Entire House Jewish Caucus Blasts UNESCO on Temple Mount Vote

Jewish lawmakers condemn claim that Israel is responsible for surge in violent attacks; Jewish groups call decision 'offensive and a distortion of history.'

MK Uri Ariel visiting the Temple Mount.
MK Uri Ariel visiting the Temple Mount. Michal Fattal

All 19 Jewish House lawmakers slammed UNESCO for its vote charging Israel with changing the status quo at a Jerusalem holy site.

“The continued false allegations against Israel as having violated the status quo at the Temple Mount, which is under the custodianship of Jordan and the Wakf Muslim religious trust, and blaming Israel for the surge in violent attacks, must be condemned,” said the statement Wednesday signed by the 18 Jewish Democrats and one Jewish Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives.

UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural arm, on Wednesday approved a resolution saying that Israel is altering the status quo on the Temple Mount, also known as Haram al Sharif, which is holy to Muslims and Jews.

The “status quo,” in place since Israel captured the site in the 1967 Six-Day War, bans Jews from worship on the mount, but allows them to visit. Jews may pray at the adjacent Western Wall.

In recent weeks, violence has increased as reports circulated among Palestinians that Israel was set to allow Jewish worship on the mount, and even remove its mosques — charges that Israeli leaders vehemently deny.

“Such accusations have been perpetrated by the Palestinian leadership to incite continued violence, and the resulting attacks targeting Israeli civilians in recent weeks are an outrage,” the lawmakers’ statement said. “There is zero justification for such acts of terrorism, and the world cannot remain silent and certainly must not take actions that could add to the false and inflammatory incitement of violence.”

The statement notably united Jewish lawmakers on both sides of the bitter fight over the summer over the Iran nuclear deal. It included lawmakers with close ties to right-wing pro-Israel groups like Reps. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., and Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and those who have openly criticized Israel in recent years and are close to J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East lobby, like Reps. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and John Yarmuth, D-Ky.

UNESCO’s executive committee voted 26-6 on the resolution advanced by six Arab countries, with 25 abstentions, on behalf of the Palestinians. The United States led the dissenters. A proposal to label the Western Wall as a Muslim holy site was removed prior to the vote, which also designated Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron as Muslim sites to be part of a Palestinian state. Both sites are also holy to Jews.

“As Jewish Members of the United States House of Representatives, we believe strongly in respecting the religious history and protecting the religious freedoms of Muslims, Jews, and Christians,” the statement said.

“That means respecting the claims of both Jews and Muslims to holy sites which have significance for both religions,” it said. “Designating Rachel’s Tomb and the Tomb of the Patriarchs as exclusively Muslim sites is dismissive of other religious traditions, and the continued refusal to show any respect or recognition for the legitimacy of Jewish existence in the ancient Jewish homeland once again demonstrates a central obstacle to peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”

The Conference of the Presidents of Major American Organizations also joined the condemnation, calling the decision "offensive and a distortion of history."

"This will only add to the tensions in the region and appear to reward those engaged in violence," the organization said in a statement. "Such actions will not just hurt Israel, but every country facing the challenge of terrorism and extremism."