Given the rancor between UNESCO and pro-Israel groups in light of UNESCO’s recent anti-Israel resolutions, it is fascinating to recall what the UN organization’s director said just a few months ago.
Speaking at an event showcasing the Israeli Education Without Borders initiative, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said it “reflects the strong foundation of cooperation between Israel and UNESCO, covering the full range of UNESCO’s mandate – especially in education for peace, for inclusion, for human rights.”
The high-spirited event actually took place in UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Sponsored by the World Jewish Congress and Israel’s Permanent Mission to UNESCO, it launched a photo exhibition of Israel’s project to provide education to hospitalized children. More than 150 people took part, including more than 20 ambassadors and senior diplomats.
Before we explain the ramifications of the anti-Jewish UNESCO resolutions, let us take this opportunity to note, as WJC head Robert Singer told the participants, that Israel is the only country in the world where education is mandatory for children who are hospitalized for more than three days. Singer also highlighted how the program shows that “people of all races, backgrounds, and religions can and do coexist in Israel.” It was noted, too, that Israel’s Galilee Medical Center has treated over 1,000 Syrians injured in the Syrian civil war.
This honeymoon between UNESCO and Israel was short-lived, however. Just a few days later, UNESCO’s executive board passed the first of a series of resolutions denying any Jewish link to the holiest sites in Judaism and Jewish history. UNESCO referred to the Temple Mount as Haram al-Sharif, the Western Wall of the Mount as Al-Buraq Plaza, after Muhammad’s horse, and the Jewish state not as “Israel” but as “the Occupying Power.”
That resolution went over with relatively little protest, and a few weeks later UNESCO proceeded to do it again – twice. First its executive board passed a resolution similar to the above, and then, in late October, the body’s World Heritage Committee voted to accept a third one. The last one was slightly watered down, in that it did not refer to Israel as the “occupying power.” But the long and short of it is that UNESCO denies the historic Jewish ties to the site of our own holy Temple.
Fascinatingly, our sages teach that three critical places in the Land of Israel were duly purchased by the Jewish nation and can therefore never be contested: Jerusalem (purchased by King David from the Jebusites), Hebron (purchased by Abraham from Ephron), and Nablus (Shechem, bought by Jacob from the sons of Hamor). So why is it that the Jewish ties to these three places draw even more objections, if such a thing is possible, than the rest of the Holy Land?
The answer can only be intuited: The enemy senses that the sites holy to the Jews are the key to the entire struggle. Whoever controls Jerusalem and Hebron and Shechem will be victorious. At present, we are in a tight holding pattern, with sovereignty over Jerusalem but without day-to-day control over the Temple Mount, and with varying degrees of control in Hebron and Shechem.
What can be learned from this combination of contemporary news reports and age-old rabbinic teachings? Mainly that our struggle for our holy city of Yerushalayim must be waged as fiercely now as ever before. Seeing that the Palestinian Authority spares no efforts in this war, as evidenced by the international support it drummed up for the groundless and deceptive UNESCO resolutions, how much more so must we – who have the truth on our side – not remain silent.
We are not without allies. UNESCO’s director Bokova has herself spoken out against her organization’s anti-Israel resolutions, saying, “To deny, conceal, or erase any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of [Jerusalem], and runs counter to the reasons that justified its inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage list.” Even outgoing UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has criticized the votes, and a small number of countries that voted in favor have attempted to rectify the damage.
In addition, some Christian groups in the United States were greatly disturbed by the votes.
David Brog, director of Christians United for Israel, said: “The places under discussion, namely the Temple Mount, play a central role not only to the Jewish faith but also to the Christian faith.”
Robert Nicholson, who heads the Philos Project that “seeks to promote positive Christian engagement in the Middle East,” said: “UNESCO’s decision to deny Jewish history is also a decision to deny Christian history. If the Jews don’t have a legacy on the Temple Mount, neither do Christians. And yet we know that… Jesus came to the Temple throughout his life to worship and pray to the God of Israel, as a Jew, six centuries before Muhammad was even born.”
But this is far from enough. We must encourage our Christian allies in our fight against hostile Muslim anti-Jewish trends, but we must not rely on them. The fight is ours. If Jerusalem is to take its place as the site “from where Torah shall go forth” and which will become the “house of prayer for all nations,” as the Prophets promise, we must all enlist in the cause. The following must be done:
* The Jewish people, in Israel and in the Diaspora, must educate themselves regarding their heritage in the Land of Israel in general and in Jerusalem in particular. Ignorance is our enemy, and will not be able to stand up to the lies and inaccuracies spread by those who seek to harm us.
* Those with the skills and inclination to make Israel’s case must be not only reactive but also proactive. Whoever can, must! We cannot let the ongoing farce of negating Jerusalem’s Jewishness continue without a popular and decisive campaign for the truth. All the accepted channels, in the classic as well as new media, must be utilized to correct the lies and disseminate the truth. We must also recruit our gentile friends around the world to participate in this campaign.
* A concerted effort should be made in friendly countries to pass pro-Jerusalem resolutions on the national, federal and local levels. This has already begun in the U.S., where such declarations have been passed in South Carolina, Florida, and elsewhere. Furthermore, personal commitments to Jerusalem can be expressed by signing on the Keep Jerusalem Covenant, found on Keep Jerusalem’s website, www.keepjerusalem.org or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.Hillel Fendel and Chaim Silberstein / KeepJerusalem.org