UNESCO awards Moscow Jewish museum with tolerance prize

Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — UNESCO, the United Nations agency which has faced accusations of passing anti-Jewish resolutions, awarded Moscow’s main Jewish museum with an award for its promotion of tolerance.

The Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center, a $50 million state-of-the-art institution that opened in 2012, received UNESCO’s Madanjeet Singh Prize for the distribution of the ideals of peace and non-violence last week, Interfax reported.

Rabbi Alexander Boroda, the president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Russia and the museum’s director general, accepted the prize, which is named after an Indian painter, at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris, the report said.

Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar, whose top aide Rabbi Boruch Gorin is the museum’s chairman, said in a statement that “spreading tolerance is an absolutely necessary thing for Russia,” whose Jewish community he said “is involved in this as much as they can be, specifically after the opening of the Jewish Museum.

UNESCO has faced criticism in recent months over the passing of several resolutions that were widely seen as erasing Jewish ties to Jerusalem and other holy sites because they referred to Judaism’s holiest sites only by the Arabic-language names, as Muslim places of worship.

Lazar, who has friendly ties with President Vladimir Putin and his government, harshly criticized that government’s support for the resolution.

“It is very strange that Russia, which has consistently fought all kinds of historic falsification, this time supported a blatant falsification of history,” Lazar, a native of Italy, wrote in a statement following a vote last month.

Israel, whose neutrality on the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia diverged with the anti-Russian stance of other Western countries, earlier this month voted unusually in favor of a U.N. resolution condemning Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Israel has vociferously protested the UNESCO vote and briefly recalled its ambassador to that body over the vote – a move which Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov criticized as “disproportionate and overly emotional.”

“The text of the resolutions refers to the ownership of these holy places of all three religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam,” he said last month in an interview for RIA Novosti.

However, during a visit to Israel earlier this month, Russian Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev said his country “never denied the rights of Israel or the Jewish people to Jerusalem, the Temple Mount or the Western Wall.”

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