UNESCO Resolution on Hebron Isn't anti-Semitic at All

It recognized ancient Hebron (Al-Khalil) as a world heritage site holy to three faiths, and located in Palestine. Period.

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The Cave of Patriarchs in Hebron, February 2, 2015.
The Cave of Patriarchs in Hebron, February 2, 2015.Credit: Moti Milrod
Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat

I am grateful to blogger Idan Landau. He simply devoted a few minutes to reading a text a few lines long, and in the post he wrote afterward, he proved unequivocally that UNESCO’s decision on Friday recognized the Old City of Hebron (Al-Khalil) and the Ibrahimi Mosque (Tomb of the Patriarchs) as a world heritage site holy to three faiths.

In parentheses, the decision noted where this site is located, as is true of other sites that UNESCO recognizes as world heritage sites. And because this heritage site isn’t on the moon, but in the State of Palestine (which has already been recognized by the world), the name written in parentheses is Palestine. And that’s what all the fuss is about.

“This time, they said the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron is a Palestinian site, meaning it’s not a Jewish one, and that the site is in danger,” declared Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. After correcting the errors in this statement and reminding him that UNESCO recognized the site not as a Palestinian site, but as a world heritage site located in Palestine, I’d point out that according to this logic – which holds that any Jewish site must be considered as being under Israeli sovereignty – one could argue that the Church of the Annunciation can’t be listed as being in Israel, because the word “Israel” weakens its Christian character.

And if we’re already going in this direction, why should the grave of a Hasidic rabbi in Ukraine appear beside the name “Ukraine”? Ukrainian chutzpah! And why should the Ben Ezra synagogue in Fustat, Egypt appear beside the name “Egypt”? More chutzpah.

So thanks to Landau for reassuring me, because given the outcry, I thought a tsunami of anti-Semitism was sweeping the world.

On second thought, one can understand the anger of Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO, Carmel Shama-Hacohen. After all, any whiff of Arabness disturbs him, to the point that he added the name “Hacohen” to his original name, so the world wouldn’t think, heaven forbid, that he was an Arab.

If so, perhaps we can find a way out of the current imbroglio by adding the name Ataullah (the Arab translation of Netanyahu, which means “gift of God”) to Palestine. Then we’d wind up with Palestine-Netanyahu.

A degree of comfort can be found in the moving sight of the consensus, which has returned to its glory days. Opposition and coalition are united in celebrating the world’s wickedness toward the Jews. Even President Reuven Rivlin didn’t miss the golden opportunity that fell into his lap, while in the media, grief-stricken headlines took center stage. Even Haaretz ran a blaring headline saying that UNESCO recognized the Tomb of the Patriarchs as a Palestinian site.

An Arab adage says, “If the master of the house is drumming, all the members of his family will go out to dance.” Netanyahu is drumming, and everyone is going out to dance.

According to the media reports, after the previous UNESCO vote on Jerusalem, Shama-Hacohen asked everyone present to rise in memory of victims of the Holocaust in order to protest the resolution. He really went that far! Here, nothing is more apt than a saying by the fourth caliph, Ali Ibn Abi Taleb: “True words whose intent is to lie.” In other words, this was a contemptible use of the memory of Holocaust victims.

The question is whether Israel’s position derives from a religious commandment – that every Jewish site must be severed from its connection to non-Jews, even if it’s under their sovereignty – or whether it derives from Israel’s refusal to recognize the Palestinian people and their right to establish a state. Have we returned to the days of Prime Minister Golda Meir, who declared that there is no Palestinian people?

And perhaps both are true. In this context, we should note the active involvement of the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, in trying to heal the rift between Reform Jews in America and the Israeli government. With all due respect to Friedman, is he America’s ambassador to Israel or American Jewry’s ambassador to Israel?

Therefore, the Israeli uproar over the UNESCO decision reveals the government’s true face: It is set on conflict with the Palestinians, not reconciliation. And this stance is no less significant with regard to the state’s self-definition: Is Israel the state of a single ethnic group, even if it’s the majority, or is it a modern civic state?

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