Netanyahu stresses UNESCO vote ‘absurdity’ to new UN head

In a phone call congratulating Antonio Guterres on his post, Netanyahu said he hopes the former Portuguese prime minister will seek to balance the world organization’s relationship with Israel.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews look towards the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Old City (photo credit: REUTERS)
Ultra-Orthodox Jews look towards the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Old City
(photo credit: REUTERS)
UNESCO’s vote last week erasing Jewish ties to the Temple Mount indicates the absurdity of the UN’s one-sided, unbalanced attitude toward Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said over the weekend in his first phone call with Antonio Guterres, who will take over as UN secretary- general in January.
In a phone call congratulating Guterres on his post, Netanyahu said he hopes the former Portuguese prime minister will seek to balance the world organization’s relationship with Israel. The two men know each other from when they both led their countries in the late 1990s.
Netanyahu chided the UN for its imbalanced approach toward the “only democracy in a stormy region where millions of people are being slaughtered and uprooted.”
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu responds to UNESCO vote on Temple Mount, Western Wall
Meanwhile, Michael Worbs, the chairman of UNESCO’s executive board, told AFP on Friday that he hopes for a delay in the final vote on the Jerusalem resolution. However, other sources inside the organization said this is unlikely.
Thursday’s vote, which erased any Jewish ties to the Temple Mount or Western Wall by referring to them only by their Islamic names, was taken by UNESCO’s 58-member Program and External Relations Commission in advance of its expected ratification on Tuesday by the UNESCO executive board, which is made up of the same member states.
“We need more time and dialogue between the members of the board to reach a consensus,” Worbs told Channel 10 on Friday. Previously Worbs said he understood why the resolution, which speaks of al-Aksa Mosque/ al-Haram al-Sharif and not about the Temple Mount, has led to the perception that Jewish ties to the site had been ignored.
But, he said, there was also a positive part of the text. “I have also to admit that for the first time the Arab group added a paragraph saying that Jerusalem is a place of the three monotheistic religions, so there is a recognition, although I do admit it is not balanced all over the text and this is why the support for the decision was not unanimous.”
The Western Wall is mentioned twice in quotes. Otherwise, it was referenced in the text by its Muslim name “Buraq Plaza.”
On Friday, Education Minister Naftali Bennett condemned the UNESCO resolution, and instructed the Israeli committee to UNESCO to freeze ties with the UN body.
Bennett wrote the following on his Facebook page on Saturday night: “Jerusalem is not mentioned even once in the Koran. In the Jewish Bible, it is mentioned 667 times. FYI, UNESCO.”
Also Friday, UNESCO’s outgoing director-general, Irina Bokova, stepped away from the decision, writing on the UNESCO website that “Jerusalem is the sacred city of the three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
“The heritage of Jerusalem is indivisible, and each of its communities has a right to the explicit recognition of their history and relationship with the city. 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,” she wrote.
“In the Torah, Jerusalem is the capital of King David, where Solomon built the Temple and placed the Ark of the Covenant. In the [New Testament], Jerusalem is the city of the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the Koran, Jerusalem is the third holiest site in Islam, where Muhammad arrived after his night journey from al-Haram Mosque (Mecca) to al-Aksa,” she continued.
“Al-Aksa 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 [Church of the Holy] Sepulcher and the Mount of Olives revered by Christians.”
Her words were quickly panned by PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki, who said she “overstepped the scope of her mandate by speaking out against a resolution adopted by the executive board of the organization.
This unusual and unacceptable position is an affront to the sovereignty of the governing body of UNESCO. Further, Ms. Bokova’s declaration undermines the work and authority of the executive board and is, hence, completely unacceptable.”
Maliki added that Bokova decided to capitulate to Israeli pressure to block the resolution.
“Ms. Bokova chose to appease the PR bullying campaign, run by Israel, against the resolution, which addresses illegal Israeli practices in occupied east Jerusalem,” the PA foreign minister said.
Former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, on the other hand, praised Bokova, and claimed credit for Bokova’s statement, which she said was a response to a letter she sent her in which Livni complained about the decision and warned that it could spark a religious conflict and violate the sensitive status quo in Jerusalem.
Livni said Bokova’s statement is proof that scandalous decisions could be prevented if Israel handled its international diplomacy better.
“We need to make a better effort to persuade people, even in difficult places, and not leave the playing field to the Palestinians,” Livni said.
Former prime minister Ehud Barak wrote on Twitter that “the ridiculous decision of UNESCO with the support of Russia and China is a monumental failure for Netanyahu in the international arena.”
On the Right, Science and Technology Minister Ophir Akunis posted a picture of himself praying at the Western Wall on Facebook with a caption “If I forget thee o Jerusalem, may my right hand wither.”
Some 60,000 people from around the world signed an online petition against the UNESCO decision.
The petition, which was initiated by StandWithUs, calls on UNESCO “to recognize the deep historic, cultural and religious connection between the Jewish people and holy sites in the Land of Israel.”
Adam Ragson contributed to this report.