Abba Eban, the most eloquent of Israeli diplomats, once noted when he was ambassador to the United Nations in the 1960s that “if Algeria introduced a resolution declaring that the earth was flat and that Israel had flattened it, it would pass by a vote of 164 to 13 with 26 abstentions.”
His quip has become reality, most recently, with the preliminary vote last week by the executive board of UNESCO, the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which denies a Jewish connection to the Old City of Jerusalem. The resolution referred to the Western Wall and Temple Mount only by their Arab names, and condemned the government for its “aggression” in its maintenance of the holy sites. Such false allegations have led to a number of fatal Arab terror attacks on Jews in the last year.
Of course the UN’s anti-Israel bias is longstanding and a given, to the degree that Israeli officials expressed a degree of optimism in that the 24-6 vote was not worse. They pointed out that countries including France, Italy, Spain, Indian, Sweden and Japan were among the 26 nations that abstained from the Palestinian-sponsored resolution rather than voting for it. They were pleased that no European countries supported the move.
But only the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Lithuania and Estonia joined the United States in voting against the resolution, which Washington condemned was “one-sided and unhelpful.”
Israel announced that it will break all ties with UNESCO. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement: “To say that Israel has no connection to the Temple Mount is like saying that China has no connection to the Great Wall of China or that Egypt has no connection to the pyramids. With this absurd decision, UNESCO has lost the modicum of legitimacy it had left. But I believe that historical truth is stronger and that truth will prevail. And today we are dealing with the truth.”
Even UNESCO’s director-general, Irina Bokova, criticized the vote. “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 said in a statement. “When these divisions carry over into UNESCO, an organization dedicated to dialogue and peace, they prevent us from carrying out our mission.”
Despite Israel’s break with UNESCO, Jerusalem is adamant about remaining a part of the UN, insisting that to leave over principle would only further isolate itself in the eyes of the international community. Still, it is deeply disheartening that at a time when world pressure is on Israel to make peace with the Palestinians, the UN supports efforts allowing the Palestinian Authority to avoid direct negotiations and places the onus fully on Israel.
To deny Israel’s historical connection to the land, ignoring history and reality, is the worst way to promote reconciliation.