UNESCO’s Director-General Irina Bokova spoke out Friday in support of Israel and against the 24-6 vote of her organization’s Executive Board took the day before to approve a resolution that spoke of the Temple Mount and its Western Wall as a purely Muslim religious site.
“Jerusalem is the sacred city of the three monotheistic religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam."
“To deny, conceal or erase any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site, and runs counter to the reasons that justified its inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage list [in 1981],” she stated on Friday.
Bokovo has been outspoken on this issue since the Palestinians began their drive in 2015 to change the language by which UNESCO references that holy site.
Previously, all resolutions on Jerusalem had spoken of the area with references to the Jewish term the Temple Mount and the Muslim name of Al-Haram Al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary).
For the last year, the Palestinians have submitted resolutions that almost solely use the Muslim term of Al-Haram Al-Sharif and reference the Western Wall by its Muslim name of the Buraq Plaza.
On Thursday, UNESCO’s 58-member Program and External Relations Commission approved such a resolution which is expected to be ratified next Monday or Tuesday by the UNESCO Executive Board, which is made up of the same member states.
Jerusalem, Bokova said, is a “microcosm of humanity’s spiritual diversity” and is a place where “different peoples worship the same places, sometimes under different names.
“The recognition, use of and respect for these names is paramount. The Al Aqsa Mosque / Al-Haram al-Sharif, the sacred shrine of Muslims, is also the Har HaBayit – or Temple Mount – whose Western Wall is the holiest place in Judaism, a few steps away from the Saint Sepulcher and the Mount of Olives trees revered by Christians,” Bokova said.
The international community has a responsibility to strengthen religious co-existence in the city, Bokova said.
“UNESCO's responsibility is to foster this spirit of tolerance and respect for history, and this is my absolute daily determination as Director-General, with all Member States,” she said.
Bokova’s opinion carries weight, but ultimately she has no power with regard to this issue, because the votes are taken by the member states.
Earlier in the day Israel’s Ambassador to UNESCO Carmel Shama-Hacohen appealed to Bokova to condemn the vote.
“Unfortunately there are too many signs that we are on a slippery slope and worst is yet to come,” he told her.
“I'm not sure that Israel should ignore yesterday’s events and I intends to recommend to the Government that it take operational measures,” he said.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett who heads Israel’s National Commission to UNESCO said that Bokova’s statement was not enough.
Bennett who earlier had charged that votes such as the one taken Thursday, encourage Palestinian terrorism against Israel.
That support will stop, he said, “only once the organization rescinds its decision to deny [Jewish] history just to please Israel’s enemies.”
Bennett has announced that Israel’s National Commission plans to suspend its cooperation with UNESCO.
The Foreign Ministry, said that this decision, does not apply to its office or to its mission to UNESCO in Paris, which maintains diplomatic ties with the organization.