UNESCO’s Collapse of Credibility

Lying and spinning history are becoming an international disease.  On May 3, 2016, the world learned that the White House had deliberately falsified information about Obama administration’s relations with Iran.  A month earlier, the spinning and falsification of history had been demonstrated at the headquarters in Paris of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

Yet the difference between the two is meaningful.  Whatever one’s views of the correctness of U.S. policy on Iran, the White House acted for political reasons, though falsely, to score a policy success.  UNESCO was created in 1945 after World War II not as a political body, but to contribute to peace that would be established on the basis of humanity’s moral and intellectual solidarity.

UNESCO betrayed its own principles and ethos by the resolution, passed by the Executive Board on April 16, 2016.  Not only inaccurate historically and factually, the resolution was one partly of self-protection for reasons of security, but mainly based on hatred and animosity toward the State of Israel and, on the part of some countries, of anti-Semitism.

The resolution, submitted by seven Arab countries including Egypt, passed by 33 in favor, 6 against, and 17 abstentions.  France, Spain, Russia, and Sweden voted in favor; the U.S, the U.K., and Germany voted against.  The vote of France, which has experienced terrorist massacres in Paris, was particularly surprising and disappointing.  UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova dissociated herself from the resolution, saying it was a political decision by the economic council and the management council of UNESCO and that she herself was opposed to it.

UNESCO does not have a good record regarding Israel and Jewish holy places.  In 2010, and again in October 2015, resolutions proclaimed that Rachel’s tomb near Bethlehem and the Cave with the tombs of the Jewish patriarchs in Hebron (Ma’arat HaMachpela), which are mentioned in Genesis, are Islamic holy sites.  The new 2016 resolution reaffirms that the two sites are an integral part of “Palestine” and calls on Israel to end its illegal archeological excavations there.

The resolution in strong terms condemned Israeli actions in east Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip, but most pointedly it concentrated on supposed Israeli actions on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and the Plaza of the Western Wall in the Old City.  The resolution referred to the area of the Temple as al-Aqsa Mosque/al-Ha-ram al Sharif, and to the Western Wall as al-Buraq Plaza, implying they are regarded as Muslim areas.  UNESCO thus refused to recognize the 3,000-year historic and religious connection between the Jewish people and those holy sites in Jerusalem and in Israel.

For some years the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have used spin and false rumors that Israel intended to change the status quo on the Mount.  The UNESCO majority accepted the spin and charged that Israel does not respect the integrity, authenticity, and cultural heritage of the mosque as a holy site of worship.  The resolution requires Israel to restore the status of the Mount to what it was before 1967.

This in itself is the height of hypocrisy as well as the rewriting of history.  Two things are pertinent.  One is that since 1967 and Israeli control of Jerusalem, all faiths have had access to the holy places in the city.  By comparison, in the period, 1948 to 1967, when the area of Jerusalem and the West Bank were under Jordanian control, the city was physically divided, Jewish civilians were attacked, and 57 synagogues were destroyed.

The second factor is that conditions in the disputed area changed in September 2000, when Arafat deliberately started the Second Intifada and falsely declared that Israel was about to change access to the Mount.  In fact, at that time, the Jordan Wakf had full control of the area, including access to it.  Today, the site is under the authority, but not the control, of the Wakf.  It was the very Palestinian riots provoked by Arafat that led to Israeli control of access to the site for security reasons.

Today, only Muslims are allowed to pray on the Mount.  Jewish worship has been forbidden there since 1967.  The resolution calls on Israel not to restrict Muslim worshippers from access to the mosque, but Israel has never had any intention to do so.

Not surprisingly, the UNESCO majority accepted the Palestinian Narrative of Victimhood and saw Israel as the repressive occupying power.  But it is morally reprehensible that it agreed to the Palestinian attempt to erase the historic connection between the Jewish people and its holy sites.  In addition, the majority forgot that the Palestinian Authority has laid claim not simply to Jewish sites, but also to the Christian Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

The one-sided resolution continued its misleading and false charges.  It condemned Israeli plans to build a prayer space for women at the Western Wall.  It charged that Israel had placed Jewish fake graves in spaces in Muslim cemeteries on Wafk property near the Temple.  It condemned the “new cycle of violence” since October 2015 but laid the blame on the victims of terrorism in Israel.  It accused Israel of the continued conversion of many Islamic and Byzantine remains into the “so-called” Jewish ritual baths or Jewish prayer places.

Again not surprisingly, without mentioning the continuing rocket attacks by Hamas on Israel and the projected use of tunnels in order to attack Israel civilians, UNESCO deplored the continuous Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip and the intolerable number of casualties among Palestinian children.  UNESCO appears ignorant of the reports including the important one by Amnesty International that indicates the use of children by Hamas for military purposes and stresses the war crimes committed by Hamas.

It is shameful that UNESCO, set up for peaceful purposes to promote intercultural dialogue, has been misused for political purposes.  Its one-sided resolutions against Israel and its citizens demonstrate that it has become a vehicle for hatred, not peace.