UNESCO head further distances herself from Jerusalem resolution, as new measure looms

Marcy Oster

The Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem.(Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem.(Hadas Parush/Flash90)

JERUSALEM (JTA)  — The head of the United Nations cultural agency continued to distance herself from resolutions that deny Jewish ties to Jerusalem holy sites, as another agency committee prepares to vote on a similar measure.

Irina Bokova, director general of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, wrote in a letter to Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett that she would work to counter such historical inaccuracies.

“Allow me to reassure you of my absolute commitment to continue all efforts in countering all forms of anti-Semitism, including those drawing on partial or distorted visions of culture and history, as well as those that seek to challenge the existence of Israel,” Bokova wrote in the letter dated Oct. 18, which was distributed by Bennett’s office on Sunday. The letter was in response to Bennett’s decision to freeze all Israeli cooperating with the UN agency.

“I am determined to continue working towards this objective and to redouble efforts to build trust on the basis of respect and mutual understanding, which are the guiding principle of the organization,” she also wrote.


Bokova pointed out the UNESCO member states, and not the director genera, make decisions on such resolutions. Her letter follows a statement issued after the preliminary vote on Oct. 12, in which Bokova criticized member states for their vote.

A resolution passed on Oct. 18 in Paris, with 24 votes in favor and 6 against, and 26 countries abstaining, refers to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount — site of the first and second Jewish Temples and a locus of Jewish veneration — only by its Arabic name, Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif. The Western Wall, a remnant of the biblical Temple compound built by the Jewish King Herod and Judaism’s holiest site, is referred to as Al-Buraq Plaza, with “Western Wall Plaza” appearing only between quotation marks. The United States, the United Kingdom and Germany were among those that voted against the resolution. They were joined by Lithuania, the Netherlands and Estonia. Other European countries abstained.

On Wednesday, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee is scheduled to vote on a resolution with a similar text that does not concede Jewish ties to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.

The new resolution was submitted by Lebanon and Tunis for the Palestinians and Jordan, who are not among the heritage committee’s 21 member states. It is expected to pass by a wide majority.

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