(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
BERLIN – Nimrod Barkan, Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that the five decisions against Jewish landmarks and Israel’s security interests issued by UNESCO in late October resulted from Arab states, who “bullied many of the other member countries into a short-notice vote.”
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Barkan termed the decision ”part of the Arab strategy to isolate Israel in international organizations.” He said the Arab states “control the majority” on the UNESCO executive board. It was the first time a “specific resolution on a country” had been issued without a consensus, Barkan added.
UNESCO’s action to remove Jewish landmarks from Israeli sovereignty has been a lightning- rod issue for the Israeli government, which rejects the designation of the two biblical sites – the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb – as part of the Palestinian territories.
NGO watchdog organizations such as Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor have long argued, and issued reports showing, that double standards are applied to the Jewish state within the UN’s organizations and affiliates.
Speaking from Paris, Barkan told the Post
that the UNESCO resolutions would mean the “national heritage of Israel is lost.” As a result of the October resolution, he said, “Israel has put under review” its Middle Eastern work with UNESCO. On Monday, he said, he had “a meeting between myself and the director-general of UNESCO in which we described the positions of each side, and dialogue will continue.”
In an e-mail to the Post on Tuesday, Eric Falt, a spokesman for UNESCO, wrote: “We very much regret that no agreement was reached last month among the 58 member-states of the UNESCO Executive Board on this difficult issue, and that a vote had to take place. Please be sure that no effort was spared by the director-general and her colleagues to facilitate the negotiations and reach a consensus, with due neutrality and sincerity. We very much regret that our attempts to foster a dialogue were not fruitful.”
Falt added, ”We very much regret also that a declaration by the Deputy Foreign Minister of Israel received so much public attention, when in fact we have been assured emphatically by Ambassador Barkan that it was ‘a mistake.’ We would have liked the correction to receive as much attention as the initial statement.”
Barkan responded to Falt’s comment on the controversy surrounding Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, saying that the Israeli government has “published corrected information” regarding Israel’s position not to sever ties with UNESCO, but to place its cooperation with UNESCO in the Middle East under review.
Last week, Ayalon said Israel “had suspended its cooperation with UNESCO.” His office later clarified the sentence to mean only in “the areas” that covered the October 21 UNESCO resolutions.
UNESCO’s October decision asserted that “the Palestinian sites of al-Haram al- Ibrahimi/Tomb of the Patriarchs in al-Khalil/Hebron and the Bilal bin Rabah Mosque/Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem are an integral part of the occupied Palestinian Territories.”
There is “deep concern over the ongoing Israeli excavations and archeological works on Al- Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, which contradicts UNESCO decisions and conventions and United Nations and Security Council resolutions,” according to the UNESCO resolutions.
The October resolutions also attacked Israel for its West Bank security fence, which seeks to prevent Palestinian terror attacks, and Israel’s “continuous blockade on the Gaza Strip, which harmfully affects the free and sustained movement of personnel and humanitarian relief items.”
UNESCO resolutions did not cite Hamas rocket and terror attacks from
Gaza directed at Israel’s southern periphery as one the reasons for the
Meanwhile, UNESCO’s director-general, Irina Bokova, walked away from the
body’s involvement with the World Philosophy Day event scheduled in
Iran from November 21 to 23.
According to a UNESCO statement issued on Wednesday, “as the secretariat
was not fully consulted on all aspects related to this international
event, the director-general considers that the conditions necessary to
guarantee the effective organization of a UN international conference
have not been met.”
The background for UNESCO pulling the plug on its sponsorship of the event in Iran was its widespread violation of human rights.