UNESCO has continued its campaign of politicising religious sites in Israel and the West Bank today. This is unacceptable, but it is important to note that much of the press reporting on the motion and some of the responses of Israeli politicians have been hyperbolic and misleading. This time, UNESCO did not deny Jewish history in Jerusalem, as they did in October last year. Indeed, the motion positively affirms the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem, the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem in the three Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Nor did UNESCO – as some of the reporting has implied – deny Israeli sovereignty in West Jerusalem. The resolution refuses to recognise Israeli sovereignty east of the Green Line, a position – rightly or wrongly – maintained by all international governments and institutions.
However, it is important to note that this resolution is designed as a political move against Israel on Israel’s own Independence Day. The timing of the resolution – passed on Yom Ha’atzmaut – cannot be considered anything less than a deliberate affront to Israeli sensitivities. While many of the points it makes are fair, it is fundamentally one-sided in its approach to holy and historical sites in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. An international body should be trying to reduce tensions. Instead, the nations of the UNESCO Executive Board have chosen to double down on the unacceptable politicisation of holy and historical sites. As the UK delegation noted in its Explanation of Vote, the resolution “risks hardening positions”, as well as ignoring the role of terrorism and “maintaining an excessive focus on Israel”. It is absolutely right that the UK voted against the motion.
It should also be said, though, that for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to declare that “there is no other people in the world for whom Jerusalem is as holy and important as for the Jewish people” and simultaneously accuse the rest of the world of one-sidedness is the height of hubris.
To read the UNESCO motion yourself, click here.
To read the UK delegation’s Explanation of Vote, click here.
The final vote tallies were:
22 nations in favour, including Russia, China, Brazil, South Africa, Iran, and the 7 Arab countries that proposed the motion: Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, and Sudan
10 against, including the UK, the USA, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands
23 abstaining, including India, France, Spain, and Japan
First posted on Yachad’s Facebook page