Dueling homage paid to Holocaust, Palestinian victims at UNESCO

The unexpected drama unfolded after the World Heritage Committee approved a resolution disavowing Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem at its annual meeting, which this year was held in Krakow, Poland.

UNESCO members vote in a resolution disavowing Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, July 4, 2017/ (photo credit: Courtesy)
UNESCO members vote in a resolution disavowing Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, July 4, 2017/
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The dueling narrative of Jewish and Palestinian victimhood came to a head on the floor of the World Heritage Committee Tuesday as the 21 member-states held a moment of silence first for Holocaust victims and then again for the Palestinians.
Palestinian Ambassador Elias Sanbar stood in both instances. Israel’s Ambassador Carmel Shama HaCohen objected to the comparison, particularly given his belief that terrorists were included in the designation. He instructed the Israeli delegation to sit when homage was paid to the Palestinians.
The unexpected drama unfolded after the World Heritage Committee approved a resolution disavowing Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem at its annual meeting, which this year is being held in Krakow, Poland.
In attacking the decision, Shama Hacohen said the vote was outrageous, particularly given that it took place so close to where so many Jews were killed during the Holocaust.
“We are assembled here next to the largest mass grave of the Jewish people – but it is also the deepest, darkest grave into which humanity had ever descended,” he said.
“The sights, the sounds, the smells, the blood and the horror that occurred here in the German Nazi Auschwitz-Birkenau were not confined to the camp’s electrified fences.
“Indeed, under the right weather conditions, the smells of the crematorium maybe reached the very place where we are now seated,” Shama Hacohen said.
He then asked for a moment of silence “in solemn memory of the six million murdered Jews and all those who were killed by the Nazi animals or died fighting against it.”
“Throughout the Holocaust, the Jews never stopped saying, ‘Next year in Jerusalem.’ We will never stop staying it!” he added.
“Just as Hitler, the Nazis and their partner – [ Jerusalem Mufti] Hajj Amin El Husseini – did not succeed, you will not succeed as well in denying the Holocaust or in your efforts to destroy Israel or Jewish history.”
He added: “No politicized decision of UNESCO will ever move one brick from a wall in Jerusalem, nor will it succeed in separating between Jerusalem and the Jewish nation.”
He also recommended that the ambassadors of the Arab countries and their partners visit the concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Most of the room stood for the moment of silence, after which the Cuban representative objected, noting that, procedurally, only the committee chairman can ask for a “moment of silence.”
She then accused Shama Hacohen of turning the meeting “into a politicized circus,” and added, “Let me request that we stand for a moment of silence for all the Palestinians who have died in the region.”
Most of the people in the room again responded. After they had retaken their seats, Sanbar said: “I did stand for one moment of silence in respect of the [Holocaust] victims because I do not think that victims have either nationality or religion. They are human beings above and beyond any other thing. That is why they are victims of humanity as a whole.
“When it comes to standing for a minute of silence for the Palestinian victims, I saw the distinguished delegate of Israel remained seated. That really did summarize the situation.
“If there is some legacy from the victims of Nazi barbarism and barbarism everywhere, it is that we need to be firmly attached to our freedom. Today, we have had an exemplary demonstration of how there are some victims who are respectful and others who are not, some who will stand and others who will remain seated,” Sanbar said.
“I am tired of hearing the same litany of complaints be it here or in other forums. We hear about the politicization of culture. Let us see who is mixing politics with anything else. Here we have an occupying power who has refused to render homage to the victims of barbarism, even in our day and age,” he added.
After the meeting, Shama Hacohen said he rejected the “horrifying parallel between Holocaust victims to other victims and Palestinian victims.”
Additionally, he said there was “no distinction between uninvolved children and citizens who were harmed and Palestinians who were terrorists and martyrs.”
In speaking of the vote on the Jerusalem resolution, Shama Hacohen said it was the first time Israel had a “moral majority.” Although the vote passed 10-3, it had only minority approval given that eight countries abstained, he said.
The three countries that rejected the resolution were: Burkina Faso, Jamaica and the Philippines. The eight abstaining countries were: Angola, Croatia, Finland, Peru, Poland, Portugal, the Republic of Korea and Tanzania.
Those who supported the measure were: Azerbaijan, Cuba, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Tunisia, Turkey, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.
The World Heritage Committee votes annually to reaffirm Jerusalem’s Old City and its walls on the list of World Heritage in Danger. It was first inscribed as a World Heritage site to Jordan in 1982.
During the affirmation process, it also approves text criticizing Israel’s activity in the Jerusalem’s Old City, characterizing it as the “occupying power.”
This year, it stated that all “legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying power, which have altered or purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem and, in particular, the ‘Basic Law’ on Jerusalem, are null and void and must be rescinded forthwith.”
The Jerusalem vote is seen as the precursor to the more significant vote on Friday with regard to the Palestinian Authority’s request to ascribe to “Palestine” Hebron’s Old City and the Tomb of the Patriarchs on the World Heritage in Danger list.
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley asked UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova and World Heritage Committee members to reject the request.
“The Tomb of the Patriarchs, which is sacred to three faiths, is under no immediate threat. Such a designation risks undermining the seriousness such an assessment by UNESCO should have,” said Haley.
“Many precious sites – from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Libya to Iraq to Syria – are under real and imminent threat of destruction today. They urgently demand UNESCO’s full and immediate attention, which should not be wasted on this sort of symbolic action,” she said.
“As the United States is engaged in trying to increase the chance of a peace deal that is in the best interest of both Israel and the Palestinians, this effort at UNESCO – the motto of which is “Building Peace in the Minds of Men and Women” – is particularly ill-timed and unfortunate,” said Haley.
“I hope you will join the United States in opposing this measure,” she added.
The World Heritage Committee, is examining inscription requests for 35 sites during its Krakow meeting, which began Sunday and ends July 12.