Israel envoy to UNESCO: Do what you want, we’re leaving anyway

“In withdrawing from UNESCO in 2017, Israel and the United States made a clear moral statement that UNESCO’s antisemitism will no longer be tolerated."

October 11, 2018 02:54
4 minute read.
Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon speaks at the UNGA

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon speaks at the UNGA. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Israel’s top UN envoy blasted UNESCO’s attempt to water down its controversial bi-annual Jerusalem resolution, reaffirming that Israel planned to leave the organization at the end of the year.

Danny Danon spoke after the 58 members of UNESCO’s executive board in Paris hid language disavowing Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem in the lengthy annex to an otherwise short benign text called Resolution 28.

The statements in the resolution’s annexes are “further evidence, for anyone who did not understand why the United States and Israel withdrew from UNESCO," Danon said.

The board gave its preliminary approval to that text on Wednesday, with a final vote likely to be held on Monday.

UNESCO’s director-general Audrey Azoulay lauded the use of an annex text to bypass some of the controversy caused by the Jerusalem resolutions in past years.

 “I wish to thank those who have worked to achieve this, especially the representatives of the Palestinian, Israeli and Jordanian delegations, and all members of the Executive Board who supported this agreement, as well as the European Union,” Azoulay said.

A similar compromise had been reached at the April Executive Board meeting. At the time, the Israeli and the Palestinian delegations accepted the annex compromise, with Jerusalem welcoming Azoulay’s efforts to downgrade the anti-Israeli tone of the agency.

It’s understood that the Israeli delegation at UNESCO in Paris approved the compromise language this time as well.

Previous UNESCO resolutions had ignored Jewish ties to its most holy site, the Temple Mount, known in Hebrew as Har Habayit, referring to it solely by its Arabic-Muslim name al-Haram al-Sharif.

But this resolution’s annex modified some of that tone, stating that while Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron “are an integral part of  the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” the two tombs “are of religious significance for Judaism, Christianity and Islam.”

In addition, it affirmed the importance of the “Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions.”

The board gave its preliminary approval to that text on Wednesday, with a final vote likely to be held on Monday.

The idea of placing controversial statements about Israel in an annex was conceived by by Azoulay with an eye to depoliticizing the organization.

She also hoped to sway Israel and the United States to rescind their decision to leave the organization at the end of the year.

The resolution’s annex allows for votes on controversial statements to be delayed to further meetings of the board, which gathers twice a year.

Applause broke out among board members when Resolution 28 and another one on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, called Resolution 29, were approved by consensus.

After the meeting Azoulay, said: "I would like to commend the spirit of dialogue and the sense of responsibility that led to this result. A trend towards consensus is now emerging. It is based on the presence of all parties around the table at UNESCO and, of course, on their goodwill. These factors have come together in recent months and have enabled the Secretariat to play to the full its role as mediator.”

Still Israel believes that resolutions with such texts politicize UNESCO and should not come before the board altogether.

Danon dismissed such watering down efforts as too little, too late, saying the resolution “proves that UNESCO is a body based on lies and biases, and is deliberately acting against us. The State of Israel will not be a member of an organization that is trying to rewrite history and willing to be manipulated by our enemies.”
The enmity between UNESCO and Israel is so bitter that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to attend a UNESCO event condemning antisemitism.

UNESCO held that event earlier this month on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, when Netanyahu was in New York.

At the time, Netanyahu said, “In withdrawing from UNESCO in 2017, Israel and the United States made a clear moral statement that UNESCO’s antisemitism will no longer be tolerated.

“If and when UNESCO ends its bias against Israel, stops denying history and starts standing up for the truth, Israel will be honored to rejoin,” Netanyahu said.

Director for International Relations of the Simon Wiesenthal Center Dr. Shimon Samuels told The Jerusalem Post that ‘the big question is what now? What will happen after Israel leaves? I believe that the role of all the Jewish groups accredited to UNESCO will become significantly more important, in confronting such challenges.’’

Samuels noted that Azoulay is keen on enhancing the agency’s relations with the Jewish world, but that without Israel as member state, this might prove difficult.

Still, the Jewish organizations, he said, are committed to take up the job of defending the cause of Israel and world Jewry in UNESCO.

Representative of B’nai B’rith Stephane Teicher told the Post that Jerusalem believes that delaying these resolutions each time is not a solution.

“I understand that,” he said.

Teicher noted that at the executive board, “everybody was relieved that such an issue was resolved through consensus. And this is to the credit of Audrey Azoulay, who has deployed significant efforts to de-politicize the agency.”

Israeli and Palestinian delegates to UNESCO refused to comment, though an Israel source told the Post  that Israel recognizes the efforts made by Mrs. Azoulay to change UNESCO”s attitude.

A statement put out by her office on Wednesday noted that in this past year 12 resolutions on the Middle East had been arrived at by consensus, “after negotiation between the parties, facilitated by the UNESCO Secretariat.”

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