liked to see. The resolution was brought by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan. It ostensibly concerns the “safeguarding of the cultural heritage of Palestine” and affirms “the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions.” But throughout the text of the resolution, Jews and Judaism are absent — the Temple Mount is referred to only by its Muslim name. The text refers to Buraq Plaza, placing its English translation, Western Wall Plaza, in quotes, and criticizes Israel for its decision to build an egalitarian prayer area there.

To their credit, U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon and UNESCO’s director-general, Irina Bokova, distanced themselves from the resolution. Said Bokova, “To deny, conceal or erase any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site.” Mexican Ambassador Andres Roemer, who refused to support the resolution, even appears to have lost his job over the affair, although (after he was fired) his country changed its vote from one of approval to an abstention.

The resolution is part of the Palestinians’ non-violent agitation against Israel. But by erasing the Jewish presence in and connection to Jerusalem, beginning with King David’s conquest in the Bible — holy scripture for three religions — and continuing to the present day, the supporters are playing a zero-sum game with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one that will not encourage a solution.

One side effect of the resolution was a rare wall-to-wall denunciation by all American pro-Israel groups. On the left, Americans for Peace Now urged “United Nations agencies, when referring to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to avoid exclusionary and inflammatory language.” On the right, the Zionist Organization of America called the resolution “part of the Palestinian, Arab and, indeed, international campaign to delegitimize Israel’s existence.”

The resolution paints a picture that neither Israel nor her supporters recognize. The jump from criticizing Israeli behavior to erasing Jewish history is outrageous. But the resolution cannot change reality. The response of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin went right to the point: “We can understand criticism,” he said, “but you cannot change history.” Amen.