Monday, March 25th | 18 Adar II 5779

May 4, 2017 11:54 am

Despite UNESCO’s Bias, Jews Won’t Abandon Our Holy Sites

avatar by Abraham Cooper and Yitzchok Adlerstein

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The Western Wall and Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City. Photo: Paul Arps via Wikimedia Commons.

Forget fake news. UNESCO is promoting an entire fake universe.

Like so many other UN agencies with an anti-Israel majority, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) regularly votes to deny some aspect of Israel’s legitimacy. Their diplomatic machinations serve as the backbone of much of the Muslim world’s refusal to recognize the Jewish people’s historic links to Israel — our Holy Land.

To legitimate UNESCO’s denial of the past — and today’s reality of a Jewish state with more than 8 million citizens —  history itself must be re-written, and holy sites must be rebranded. That’s where the Orwellian double-speak of the agency whose raison d’etre is supposed to be the protection of history and culture comes into play.

UNESCO’s new resolution, timed to coincide with Israel’s 69th Independence Day on May 2, rejected Israeli sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem, including modern West Jerusalem.

The resolution passed with 22 nations supporting it, 10 opposing it, and 23 countries abstaining (three were absent).

In the resolution’s text, Rachel’s Tomb and the Tomb of the Patriarchs — where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rivka, Jacob and Leah are buried — have been repackaged as Muslim mosques.

To her credit, Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s Director-General, has been a consistent critic of this charade. “To deny, conceal, or erase any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions runs counter to the reasons that justified its inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage list,” she insisted last year. But Ms. Bokova’s term will soon expire, and Israel’s opponents could soon have a firmer grip on the UN agency.

What is particularly galling about the latest incident is the role that Germany reportedly played in enabling its fellow EU members to support the resolution.

If the German Foreign Minister or any other European diplomat thinks that this cynical maneuver — which further fuels the dreams of an Arab alternate universe — will change the minds of Jews in Israel or around the world, they are dead wrong.

Jerusalem is the heart of the Jewish people. Centuries ago, long before anyone heard of Mohammed, Jews understood the importance of the city that King David built and made his capital. They built two temples there, which became focal points for their religion and their peoplehood. The Jewish people preserved the centrality of Jerusalem to their religion throughout the ages, even when it lay in ruins. “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand fail me,” spoke the prophet.

In their unparalleled, 2,000-year exile before returning home to Israel, the Jewish people never left Jerusalem. A small group remained in the Holy Land throughout the ages, and the rest — scattered literally around the world — were united by the shared prayers offered three times a day for the return to Zion. Jews survived the Crusades, TorquemadaChmielnicki and Hitler without ever diluting their passion for Jerusalem.

The Jewish people will not abide by the morally bankrupt regime at UNESCO, and they won’t forget what happened when Arabs were custodians of Jerusalem’s Old City, which was seized during the 1948 War of Independence. During that time, synagogues in the Old City were razed. Tombstones became latrines. And Jews were barred from visiting holy sites. Christians took note of the mindset of the conquerors and reacted with horror at the thought that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher could become the next Palmyra.

Indeed, anyone concerned with the protection of the educational, scientific and cultural treasures of others, should look at Israel’s record. It may be the only country in the Middle East in recent years where the Christian population has consistently increased. The Jerusalem municipality gives out free Christmas trees to its Christian citizens each year. When different Christian sects come to blows occasionally over the administration of their holy sites, it is the Israeli police whom they call to restore peace.

Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem is the only guarantee that all of the city’s holy places will be preserved for everyone.

Reality and mutual respect, not fantasy, are the first building blocks of trust and treaties. It is a toss-up as to who has done more damage with the latest UNESCO fiasco — Arab regimes that continue to deny that the Jewish people have risen from the ashes, or dapper European diplomats who think that they can still denigrate cowering Jews. Take note Berlin and Brussels. Those days are over.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is the Wiesenthal Center’s Director of Interfaith Relations.

A version of this article was originally published by The Hill.

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