There is no shortage of outrages and lies spewing forth from high places these days, but one lie that received little attention deserves close notice: UNESCO, the United Nations cultural and education body, approved a resolution that goes a long way toward denying Jewish and Christians ties to Jerusalem’s Old City.
It is a resolution that denies reality, that erases facts and, most importantly, one that marks a step against reconciliation and peace. It will serve only to embolden extremists on all sides and confirms Israelis’ fears that the international community, especially the United Nations, remains committed to an anti-Israel agenda.
To be sure, there are signs that many in the international community see the effort for what it is — an effort to delegitimize the existence of the world’s only Jewish state. But many, including France, Spain, Italy and others, have found it difficult to tap into their courage and integrity.
The good news is that the majority did not vote in favor. In committee, the resolution was approved by a minority: 24 in favor, 6 against, and 26 abstaining. When a similar vote was taken in April, a majority supported it.
These countries voted No: Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, Netherlands, United Kingdom and United States. In Mexico, which supported the resolution, the government twisted itself into embarrassing diplomatic knots, rejecting its own vote.
The one-sided, anti-Israel text was written by Palestinians and introduced by seven Arab countries, including Sudan, whose president has been indicted for war crimes for the genocide in Darfur, and Egypt, which has relations with Israel but whose government apparently has not broken with the practice of promoting lies about Israel to bolster popular support.
The resolution is entitled “Occupied Palestine,” and accuses Israel of all manner of assaults, particularly in the most disputed part of the Old City of Jerusalem, the area known to Jews and Christians as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, Arabic for the Noble Sanctuary.
The area contains the holiest sites in Judaism, where according to overwhelming archeological and historical evidence — in addition to the Jewish bible and the Christian gospels — the ancient Jewish temples stood. Today, it is a religious epicenter. Above stand the Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest, along with the Dome of the Rock, teeming with Muslim worshipers. The plaza below is always filled with Jews at the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall, where Jews have prayed for 2,000 years, since the Romans destroyed the Temple.
In Rome’s Arch of Titus, which celebrates the event, one can see the loot from the Temple, including a Jewish menorah.
But in UNESCO’s resolution, Jewish and Christian history does not exist. Jews surface only in the present, as a malevolent force, mercilessly attacking Palestinians for no reason at all.
The resolution acknowledges the importance of Jerusalem to the three monotheistic religions, but it refers to the site only as Haram al-Sharif, never mentioning its Jewish and Christian name. And when it talks about the plaza, the site of the Western Wall, it calls it the Buraq plaza, its Arabic name.
The Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews are allowed to pray (they are banned from praying in the upper area, an even holier location, where the mosque stands, managed by Muslim authorities) is the last remaining structure from the Second Temple, as proved by incontrovertible archeological evidence. In the resolution, the words “Western Wall Plaza” appear in quotation marks, seeming to question the place’s connection to Judaism.
The resolution is such a travesty that even UNESCO chief Irina Bokova despaired of the counter-productive absurdity. “To deny, conceal or erase any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site,” she said in a statement, noting it makes UNESCO’s job of promoting peace and dialogue more difficult. In fact, it makes UNESCO a tool of deceit and a promoter of conflict.
The Palestinian Authority President celebrated. In Israel, leaders from the left, right and center were livid. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said no one in the world “can come and deny the connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel and Jerusalem.” Those who do, he said, simply embarrass themselves. Opposition leader Isaac Herzog said UNESCO gives “a bad name to diplomacy.” Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat wondered if UNESCO would deny the Muslim connection to Mecca.
Hamas, which rejects Israel’s right to exist, called the vote a step forward. A right-wing Israeli leader called for increasing Israel’s presence in the holy places. Anyone deluded enough to think this vote would help bring about a Palestinian state got it tragically wrong. It accomplished exactly the opposite.
Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review, and a former CNN producer and correspondent. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers