(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
UNESCO has no say on the Jewish people’s connection to Israel, Education Minister Naftali Bennett said Wednesday morning in response to the vote by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization two days earlier to reject Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem.
“This is an empty decision that joins a pile of empty decisions. UNESCO can’t decide if we’re the sovereign or not. It’s like they decided there’s no gravity,” Bennett told Army Radio. “It’s meaningless.”
Bennett pointed to the strong bond between Jews and Jerusalem by noting that brides and grooms at Jewish weddings say, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning.”
During an Independence Day event with foreign diplomats, President Reuven Rivlin, a native Jerusalemite, came out against the UNESCO action and called on nations to move their embassies to the capital.
“Israel is an existing fact, in large part because of international recognition of the right of the Jewish People to return to its historic homeland and build in it a national home – a home with Jerusalem in its heart,” Rivlin said.
The president added that Jerusalem was always the place to which Jews around the world prayed to return.
“There was never any doubt that Jerusalem would be the capital of Israel,” Rivlin stated. “Fifty years ago, we returned to the Old City of Jerusalem and united the city under Israeli sovereignty. We felt that the dream of having Jerusalem as the capital of Israel became a reality. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Since the days of King David there has been no other reality. The time has come to end the absurd situation, officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”
Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin said that UNESCO is supposed to be apolitical, but instead has “failed time and again with ignorance of history and fell in the hands of cynical politics and antisemitic attitudes. Such decisions shame the countries that voted for them, as well as all of UNESCO.”
Elkin suggested the way to respond to the UN body’s action was by continuing to build throughout the capital and by preserving historical sites.
“UNESCO didn’t exist in the past and at this rate won’t exist in the future either,” he said, “but the connection of the People of Israel with Jerusalem and our sovereignty in it will remain forever.”
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon tweeted a photograph of himself praying at the Western Wall with the message: “Jerusalem is our only, eternal capital, with or without ridiculous decisions like that of UNESCO.”
Transportation and Intelligence Minister Israel Katz said the appropriate answer to UNESCO would be to pass a “Greater Jerusalem Law,” extending the city’s borders by making areas near it that are beyond the Green Line – such as Gush Etzion, Betar Illit, Ma’aleh Adumim and Givat Ze’ev – part of the metropolitan area.
Opposition lawmakers also spoke out against the UNESCO decision, with some calling it antisemitic.
Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) said it was a shameful decision that “distorts the history of the Jewish people and its unshakable connection to its eternal capital Jerusalem. This miserable and meaningless, powerless decision will find itself in the trash can of history, just like the accusation of Zionism of being racist.”
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid called the decision outrageous and said no one, including UNESCO, can rewrite Jewish history, “certainly not on the day in which Israel is celebrating 69 years of independence as a strong Jewish and democratic state.”
“Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel, always was and always will be,” Lapid said. “This is part of a disgraceful attempt to rewrite history as part of a continuing political battle against the State of Israel and the Jewish people. Once again today, we see how UN representatives surrender to the antisemitic campaign led by anti-Israel organizations instead of going after the truth.”