UNESCO Director Criticizes Resolution: Temple Mount Sacred to Both Jews, Muslims

UN agency's director general says 'Al-Aqsa Mosque is also Temple Mount, whose Western Wall is the holiest place in Judaism.' Bennett instructs Israeli panel to suspend ties with UNESCO, a decision lacking practical implications.

UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova.
UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova AP

UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova on Friday came out against the agency's executive board for adopting a resolution that disregards the connection between Judaism and Temple Mount and casts doubt over the link between the religion and the Western Wall.

"The Al Aqsa Mosque [or] 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," Bokova said in a statement.

The Executive Board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization voted to adopt an anti-Israel resolution on Thursday.

"Jerusalem is the sacred city of the three monotheistic religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam," Bokova said in Friday's statement. "It is in recognition of this exceptional diversity, and this cultural and religious coexistence, that it was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list."

“… 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."

Bokova noted that Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy texts offer testimony as to their presence in Jerusalem.

The Western Wall on the Temple Mount.
Michal Fattal

"In the Torah, Jerusalem is the capital of King David, where Solomon built the Temple and placed the Ark of the Covenant," she said. "In the Bible, Jerusalem is the city of the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the Coran, Jerusalem is the third holiest site in Islam, where Muhammad arrived after his night journey from Al Haram Mosq (Mecca) to Al-Aqsa.

"Different peoples worship the same places, sometimes under different names," she said. "The recognition, use of and respect for these names is paramount."

UNESCO's director-general further asserted that the agency's role is to promote dialogue and co-existence, not confrontation.   

"We have to bridge the divisions that harm the multi-faith character of the Old City," Bokova said. “When these divisions carry over into UNESCO, they prevent us from carrying out our mission. UNESCO's responsibility is to foster this spirit of tolerance and respect for history."

Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett said Bokova's statement "is insufficient."

Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Sept. 9, 2016.
Emil Salman

"The tailwind UNESCO gives to terrorism will only stop once the organization annuls the scandalous resolution from yesterday – a motion that denies history to please Israel's haters," he said. "Words are important, but they are not a substitute for actions taken by the organization she heads."

Bennett instructs Israeli panel to suspend ties with UNESCO

Earlier Friday, Bennett said that he had instructed the Israeli committee to UNESCO to suspend cooperation with the agency over the motion.

Bennett, who serves as president of the committee, said that members of the panel will not meet with officials from the UN agency, attend international conferences or hold any professional cooperation with the organization.

The Israeli committee to UNESCO represents both government bodies and non-government groups in the field of education, culture and science. Under the Education Ministry, the committee has an advisory role to government policy making on issues relating to UNESCO and its activities in Israel.

Despite Bennett's harsh statement, his instructions lack any practical significance, since there is no planned joint activity between UNESCO and the committee in the coming weeks.

In his statement, Bennett said that the committee "will not have any professional cooperation with an organization that gives tailwind to terror." He added that he will convene in the next few weeks a special meeting of the committee to further discuss the necessary steps.

However, most of the cooperation between the Israeli panel, UNESCO and its member countries deals with Israeli initiatives that serve Israeli interests and therefore it is doubtful they will be suspended. Judging by the Israeli committee's website, the panel mostly deals with worldwide education against anti-Semitism, the memory of the Holocaust and the preservation of heritage sites.

Moreover, Bennett's decision has no bearing on any diplomatic ties between the Israeli government and UNESCO and its member states, which are maintained by the Foreign Ministry and will remain unchanged. 

Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich slammed the UNESCO resolution as well on Friday, saying the Jewish religion doesn't need the agency's consent to consider the Temple Mount holy.

"I am not familiar with another 'occupying power' whose land is full of its ancestors' remains," he said. "The Temple Mount and the Western Wall have been sacred to the Jewish people from time immemorial, and this doesn't need anyone's approval."