The logo of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is seen in front of its headquarters in Paris, France, October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

Answering readers’ questions and comments on Unesco Shmunesco

From time to time, I use this space to answer questions or refer to comments on my New York Times articles (I write a monthly column for the Times). My latest column, published last week, was headlined Unesco Shmunesco, and it dealt with the recent decision by the U.S. to pull out of Unesco, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Here is one paragraph:

Even amid Unesco’s repeated, ridiculous resolutions, the Israeli government resisted the temptation to withdraw from the organization. Israeli policy toward Unesco was — like its policy toward the rest of the United Nations — pretty simple: Remain a member and fight as hard as you can. Be a player. Do not give Israel’s foes what they want, which is Israel cast aside and ostracized by the international community… Enter President Trump. An Israeli strategy 70 years in the making is suddenly severely undermined…

You can find the full article here. The gist of it is simple: Israel is forced to pull out following the U.S., while its strategy for many years was to stay in — so Trump, by doing Israel a supposed favor, is not necessarily doing it a favor.

Now, some comments and questions from readers, followed by my responses to them:

A Jewish State

Lepton939 made this comment on Twitter, my favorite of this round:

But it was at the UN that the Jewish State was born, wasn’t it?

My response: On Twitter, I responded: “the irony.” Here, some explanation is due. Yes, Israel wanted the legitimacy of the UN and fought for it. And as it did — amid great difficulties — it alternated between ‘Um Shmum’ dismissals (Hebrew for ‘the UN means nothing’) and investment of resources, manpower, thought and manipulation in trying to remedy the damage done by the UN. A great example of that is the bitter fight against the “Zionism is racism” resolution (3379). If the UN is completely unimportant, why bother fighting against bogus resolutions? But Israel did, until the resolution was revoked (after more than 15 years).

Rapid overhaul?

Allan N. on Twitter:

Maybe the fear of lost $USD will lead to rapid overhaul and reversal. Or, UNESCO and its declarations become irrelevant.

My response: Maybe, hopefully. But I have some doubts, because of the history of the relations. One of the problems with writing (relatively) short articles for a daily paper is that a lot of the background to what one writes is lost — you just can’t include all the relevant information. But it is relevant to know that the U.S. already has pulled out of Unesco before, and has stopped funding Unesco before — namely, the Trump administration is not the first one to try to fix this organization. Can it succeed where previous administrations had difficulties? Maybe. Is it possible that it will not succeed? Sure. So, what is the difference between previous incidents and this one? The difference is simple: Since in this case the administration specifically mentioned Unesco’s behavior towards Israel as the reason for its action, it left Israel no choice but to follow through and take the same action (pulling out as soon as the U.S. does at the end of next year).

Give Credit

Avi Ulman on Facebook:

Look at the rather immediate result of this long overdue hardline — the antisemite Qatari who was the front-runner to lead UNESCO has lost to a French (Morrocan) Jew. Do not fool yourself, the very idea that the US will leave, and might be followed by other countries, each with its own grievances toward this shameful organization, has resulted in the unthinkable. We can loathe Trump’s unpresidential and erratic behavior (I do), but we should be intellectually honest and give credit where it’s due.

My response: Yes, Trump deserves credit for calling out this shameful organization, although the triumph of the French over the Qatari is more a result of intra-Arab political maneuvering. Clearly, the most problematic aspect of my article was the fact that it somewhat criticized a move that was meant, at least partially, as a show of support for Israel — support that is much appreciated. And surely, if Trump is able to heal Unesco by dealing with it bluntly, that’s good for Israel (and for everyone else). If Trump truly wants out, and Israel is forced to follow him, it is not as good for Israel. This is what I said at the end of my article: “this can work only if Mr. Trump’s motivation for quitting Unesco is truly to curb its anti-Israel bias. If, on the other hand, his main motivation is to free the United States from paying for something he does not value, then he hasn’t helped Israel. He has hurt it by forcing it out against its will.”

Hebron on July 7. Photo by Ammar Awad/Reuters

5 Hebron facts the UN needs to know

On July 12, I joined hundreds of people from around the world at the Machpelah Cave in Hebron, the sacred resting place of our patriarchs and matriarchs. We came to pray and to strengthen one another, to honor and seek blessings from our ancestors, and to express love and appreciation for the brave Israel Defense Forces soldiers who protect the site.

Six days earlierUNESCO, the United Nations’ (U.N.) world heritage body, sought to erase 3,753 years of history. In a shameless attempt to minimize the Jewish connection to this most ancient and revered Jewish site, it voted (by secret ballot, no less) — as reported by The New York Times — to declare the Machpelah Cave a “Palestinian World Heritage Site.” Jews and non-Jews from around the world, and from across the religious and political spectrum, united in expressing outrage at this latest endeavor to rewrite history. Lately, we’ve come to expect such attempts, as vilifying Israel has become the new “normal” at the United Nations.

To dispel this latest obfuscation of truth, here are five historical points ignored by the U.N. that testify to the connection between the Jewish people and this holy site:

1. As documented in the Torah and classic Jewish texts, Hebron was Abraham’s home for 75 years. He purchased the Machpelah Cave in Hebron as a family burial plot (Genesis 23:1-20) after his wife Sarah died. Thus, Hebron is the first part of the Land of Israel that officially became “Jewish property.” Ultimately, Abraham was buried there himself (Genesis 25:9-10), as were his son Isaac, Isaac’s wife, Rebecca, (Genesis 35:29, 49:31), Isaac’s son Jacob, and Jacob’s wife Leah (Genesis 49:31, 50:13). Hebron was Isaac’s home for most of his life, and Jacob lived in Hebron and inherited the Machpelah Cave.

Later, the Bible recounts how after the Jewish people left Mount Sinai, in order to enter the Land of Israel, Moses sent scouts to investigate the land prior to their entry. According to the Talmud, Caleb, one of the scouts, sensed that the other scouts were planning to dissuade the people from entering the land, so he went to the Machpelah Cave to pray that he not succumb to their scheme. When the scouts returned, only he and Joshua encouraged the people to prepare to enter the land. Subsequently, the city of Hebron was awarded to Caleb.

2. Hebron was King David’s first capital city. Archaeological evidence points to the fact that David was first crowned king in Hebron (875 B.C.E., 2 Samuel 2:1-4) over his own tribe, Judah, and then, seven years later, he was accepted in Hebron as king by the other tribes, as well (in 868 B.C.E., 2 Samuel 5:1-5). After this, he moved his capital to Jerusalem.

Let us urge the United Nations to turn its attention to where its efforts can be truly fruitful to humanity … Delegitimizing Jewish history is not an endeavor worthy of the United Nations.

3.  The Temple’s continual connection to Hebron. In 831 B.C.E., David’s son and successor, King Solomon, built the First Temple in Jerusalem. Every morning, the Temple priests did not begin the daily service until the sun rose and Hebron became visible, in order to link the merit of the patriarchs and matriarchs to the Jewish people’s daily connection to God (Tamid 3:2; Yoma 3a).

4. For millennia, Hebron has been recognized as Judaism’s second-holiest city, after Jerusalem. According to the Zohar, the second-century classic of Jewish mysticism, the cave is called Machpelah (“double”) because it is the connecting point between our physical world and the upper, spiritual worlds, and that when a person dies, his soul enters the afterlife via the Machpelah Cave. For the same reason, the city is called “Hebron” (Chevron, related to chibur), which means “connection.”

5. Jewish settlement in Hebron has been documented and uninterrupted throughout the generations, save for 20 years between 1947 and 1967, when Hebron was under Jordanian rule and Jordan banned Jews from living within its borders. In 1967, when Israel was attacked by the surrounding Arab countries in an unprovoked war, Israel reclaimed its historic heartland, including Hebron.

This year marks 50 years since the city of Hebron and the Machpelah Cave once again became accessible to Jews and to people of all faiths. For the preceding 700 years, beginning with the rule of the Mamluks (1260 C.E.), access to the cave was granted solely to Muslims.

Let us urge the United Nations to turn its attention to where its efforts can be truly fruitful to humanity — by helping to stop the massacre of innocent civilians in Syria; combating ISIS and other terrorist groups; and ending world hunger, disease, war and discrimination. Delegitimizing Jewish history is not an endeavor worthy of the United Nations.

RABBI CHAIM N. CUNIN is director and general editor of Chabad House Publications and associate rabbi at the Beverly Hills Jewish Community, which meets weekly at the Beverly Hills Hotel. This article is adapted from the newly released Kehot Chumash (Chabad House Publications).

Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks to the U.N. Security Council as it meets to discuss the recent ballistic missile launch by North Korea at U.N. headquarters in New York on July 5. Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters

Trump’s lack of State Department appointments can hurt Israel, experts say

Carmel Shama HaCohen, Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO, is second to none in his admiration for the Trump administration’s United Nations envoy, Nikki Haley. In fact, he’d like to clone her.

Shama HaCohen appreciated Haley’s efforts in trying to head off last week’s vote by UNESCO’s Heritage Committee naming Hebron’s Old City an endangered heritage site. And he believes the joint U.S.-Israeli bid to kill a resolution Israel saw as one-sided might have succeeded had a U.S. official of Haley’s caliber been onsite in Krakow, where the vote took place. (Haley conducted her efforts from New York.)

“We didn’t have the spirit that was strong enough,” Shama HaCohen said in an interview.

Crystal Nix-Hines, the Obama administration’s UNESCO envoy, left on Jan. 20. The Trump administration’s failure to replace her is part of a broader slowdown in naming top State Department positions. According to reports, fewer than 10 of the approximately 200 State Department positions that require nomination and confirmation have been filled.

Shama HaCohen, a blunt-speaking former Likud member of Knesset, said the absence of Israel’s most important ally at UNESCO was having far-reaching effects on defending his country.

“As soon as you have an ambassador, you have an ability to create a relationship with Washington, to advance an agenda,” he said. The absence of envoys “harms our efforts” to defend Israel, he said. “The United States is far from a capacity to bring her full complement to defend Israel.”

Shama Hacohen is not the only official on the front lines of defending Israel concerned about under-staffing among the U.S. diplomatic corps.

“The issue of staffing at the State Department is critical — at UNESCO and in the myriad other areas where U.S. leadership is crucial,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the Anti-Defamation League’s CEO, told JTA. “While there was a good-faith effort by Ambassador Nikki Haley and other members of the administration at UNESCO last week, the fact that there was no ambassador on the ground had an impact.”

For months, a broad array of Jewish groups and lawmakers from both parties have decried the Trump administration’s failure to fill another role: the State Department’s anti-Semitism monitor.

“We are also concerned by the Secretary of State’s seeming reluctance to appoint a special envoy to monitor and combat Anti-Semitism, which plays a critical role in raising awareness and action against anti-Semitism and anti-Israel actions globally,” Greenblatt said. “These positions should be filled as soon as possible.”

The understaffing and how it affects Israel-related diplomacy has also caught the attention of Republicans in Congress.

We “need more appointees in place,” said Kevin Bishop, a spokesman for Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of the Jewish state’s most ardent defenders in the Senate, when asked about Israel-related diplomacy. He pointed to remarks by Graham on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday: “Secretary (Rex) Tillerson needs to staff up the State Department and use it wisely,” Graham said, referring to a range of areas where he said it was AWOL. “I’m so worried about the State Department.”

A State Department official told JTA that the Trump administration remained committed to defending Israel in every international forum.

“We have been clear that the United States will oppose any effort to delegitimize or isolate Israel, wherever it occurs. We continue to do that,” said the official. “With respect to staffing, we continue to have a deep bench of experienced career professionals serving in key positions that are highly capable and able to help the Secretary lead the Department. We will continue the process of exploring and evaluating ways to improve organizational effectiveness and efficiency, including optimizing the impact of available resources.”

The White House has blamed Senate Democrats for obstructing nominations, noting in a release this week that Trump’s nominees are on average taking longer to clear the Senate than those of his predecessors. But Trump has also been slow to nominate: A June 29 count by the Washington Post showed that of the 200-plus State Department positions filled by nomination, Trump had formally nominated just 20 and that the Senate had confirmed eight.

Dan Shapiro, until January the Obama administration’s envoy to Israel, said career professionals were no substitute for diplomats who had the confidence of the administration.

“When in the past, during the Obama administration when we were fighting an anti-Israel resolution to recognize a Palestinian state, it was all hands on deck,” he said. “We would have ambassadors in capitals raising it, we would have senior officials, secretaries and under secretaries weighing with counterparts.”

Without the personal relationships diplomats cultivate with their counterparts in other countries, Shapiro said, “you don’t have the tools available, you can’t get to the most senior officials in other governments to be engaged to rally other countries to stand with us.”

Shapiro said the lack of appointees is hindering another issue Israel says is critical: Pressing the Palestinians to stop paying families of people jailed or killed while carrying out attacks on Israelis.

“We should be engaging many other governments at senior levels to urge them to let the Palestinians know we think it’s unacceptable,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is generally pleased with the Trump administration’s priorities, and appreciates that Trump himself raised the payments-to-prisoners issue in his meetings with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Indeed, Shama HaCohen said that part of his frustration was that the career diplomats in the U.S. UNESCO office were carrying out Obama-era policies seen as friendlier to UNESCO — not because they sought to undermine Trump, but because it was the only guidance they had in hand.

Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said the UNESCO vote might have been an outlier: The Obama administration stopped paying dues in 2011 because UNESCO recognized “Palestine” as a state, and as a result the United States lost its capacity to vote, diminishing its influence at the body in any case.

“We take the UNESCO issues very seriously and welcome the strong statements by Ambassador Haley,” Hoenlein told JTA.

Daniel Mariaschin, the executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, said that the lack of staffing was a problem, but that Israel’s overall obstacle at the U.N. and its affiliated bodies was institutional bias.

“There’s no question, having ambassadors with the worldview of Nikki Haley, building relationships, is important,” he said. “But automatic majorities, block voting which is built in the U.N. infrastructure. that’s really where these problems lie.”

People pray at the Western Wall on Jan. 12. Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images

UNESCO World Heritage Council votes to condemn Israeli actions in Jerusalem

The United Nations’ cultural agency voted to condemn Israeli actions in Jerusalem.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization’s World Heritage Council on Tuesday during its meeting in Poland passed a resolution submitted by the council’s Arab states rejecting Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem.

The resolution that was passed was a softened version of the original text submitted, reportedly due to pressure exerted by Israel and the United States.

The resolution was passed by a vote of 10 countries in favor, three opposed and eight abstentions.

The three states that opposed the resolution were Jamaica, the Philippines and Burkina Faso. The eight countries that abstained were: Angola, Croatia, Finland, Peru, Poland, Portugal, South Korea and Tanzania.

The resolution called Israel the “occupying power” and said that  the UN body “regrets the failure of the Israeli occupying authorities to cease the persistent excavations, tunneling, works, projects and other illegal practices in East Jerusalem, particularly in and around the Old City of Jerusalem, which are illegal under international law,” the Times of Israel reported, citing the resolution.

Unlike in previous years, the resolution stressed “the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions,” and does not refer to the Temple Mount compound solely by its Muslim names, “Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif,” instead calling it “a Muslim holy site of worship,” according to the Times of Israel.

A UNESCO resolution passed last October  ignored Jewish ties to the Western Wall and Temple Mount sites. In May, UNESCO approved a resolution that called on Israel to rescind any “legislative and administrative measures and actions” it has taken to “alter the character and status” of Jerusalem and rejected the idea of a “basic law” in Jerusalem, based off of a 1980 Knesset law, which implies that the city is one unified whole and governed solely by Israel.

The UNESCO World Heritage Council is expected to vote Friday on a resolution which would declare  the Old City of Hebron — including the Tomb of the Patriarchs — a Palestinian “World Heritage Site in danger.”

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Friday sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova asking them to oppose the resolution that would designate Hebron as a Palestinian heritage site.

The resolution, in which  Palestinians claim that the Tomb of the Patriarchs and the Old City of Hebron are endangered by the Israeli occupation, needs a two-thirds vote to pass.

In her letter, Haley said passage of the resolution could undermine the Trump Administration’s efforts to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Haaretz reported.

“The Tomb of the Patriarchs, which is sacred to three faiths, is in no immediate threat. Such a designation risks undermining the seriousness such an assessment by UNESCO should have,” Haley also wrote. “Many precious sites — from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Libya to Iraq to Syria — are under real and imminent threat of destruction today. They urgently demand UNESCO’s full and immediate attention, which should not be wasted on this sort of symbolic action.”

Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Trump’s trip: experts react

“If President Trump wanted to demonstrate his stunningly pro-Israeli credentials to pave the way for pressing [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu for concessions down the road, this trip couldn’t have gone any better.”

Aaron David Miller, Middle East analyst at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

“President Trump risked stepping on his own narrative of strong support for Israel and restarting peace talks with his ‘I didn’t say the word Israel’ moment. … Regardless, the president is likely to leave Israel with the well-deserved sense that the visit was a success.”

Dan Shapiro, former United States ambassador to Israel

“The president’s belief that the Palestinians are ready to reach for peace appears to be based on statements made to him by [Palestinian Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas. But actions by the PLO speak louder than words. The previous Israeli offers of peace were rejected, the glorification of terror continues, and payments to terrorists continue to be made.”

Elliott Abrams, former United States assistant secretary of state

“If he is going to try the same flawed policies that have failed for decades, he, too, will fail. The road to peace will begin in the towns and cities of Judea and Samaria, and we pray that he will accept our invitation to come and see real peace and coexistence in action.”

Oded Revivi, chief foreign envoy of the Yesha Council of West Bank Jewish communities

“Donald Trump is the first sitting president to visit the Western Wall. To a Jew, that is remarkable. … His timing to visit the Middle East at this time was impeccable. He couldn’t have picked a better time. It’s true that the Saudis proposed a peace proposal years ago, but now it’s a different Saudi Arabia. Oil is down. Saudi Arabia has a huge problem with Iran. Saudi Arabia realizes that there’s only one strong country in the Middle East that can benefit it, and it’s Israel. … [The Gulf States] are waiting for the time when it will be acceptable to have that great alliance and one of the great players will be the State of Israel, because who else can stand up to Iran other than Israel or the United States? His timing was excellent. This he could not have handled better.”

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles

“At a time when UNESCO and others continue to deny Jewish history, identity and rights in Jerusalem and Israel in general, the president’s visit to the Western Wall serves as a critical reminder to the world that Israel is the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people. We are grateful that the administration recognizes the threat Iran’s regime poses to the world and to Israel in particular. We are also excited about the new possibilities of increased cooperation and even peace between Israel and the Arab world. Time will tell if these regional efforts and peace negotiations with the Palestinians will be successful, but we remain hopeful.”

Roz Rothstein, co-founder and CEO StandWithUs, an Israel education organization

People watch the Israeli Air Force planes fly in formation over the Mediterranean Sea on May 2. Photo by Ammar Awad/Reuters

Daily Kickoff: Experts downplay expectations for Trump’s Abbas meeting | Ivanka’s West Wing agenda | Wilbur Ross calls Syria strikes ‘entertainment’

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HAPPENING TODAY — In public debut, F-35 jets streak over Israel for Independence Day: “Israeli F-35 stealth fighter jets soared above cities throughout Israel on Tuesday for the country’s annual Independence Day flyover, marking the first time the public got a look at the Air Force’s state-of-the-art plane. Israel is the first country outside the United States to receive the state-of-the-art F-35, which is manufactured by Lockheed Martin. In total, the country is planning to purchase 50 of the fifth-generation stealth aircraft, known in Israel as the “Adir,” or “mighty one,” and has thus far received five of them.” [ToI]

“UNESCO disavows Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem in 22-10 vote” by Tovah Lazaroff, Herb Keinon: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Tuesday’s “absurd” 22-10 UNESCO vote disavowing Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem still represents a positive diplomatic change: more states abstained or supported Israel than voted against… According to Israeli officials, Germany was a driving force behind a deal that would see all EU states abstain in exchange for the removal of the most incendiary anti-Israel passages. But on Monday, Italy announced that it would vote against the resolution, apparently ending the effort to forge a European consensus.” [JPost; ToI]

“Why Israel Got Into a Dust-Up With Germany” by Daniel Gordis: “Most Israelis are keenly aware that without the IDF, they would not survive. Of all weeks of the year, this was certainly not the moment for a German to come to Israel to meet with an organization that most Israelis believe wants to make Jews vulnerable once again.” [Bloomberg]

“Every Senator Agrees the U.N. Must Change” by Senators Chris Coons and Marco Rubio: “As both the U.N.’s principal founding member and its largest financial contributor, the U.S. must insist on real reforms. We in Congress have a responsibility to conduct rigorous oversight of U.S. engagement at the U.N. and its use of our citizens’ tax dollars… Still, the U.N. continues to fund and maintain many standing committees that serve no purpose other than to attack Israel and inspire the anti-Israel boycott, sanctions and divestment movement. These committees must be eliminated or reformed.” [WSJ

TAYLOR FORCE ACT — “Senators Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham and Tom Cotton write to Trump that the PA is no partner for peace with Israel as long as it’s ‘spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year funding and incentivizing terror'” [Haaretz; FreeBeacon]

DRIVING THE WEEK — White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer offered no clarity at yesterday’s press briefing about Trump’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ahead of the Trump-Abbas meeting on Wednesday. “The President’s ultimate goal is to establish peace in the region,” he asserted. “That’s obviously the goal and the discussion that he’s going to have with the head of the Palestinian Authority. But that’s going to be a relationship that he continues to work on and build with the ultimate goal that there’s peace in that region between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”

Asked about newly announced Israeli settlement building in E. Jerusalem,Spicer said, “I’m sure that we’ll continue to have conversations with the Prime Minister and — I’m not going to — that will be something that President will continue to discuss.” [CSPANA possible announcement about moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem “is still being discussed by staff,” added Spicer.

YESTERDAY IN DC — Washington Institute (WINEP) panel calls for lowering expectations from Trump-Abbas meeting — by Aaron Magid: “In spite of the sudden spate of optimism that the Trump administration can do it, I would argue no major breakthrough is available now. No lack of effort or shortage of time prevented the deal so far during the many years since Oslo,” explained Channel 2 Arab Affairs analyst Ehud Ya’ari. “[Abbas] is not the man who is going to sign the deal giving up on the return of many, many refugees. Embarking upon a final status effort is going to once again backfire. It is simply not there now. Therefore, the big question is whether the Trump administration will come to the table with a fallback, which can only be some version of a comprehensive interim (deal).”

Trump’s approach to the meeting with Abbas “needs to be in the first instance to demonstrate the difference from Obama,” argued Ambassador Dennis Ross. “The one thing that can’t be the result of this meeting is that Abbas leaves and feels it’s ok to say no to Trump. He needs to understand that when you say no to Trump, you pay a price.”

At the same time, WINEP Fellow Ghaith Omari advocated that the Trump administration adopt a nuanced approach when setting the goals for the meeting. “If President Trump asks for too much and too quickly, Abbas might shut down and he might retreat to preserve his domestic standing and nothing will come out of the meeting,” Omari said. “On the other hand, if the President asks for too little and is willing to engage on a diplomatic process with no preparation, we might end up with a very familiar story with a peace process where neither or one of the sides is willing or able to reach a deal, and we are just being strung along.” [JewishInsider]

“Can Trump Make Mideast Peace Without Gaza?” by Grant Rumley: “Any feasible peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians will require serious concessions from both sides. And no Palestinian leader sitting in the West Bank can compromise on the most sensitive issues in Palestinian politics – the status of Jerusalem, refugees, borders, etc. – while a rival party controls half the territory of a future Palestinian state… Rather than ignoring Hamas, the U.S. can support a political process that not only diminishes the terror group’s standing but also gives the more pragmatic (albeit flawed) Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority a chance at re-establishing a legitimate claim to Gaza in future negotiations.” [Politico] • In Palestinian Power Struggle, Hamas Moderates Talk on Israel [NYTimes]

“What Trump’s meeting with Abbas means for the Middle East” by Aaron David Miller: “The bottom line on the Abbas meeting — like the Netanyahu visit in February — is that for now the emperor (in this case the peace process) has no clothes. It’s not yet ready for prime time. So whatever Trump’s strategy, and it’s not at all clear he has yet developed one, this meeting with Abbas and the Palestinians will be the first of many if the President is serious about involving his administration in a peacemaking effort.” [CNN]

SPOTLIGHT: “Trump’s Israel-Palestine Negotiator Isn’t Qualified — And that might be exactly why he pulls off a peace deal” by Armin Rosen: “[Jason] Greenblatt is only in the world of Middle East diplomacy because his longtime boss was elected president, but in the context of Israeli-Palestinian affairs, the appearance of favoritism might actually help him… It’s harder to stall an envoy, or to go behind the envoy’s back and appeal to other, friendlier administration officials or congressional allies, when the sides believe that the mediator is a direct extension of the president… Greenblatt is about as personally close to the president as someone in his position could be. And Trump has been remarkably and even uncharacteristically consistent on Israeli-Palestinian peace… Closeness with an engaged president is a powerful tool for an envoy — as long as there’s a policy vision and a sustained commitment from the Oval Office underlying his work.” [FP

“Rodrigo Duterte Says He May Be Too Busy for White House Visit” by Felipe Villamor: “President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines said on Monday that he might not accept President Trump’s invitation to visit the White House, because he was “tied up” with a busy schedule… “I’m supposed to go to Russia, I’m also supposed to go to Israel.”[NYTimes

“Trump’s warm words for strongmen set off alarms” by Annie Karni: “We’ve always had relationships with governments that are problematic, but we hold them accountable on it and we don’t lavish them with praise this way,” said Ilan Goldenberg, a former State Department official under John Kerry… “It completely undercuts our soft power our influence and our credibility as the leader of the free world… The fear of complicating relationships with the United States acts as a restraint — when Trump lavishes this praise, he implies there is no restraint.” [Politico]

“Ivanka Trump’s West Wing Agenda” by Jodi Kantor, Rachel Abrams and Maggie Haberman: “Ms. Trump is her father’s all-around West Wing confidante… The two trade thoughts from morning until late at night, according to aides. Even though she has no government or policy experience, she plans to review some executive orders before they are signed, according to White House officials. She calls cabinet officials on issues she is interested in, recently asking the United Nations ambassador, Nikki R. Haley, about getting humanitarian aid into Syria. She set up a weekly meeting with Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary… Sometimes she seeks out Mr. Trump, telling other staff members, “I need 10 minutes alone with my father.” “A lot of their real interactions happen when it’s just the two of them,” Jared Kushner, Ms. Trump’s husband and fellow aide, said in a telephone interview.” [NYTimes]

“Trump Adviser Jared Kushner Didn’t Disclose Startup Stake” by Jean Eaglesham, Juliet Chung and Lisa Schwartz: “Mr. Kushner’s stake in Cadre — a tech startup that pairs investors with big real-estate projects – means the senior White House official is currently a business partner of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and billionaires including George Soros and Peter Thiel, according to people close to the company. The Cadre stake is one of many interests — and ties to large financial institutions — that Mr. Kushner didn’t identify on his disclosure form, according to a Wall Street Journal review of securities and other filings.” [WSJ]

ON THE HILL — “Senate panel puts Russia sanctions bill on hold” by Karoun Demirjian: “The committee’s ranking Democrat, Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), had hoped that the Russia sanctions bill would advance to a vote alongside compromise legislation to impose stricter sanctions against Iran over a spate of recent ballistic missile tests and the activities of the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps… That Iran sanctions bill — compromise legislation that Corker and Cardin unveiled in March after more than eight months of wrangling — could be voted on by the full Senate later this month, Corker said… The Senate does not go on an extended break again until the week of Memorial Day, and Corker said Monday that the Iran sanctions bill “could move at the end of this work period.”” [WashPost

LongRead — FRENCH ELECTIONS: “The Future of Europe Hinges on a Face-Off in France” by Lauren Collins: “I wandered away and started talking to a woman wearing a quilted leather jacket and lots of mascara. “I adore Marine!” she said, identifying herself as Michèle… She had high hopes for the election, particularly after what had happened in America. “Bravo, bravo for Trump!” she said. She was unimpressed by Macron, whom she called “a little opportunistic asshole.” She asked if I knew that he was “a Rothschild banker” (Macron worked for the firm from 2008 to 2012, earning around a million dollars a year), invoking a slur—I heard it repeated over and over, and not just by F.N. supporters—that seemed laser-targeted toward some primal place in the French imagination, where a fondness for conspiracy theory intersected with a suspicion of high finance. “Rothschild banker” suggested, without having to say it, that Jewish influence was at work, making it all the more irresistible for the Front National.” [NewYorker

** Good Tuesday Morning! Enjoying the Daily Kickoff? Please share us with your friends & tell them to sign up at [JI]. Have a tip, scoop, or op-ed? We’d love to hear from you. Anything from hard news and punditry to the lighter stuff, including event coverage, job transitions, or even special birthdays, is much appreciated. Email **

BUSINESS BRIEFS: Interview with Mitchell Davidson, Managing Partner of Post Capital Partners [LinkedIn] • David Geffen Sells Malibu Home for Record $85 Million[THR] • Media mogul Barry Diller’s IAC to buy Angie’s list [Reuters] • Chinese tycoon who sought stake in Kushner property faces scrutiny [BostonGlobe]

HEARD AT THE MILKEN GLOBAL CONFERENCE — White House advisor Reed Cordish discussed the administration’s plans for workforce development: “We’re going to retrain America to take on the new jobs we need.” Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe, who was also on the panel, appeared to endorse the idea. [Pic]

Via the Jewish Journal’s Ryan Torok who is covering Milken this week: At the conference, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin spoke of the effectiveness of policy implementing sanctions against terrorist organizations or countries sponsoring terrorism, including Iran. “These sanctions really do work [on countries such as Syria],” he said in an interview with Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business Network. “When you cut off the money to terrorist organizations, you have a big impact and I think you saw this in the case of Iran. The only reason Iran came to the table to negotiate was because of economic sanctions on them,” he said, “and that’s what created the incentive.””

“Wilbur Ross Says Syria Missile Strike Was ‘After-Dinner Entertainment’ at Mar-a-Lago” by Gene Maddaus: “Just as dessert was being served, the president explained to Mr. Xi he had something he wanted to tell him, which was the launching of 59 missiles into Syria,” Ross said. “It was in lieu of after-dinner entertainment.” As the crowd laughed, Ross added: “The thing was, it didn’t cost the president anything to have that entertainment.” [Variety]

“Unusual Honor for U.S. Jews on Israeli Independence Day Fires Up Local Twittersphere” by Allison Kaplan Sommer: “The fact that the speeches of the torch-lighters, billionaire philanthropist Michael Steinhardt and Rabbi Marvin Hier, were in English instead of Hebrew particularly grated on some ears. “Truthfully, it would feel much more natural to me to hear Arabic spoken at the torch-lighting than English,” diplomat Shani Cooper, Israel’s deputy head of mission in Ankara, Turkey, tweeted. Channel 2’s political reporter and commentator Amit Segal went a step further, tweeting that: “The torch should only be lit by those who speak Hebrew and live in Israel. Elementary.” … Several on Twitter joked that the gesture to wealthy American Jews was necessary in order for [Minister Miri] Regev and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to raise sufficient funds for the country’s planned 70th anniversary festivities next year.” [Haaretz] • How a US billionaire’s Jewish spark became an Independence Day torch [ToI]

SPORTS BLINK — Aly Raisman teams up with T-shirt company to remind us Life is Good: “The executives at Life is Good are hoping that Aly Raisman’s gold-medal glory can rub off on the Boston apparel company. The gymnast has signed a two-year partnership with Life is Good, and she played a key role in creating a line of T-shirts being launched this spring. The new Ally Tee Collection is geared to girls and women and features three designs that emphasize kindness, authenticity, and courage.” [BostonGlobe]

DESSERT: “Israeli-born chef strikes gold with top U.S. prize” by Richard Leong: “Philadelphia chef Michael Solomonov, praised for his modern Israeli cuisine, struck gold by winning the top U.S. chef prize from the James Beard Foundation on Monday… Solomonov… turned his focus on Israeli and Jewish cooking after his younger brother David who served in the Israeli army was killed on Yom Kippur in 2003.” [Reuters]

BIRTHDAYS: Former Lord Chief Justice and President of the Courts of England and Wales, Baron Harry Kenneth Woolf turns 84… Professor of international relations and Middle Eastern studies at NYU’s Center for Global Affairs, journalist, international negotiator and private consultant, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir turns 80… Author, publisher, president of four radio stations in the Pacific Northwest, conservative political activist, gun rights advocate, Alan Merril Gottlieb turns 70… Former member of the Texas Senate (1993-2013), she was born in NYC to Holocaust survivor parents, Florence Shapiroturns 69… Former US AID contractor, imprisoned by Cuba from 2009 to 2014, Alan Gross turns 68… Shorenstein Fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School, previously Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy (2014-2016) and Managing Editor of Time Magazine (2006-2013), Richard Allen “Rick” Stengel turns 62… Member of the New York State Assembly, previously a member of the NYC Council and former Deputy Superintendent of the NYS Banking Commission, David Weprin turns 61… Billionaire businesswoman, entrepreneur, civic leader, she served as US Secretary of Commerce (2013-2017), now chairman of the private investment firm she founded PSP Capital Partners, Penny Sue Pritzker turns 58… DC-based CBS News correspondent, once a K-12 student at CESJDS in Rockville, Julianna Goldman turns 36… Campaign director for the Center for American Progress Action Fund, previously the executive director of the Young Democrats of America during the 2012 election ctycle, Emily Tisch Sussmanturns 35… Communications Specialist at the NYC office of HIAS, previously a Senior Strategist at West End Strategy Team, Gabe Cahn turns 27… Founder & CEO of the Helena Group, Henry Elkus turns 22… Director of communications at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, previously senior director of media relations at the National Retail Federation, Stephen Schatz… Rosalyn Spiegel… Susanna Fried… Israel’s best tour guide Michael Bauer

Gratuity not included. We love receiving news tips but we also gladly accept tax deductible tips. 100% of your donation will go directly towards improving Jewish Insider. Thanks! [PayPal]

Forgotten Christmas messages

Toward the end of each year, millions of people across Europe flock to traditional Christmas markets to enjoy hot mulled wine, listen to bands playing carols and enjoy the bright lights piercing the icy dark. Many also attend churches and concert halls for a traditional performance of Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio.” After the joyous opening, the tenor sings,“Da machte sich auch auf Joseph … aus Galilaea … in das juedische Land zur Stadt David” (“Joseph went into the Land of the Jews … to the City of David ”), followed by the alto singing “Rise up Zion, and abandon your weeping …” 

Premiered in 1734, these words were sung more than 200 years before the establishment of the Jewish State of Israel in 1948 and even longer before Israel occupied that “Land of the Jews” (renamed the “West Bank” between 1949 and 1967) following the Six-Day War.

Today, UNESCO all but denies the 3,000-year-old Jewish connection to Judea, including Jerusalem, with its magnificent Temple that the Jew Jesus visited. 

The European Union states, where hundreds of millions celebrate Christmas, just supported another United Nations General Assembly resolution condemning Israel, using the Arab/Muslim term for the Har Habayit (aka the Temple Mount.) 

Some churches, as in New Zealand, have changed references to “Israel” and “Zion” from their prayer books.

What goes through their minds as they listen to those old Christian texts?

During the same festive season, many parents take their children to productions of Mozart’s “Magic Flute,” written 57 years after the “Christmas Oratorio.” The story, incorporating Freemason themes, is based on the European Enlightenment’s age of reason, equality and liberty, which fired the imagination of both Mozart and Thomas Jefferson, his senior by 13 years. Both these men would become icons of Western civilization — the very issue being debated in a turbulent Europe today.

Has the enlightened world of Mozart and Jefferson been dumped for mindless populism and political correctness?

In contrast to Europeans today, the deeply religious Bach understood that the Jewish people were tied to the “Land of the Jews” for thousands of years, which is reflected in language, beliefs, rich archaeological finds, ancient references to the House of David, and the pilgrim festivals of Sukkot, Shavuot and Pesach that are celebrated to this very day.

In short, the Jews are the indigenous people of Israel and, despite exile, always maintained a significant presence in their lands. Indeed, the first census of Jerusalem, taken in 1840, attests to Jews being the largest group, which soon became an absolute majority.

Yet Jews are treated very differently from other indigenous people such as Native Americans, the Sami in Scandinavia or the Ainu in Japan. Why?

A major reason is that the early Christian theologian Augustine, arguably the founder of Western Christianity, asserted that Jews be regarded as “eternal witness,” as pariahs, which would render them homeless, unloved and impoverished. Their status would be seen as a triumph of Christianity and serve as a warning to Christians. 

This “eternal witness” epithet became a dominant force in the treatment of Jews. It was reflected in European culture with Wagner, Degas, Agatha Christie, T.S. Eliot and many others. Significantly, the anti-Jewish Hep-Hep riots in Germany, the Mortara Affair in Italy, the Dreyfus Affair in France and the Nazis of 1933 all occurred in post-Enlightenment Europe. 

The treatment of Jewish students on some American and European campuses today, eliciting at best tepid responses by authorities, is therefore of serious concern. A few weeks ago I wrote about the courageous aboriginal leader William Cooper, who demanded justice for both his own people and the Jewish people in Germany. 

Where are the William Coopers on campus?

Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activities against Israel occur in various forms. Magen David Adom, Israel’s version of the Red Cross, for example, is permitted to use only the Red Crystal, instead of the Star of David outside its borders, including eastern Jerusalem and other areas of “the Land of the Jews.”

Bishop Desmond Tutu is a strong advocate of Israel’s total isolation and inverts the Holocaust yet receives Germany’s prestigious prizes. The Kairos Palestine Document, which advocates boycotts against Israel, has been signed by mainstream churches and endorsed by the World Council of Churches. Conductor Daniel Barenboim, Edward Said’s protégé, who vociferously supports boycotting Israel, received Germany’s Peace Prize. Palestinian resistance advocate Felicia Langer was given Germany’s highest award by former President Horst Kohler. She speaks at churches, comparing Israel to apartheid, referring to its leaders as war criminals. Demonizing Israel has become de rigueur on campus by those who disgrace scholarship.

Students often hide their Jewishness while other Jews, such as Nathan Braude, principal violist in the Brussels Philharmonic and a professor at the Royal Conservatory Ghent, are told to sign onto BDS before accepting their positions. In Germany, official Jewish community mail is now sent in plain envelopes, minus the Star of David logo, as recommended by the police. World and community leaders do not even react to these outrages.

Any wonder then that the German Ministry of Justice has stated that the documented levels of anti-Semitism in Germany for 2015 are three times that of 2014?

What happened to the Age of Reason? Has it been replaced by mindless populism and political correctness?

The pariah status of Jews and Israel is some 1,600 years old. It is not about Jews being “bad,” but rather about being Jews as Jews. After all, Hitler said that “conscience is a Jewish invention.” 

When millions of families, academics, church goers, secular traditionalists and BDS supporters across Europe and the United States gather at their beautiful trees on Christmas Eve, will they ponder the text, “Joseph went to the Land of the Jews?” Or, will they blindly follow a populist mantra that contradicts enlightened reason, let alone historicity?

Ron Jontof-Hutter is a writer based in Melbourne and Berlin where he is a Fellow at the Berlin Center for the Study of Antisemitism. He is the author of the recently published satire on populist anti-Semitism, ”The Trombone Man: Tales of a Misogynist.”

U.S. lawmakers criticize upcoming UNESCO committee vote on Jerusalem proposal

A group of U.S. senators and congressmen have called on a UNESCO committee to vote against a second resolution that diminishes Jewish and Christian ties to the Old City of Jerusalem.

The bi-partisan letter initiated by led by Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) was sent on Monday to the World Heritage committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which is currently holding its annual meeting.

The committee’s 21 member states are scheduled to vote on Wednesday on its “The Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls” resolution. The resolution, which is expected to pass by a wide margin, is similar to a resolution passed earlier this month by the UNESCO executive board.

The letter reads: “The Old City of Jerusalem is important to the three monotheistic religions, and we celebrate the heritage and cultural ties of these religions to Jerusalem. Unfortunately, this proposed resolution is yet another attempt to rewrite history by denying Jewish and Christian ties to Jerusalem. The Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, along with the Western Wall, where Jews from all over the world come to pray, are again described exclusively as Muslim holy sites and are referred to only by their Muslim names. References to the Western Wall are in quotation marks implying that the title is unofficial and not based on historical fact.”

“Jewish and Christian ties to the holy sites in Jerusalem are irrefutable, and attempts to distort this historical truth undermine the very purpose and integrity of UNESCO. The upcoming resolution at the World Heritage Committee is every bit as divisive as the Executive Board resolution, despite Jerusalem’s inscription as a holy city for Judaism, Christianity and Islam on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. Furthermore, attempting to erase the Jewish and Christian connection to this sacred city will further damage the prospects of peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” the letter also said.

The letter is similar to one signed earlier this month by 41 U.S. lawmakers in advance of the executive board vote: 24 votes in favor and 6 against, with 26 countries abstaining.

Monday’s letter also is signed by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.); and Reps. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Kay Granger (R-Texas), Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), and Ed Royce (R-Calif.).

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in a statement issued Tuesday condemned the heritage committee for considering such a resolution.

“It is disappointing and wrong to see that UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee is considering a resolution on Jerusalem that fails to recognize and respect the deep and historic ties of the Jewish people to Jerusalem and its holy sites. Tomorrow’s planned vote follows an outrageous UNESCO vote last week on a similar resolution. I have always stood with Israel to reject these biased actions at the United Nations, and I always will,” the Clinton statement said.

Both Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump last week criticized the UNESCO executive committee for its vote.

UNESCO and the culture of denial

The resolution by the executive board of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) last week to remove any reference to a Jewish link to the Temple Mount while condemning Israeli behavior in the Old City of Jerusalem is disturbing on various levels.  

First, it fortifies the impression that a body supposedly devoted to the noble goals of cultural preservation and educational advancement is simply a tool of political propaganda. Moreover, it reveals that those responsible have a profoundly deficient sense of history. The fact that the resolution mustered only a minority of those countries eligible to vote (the vote was 24-6, with 26 abstaining) offers little succor.  Somewhat more consoling was the reaction of UNESCO’s director-general, Irina Bokova, who hastened to affirm the historical connections of Judaism, as well as Christianity and Islam, to the holy site by noting: “The Al Aqsa Mosque/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, a few steps away from the Saint Sepulcher and the Mount of Olives revered by Christians.”

The UNESCO decision was symbolic and likely will have few real policy ramifications. But it taps into a destructive culture of historical denial that widens the chasm between Israelis and Palestinians. Denial of the other’s history is not unique to this conflict; it has been a regrettably common practice in troubled spots such as Northern Ireland, India-Pakistan and the Balkans, among other sites. It can have a toxic effect, deepening enmity, disdain and resistance to the very humanity of the other side.  

Sadly, the Palestinians are quite accomplished in the game of historical denial. No less a figure than Yasser Arafat startled his audience at the Camp David summit in 2000, including then-President Bill Clinton, by alleging that the First Temple was built by Solomon in Nablus, not Jerusalem. But classical Islamic sources, as David Barnett has shown in a 2011 study, do make reference to a bayt al-maqdis, the Arabic cognate for the “beit ha-mikdash” or Holy Temple, in Jerusalem.  

Meanwhile, in 2010, an official in the Information Ministry of the Palestinian Authority, Al-Mutawakil Taha, issued a report stating that the Western Wall was Muslim property and had no religious significance for Jews. More recently, there has been an uptick in denialism in Palestinian religious and political circles.  The current Palestinian Minister of Religious Affairs, Yusuf Ida’is, has frequently declared that the Temple Mount belongs exclusively to Muslims — and that assertions of a Jewish connection are falsifications. In similar fashion, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, a frequent denier, delivered an address in May 2016 that sought to dismiss “the Jews’ claims in the land of Palestine,” particularly in Jerusalem and around the Temple Mount. Unfortunately, this kind of historical rubbish is proclaimed on a weekly, if not daily, basis, and not on the fringes of Palestinian society, but at the center.

And yet, part of what makes the practice of historical denial so pernicious is that it invites and often requires historical denial from the other side. In their struggle to assert control over the land, Israeli Jews and supporters of Israel have also engaged in forms of erasure, including the denial of a link by Palestinians to Palestine.  

The holy bible of this argument is Joan Peters’ 1984 book, “From Time Immemorial,” in which the American author argued that Arabs were not indigenous to the land but were relatively late arrivals to Palestine. She refers, for example, to the “sparse Arab population” of Palestine around the time of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, an assertion that flies in the face of almost all other data, including those of two of the leading Jewish demographers of the 20th century, Arthur Ruppin and Roberto Bachi. 

Peters’ book was initially greeted with a good deal of praise in the United States, winning a National Jewish Book Award in 1985. Upon closer inspection, the book’s flaws were exposed, owing, in no small part, to a review in The New York Review of Books by the renowned Israeli scholar of Palestine Yehoshua Porath, who pointed out that “a large majority of Muslim Arabs inhabited the land” well before the British Mandate. Even the reliably conservative scholar Daniel Pipes characterized the book as “appallingly crafted.”

Rather than die a quick death, the Peters thesis has been championed ever since by various pro-Israel activists, perhaps no more prominently than by former Israeli diplomat Yoram Ettinger, who parlays the denial of the Palestinians’ historical roots into a new demographic claim that there are at least a million fewer of them in the West Bank than any other accepted source estimates.  This virtual depopulation has been greeted enthusiastically by Israeli Ministers Naftali Bennett and Tzipi Hotovely, who use Ettinger’s numbers to lay permanent claim to the occupied territories.  

In his review of Peters, Porath analyzes “the two contrasting mythologies that the Arabs and the Jews have developed to explain their situations.” History is often summoned to celebrate the virtue of one side’s rights entirely at the expense of another’s. Unfortunately, the Palestinians are all-too-willing participants in the game of historical denial. But the Israelis and their friends can play it, too. And now UNESCO reveals its appetite for this perverse blood sport. Rather than perpetuate imbalanced and inaccurate myths, it could have insisted on the presentation of both Israeli and Palestinian narratives regarding Jerusalem. While hardly a guarantee of success, such a dual narrative approach compels each side to acknowledge and confront the other’s past, which is a necessary, if long, step toward recognizing your enemy’s humanity. 

David N. Myers is the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Professor of Jewish History at UCLA.

UNESCO vote loco, Hispanic Christians say

Thousands of Christians from around the world are visiting Jerusalem this week tracing the footsteps of Jesus through the cobbled winding streets of the Old City as they do every Sukkot, one of the three Jewish festivals where Jews made the pilgrimage to the Temple centuries ago, but now a UNESCO resolution negates these events ever happened.

It is hardly shocking that Iran, along with several Arab countries, voted in favor of the draft resolution by the U.N cultural body last week, in a move widely viewed as denying the historic and religious ties between Jews and Jerusalem.

But among all the many absurdities of that paper, I was stunned by the fact that Latin American powerhouses Brazil and Mexico along with Nicaragua and Dominican Republic embraced the resolution.

The latest figures from the Pew Research Center show that in these countries and the rest of Latin America the vast majority of the populations identify as Christians (69% of the total population is Catholic, 19% is Protestant).

Surely these countries understand that by diminishing Jewish history, UNESCO de facto negated Christian ties to the holy city as well.

For if there was no Jewish temple as UNESCO insinuates then Jesus could never have set foot there as detailed in scripture.

Pastor Mario Bramnick, President of the Hispanic Israel Leadership Coalition (HILC) said his organization “condemns UNESCO’s decision which denies the historical Jewish and Christian connection to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.”

Pastor Bramnick told Fuente Latina, a U.S. non-profit working with Hispanic media covering Israel and the Mideast, that “Jerusalem and the Temple Mount were originally under Jewish control with later Christian influence. Jesus taught, prayed and performed miracles in Jerusalem and the Temple Mount during the time of the Second Temple.”

In case you missed it, UNESCO green lighted a resolution on Thursday called “Occupied Palestine” that names holy sites, including the location where the Jewish temples stood in biblical times, by their Islamic names only and put Jewish names for them in inverted commas, which questions their authenticity.  And this is by the body created by the U.N. in part to advance understanding between cultures.

The draft resolution, sponsored by several Arab countries, was of course not the first time that Palestinians and others have exploited the U.N. to taint Israel’s image. But this time the move hit Jews and Christians around the world on a deeper level than before as Jerusalem and its holy sites are at the heart of the faiths.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dubbed the resolution “absurd” after it was announced and later tweeted: What's next? A UNESCO decision denying the connection between peanut butter and jelly? Batman and Robin? Rock and roll?”

Similar, if more restrained, reactions came from many communities around the world.

But the resolution was mostly met with apathy in Latin America.  Brazil, Mexico, Dominican Republic and Nicaragua all historically have good relations with Israel and they all have very large Christian populations. However, in 2010, Nicaragua suspended ties with Israel.

Although governments in those countries mostly remained passive, both Christians and Jews in the Spanish speaking world are expressing their outrage over the vote and demanding answers from their representatives.

Thousands of Hispanic Christians and Jews from around the world signed several petitions to reverse UNESCO’s decision. A Spanish language social media movement, #SomosIsrael (We are Israel), initiated by Hispanic Christians, took to Twitter the night the resolution was signed and became a top trending topic in several Latin American countries, generating over five million impressions in one day and days later still continues strong.

The united voices show support for Israel and outrage for the rewriting of history with a clear demand for action so those Latin American countries reconsider their position.

Mexico has since changed its stance, withdrawing support for the UNESCO resolution and changed its vote to an abstention. Brazil expressed reservations about the language of the resolution, but did not change its official position. Let’s see if Dominican Republic and Nicaragua follow suit.

Despite protests, the controversial resolution was adopted by UNESCO’s Executive Committee on Tuesday.

Leah Soibel is founder and CEO of Fuente Latina, a U.S. non-profit, non-governmental organization that removes geographic and linguistic barriers for global Spanish language media covering stories about Israel and the Mideast. With offices in Jerusalem, Madrid, and Miami, FL is the only organization of its kind engaging international Latino media in their language and in real time. Follow us on Twitter @fuentelatina

UNESCO board formally approves resolution denying Jewish holy sites

The executive board of the United Nations cultural agency voted to adopt a controversial resolution that denies a Jewish connection to the Old City of Jerusalem.

The board reportedly formally approved the resolution on Tuesday morning in the final day of its meeting in Paris.

The approval comes five days after the resolution passed in a preliminary vote of the executive board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. In that vote, there were 2 4 votes in favor and 6 against, with 26 countries abstaining. 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 Monday, Mexico changed its vote from “in favor” to abstain, saying in a statement” “Changing the vote reiterates the recognition that the government of Mexico gives to the undeniable link of the Jewish people to cultural heritage located in East Jerusalem. It also reflects the deep appreciation that this government has for the Jewish community and in particular for their significant contributions to the welfare and economic, social and cultural development of Mexico.”

Mexico fired its Jewish ambassador to UNESCO, however, after Andre Roemer in a personal protest walked out of last week’s vote in Paris, leaving his deputy to cast the country’s vote.

Discussion and a vote on the resolution were postponed from the board’s meeting in July.

The UNESCO resolution reportedly refers to the Temple Mount several times as Al Haram Al Sharif, the Islamic term for the Temple Mount, without mentioning that it is the holiest site in Judaism, according to UN Watch. It also uses the term Buraq Plaza, placing Western Wall Plaza in quotes, appearing to deny a Jewish connection to the site. The Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron is referred to as the al-Ḥaram al-Ibrahimi and Rachel’s Tomb, outside Bethlehem, is noted as the Bilal ibn Rabaḥ Mosque.

A similar resolution was adopted by UNESCO’s executive board in April.

Mexico fires Jewish ambassador who protested UNESCO vote, but will now abstain

Mexico has fired its ambassador to UNESCO, Andre Roemer, who is Jewish, for protesting against his country’s decision to vote for a resolution denying Jewish ties to Jerusalem.

“For not having informed diligently and with meticulousness of the context in which the voting process occurred, for reporting to representatives of countries other than Mexico about the sense of his vote, and for making public documents and official correspondence subject to secrecy,” read the official statement released on Oct. 17.

However, the Latin American country announced it will now change its vote from “in favor” to abstain on the proposal concerning the preservation of cultural heritage and religion in eastern Jerusalem.

“Changing the vote reiterates the recognition that the government of Mexico gives to the undeniable link of the Jewish people to cultural heritage located in East Jerusalem. It also reflects the deep appreciation that this government has for the Jewish community and in particular for their significant contributions to the welfare and economic, social and cultural development of Mexico,” the statement also said.

For the first time since 2010, Mexico will oppose a proposal by the Palestinian-Arab bloc in UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

“Sadly, the ambassador to UNESCO was sacrificed, but it meant a change to the perennial tradition of following the vote of the Latin American bloc, which passed an absurd and biased resolution by a majority,” wrote Jewish Mexican news portal Enlace Judio.

In a personal protest, Roemer walked out of last week’s vote in Paris, leaving his deputy to cast the country’s vote. He also apparently contemplated resigning his post, but was urged not to by Israel’s ambassador Carmel Shama HaCohen, who wrote him a personal letter praising him as a friend of the Jewish state.

UNESCO’s resolution, sponsored by several Arab countries, referred to the Temple Mount and Western Wall — Judaism’s holiest sites — only by their Muslim names, and condemned Israel as “the occupying power” for various actions taken in both places.

Mexico was one of the 24 countries that voted in favor of the resolution. Six nations, including the United States, Germany and Britain, voted against and another 26 abstained.

Following the vote, Israel suspended cooperation with the UN cultural organization. In a letter sent to UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova, Israel’s Education Minister Naftali Bennett accused the body of ignoring “thousands of years of Jewish ties to Jerusalem” and aiding “Islamist terror.”

Bokova herself distanced herself from the resolutions in a statement, saying “nowhere more than in Jerusalem do Jewish, Christian and Muslim heritage and traditions share space.”

Israel suspending ties with UNESCO following vote that denies Jewish connection to Jerusalem

Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett said Israel would suspend its cooperation with UNESCO because of the U.N. agency’s decision to ignore Jewish ties to holy sites in Jerusalem.

Bennett’s statement on Friday followed passionate condemnations by Israel as well as international Jewish groups and communities of a vote the previous day in Paris by the executive board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Through a majority of 24 to 6 votes, the board passed a preliminary version of a resolution that calls several sites holy to Judaism only by their Islamic names without mentioning its Jewish names in Hebrew or English. The sites include the Temple Mount, referred to as Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif.

Israeli officials will neither meet UNESCO representatives nor engage in cooperation in international conferences or professional cooperation with the organization, Bennett said in a statement that followed the outpouring of condemnations – including by a U.S. official who called the vote “one-sided and unhelpful.”

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump called the move by UNESCO a “one-sided attempt to ignore Israel’s 3,000-year bond to its capital city” and “further evidence of the enormous anti-Israel bias” at the United Nations.

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy adviser, Laura Rosenberer, condemned the resolution.

“It’s outrageous that UNESCO would deny the deep, historic connection between Judaism and the Temple Mount,” she said.

Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s director-general, on Friday issued a statement that was deemed critical of the vote. “To deny, conceal or erase any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site, and runs counter to the reasons that justified its inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage list,” she said. “When these divisions carry over into UNESCO, an organization dedicated to dialogue and peace, they prevent us from carrying out our mission.”

Bennett in his statement said of the UNESCO countries, “Your decision denies history and encourages terror. Those who give prizes to the supporters of Jihad in Jerusalem the same week that two Jews are murdered in the city could God forbid encourage more victims.”

The United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Lithuania and Estonia voted against the resolution and 26 countries abstained. Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO called the voting an improvement to previous votes by the U.N. agency, saying Western countries had supported previous measures with similar language on Jerusalem. Russia and China were among those that backed the resolution.

“This vote was certainly unpleasant, but I’m very pleased with the result,” Ambassador Carmel Shama-Hacohen told Army Radio Friday morning. “Our goal was to bring back France and our friends in Europe to not support the Palestinian resolution.”

He noted that Sweden, whose government is a harsh critic of Israel and the only EU Cabinet member that recognizes the Palestinian Authority as a state, also sat out the vote, as did India, which historically has supported anti-Israel resolutions in U.N. forums.

France and Sweden both abstained from Thursday’s vote after supporting a UNESCO resolution in April that also ignored the site’s Jewish ties. The April vote saw 33 votes in favor, 6 against and 17 abstentions.

Classified as pertaining to “Occupied Palestine,” the UNESCO resolution passed Thursday was submitted by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan. While it affirms “the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions,” it contains two references to Judaism: One in describing holy sites in Hebron and the other in decrying “the enforced creation of a new Jewish prayer platform south of the Mughrabi Ascent in Al-Buraq Plaza.”

The so-called al-Buraq Plaza is better known as the Western Wall Plaza – possibly Judaism’s holiest site. The use of the Arabic-language name is a recent development lifted from Hamas literature, according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Trump, Clinton campaigns slam UNESCO Jerusalem resolution

The Trump and Clinton campaigns slammed a UNESCO resolution that upholds Muslim claims on holy sites in Jerusalem while mostly erasing Jewish claims, and Donald Trump said he would recognize the city as Israel’s capital.

“The United Nations’ attempt to disconnect the State of Israel from Jerusalem is a one-sided attempt to ignore Israel’s 3,000-year bond to its capital city, and is further evidence of the enormous anti-Israel bias of the U.N.,” said the statement released Thursday evening by Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, referring to the preliminary vote that day by the board of UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural and educational affiliate.

Laura Rosenberger, a senior foreign policy adviser to Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, told JTA that “it’s outrageous that UNESCO would deny the deep, historic connection between Judaism and the Temple Mount.”

While the UNESCO resolution affirms “the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions,” it refers to the Temple Mount several times only as Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif, the Islamic term for the Temple Mount, without mentioning its Jewish names in Hebrew or English. It also uses the term Buraq Plaza, placing “Western Wall Plaza” in quotes, appearing to erase a Jewish connection to the site, where the Jewish Temple stood until the middle of the first century C.E. and whose retaining walls are made of distinct stones associated with the Jewish king Herod.

U.S. lawmakers have slammed the vote across the political spectrum. Israel and American Jewish leaders also have ripped the vote.

Israel has cut off ties with UNESCO as long as the resolution, which may go to the full body, stands. The executive board on Thursday backed the Palestinian-backed resolution with 24 votes in favor and 6 against, with 26 countries abstaining.

Trump also said he would recognize Israel’s capital as Jerusalem.

“I have said on numerous occasions that in a Trump Administration, the United States will recognize Jerusalem as the one true capital of Israel,” he said.

Last December, Trump refused to commit to recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital while speaking to a Republican Jewish Coalition forum, but changed his tune by the time he addressed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in March.

“Jerusalem is the enduring capital of the Jewish people and the overwhelming majority of Congress has voted to recognize Jerusalem as just that,” Trump told the AIPAC assembly.

The Clinton campaign’s Israel page does not mention Jerusalem. While Congress has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, successive U.S. presidents, Republican and Democratic, have said its status should be left up to negotiations.

Rosenberger in her email cited Clinton’s record as secretary of state in President Barack Obama’s first term to uphold her pro-Israel credentials.

“As secretary of state, Hillary fought to defend Israel against biased resolutions like these at the United Nations and other international organizations and would proudly do so again as president,” she said.

Trump blamed the Obama administration for contributing to the erosion in Israel’s claim to the city. He referred to a corrected version of Obama’s eulogy at the funeral earlier this month of former Israeli President Shimon Peres. The original White House transcript was datelined “Jerusalem, Israel,” and the corrected version deleted “Israel,” conforming with U.S. policy.

“The decision by the Obama Administration to strike the word ‘Israel’ after the word ‘Jerusalem’ in the President’s prepared text was a capitulation to Israel’s enemies, and a posthumous embarrassment to Shimon Peres, whose memory the President was attempting to honor,” Trump’s statement said. “In a Trump Administration, Israel will have a true, loyal and lasting friend in the United States of America.”

UN official rejects Netanyahu invitation for seminar on Jerusalem

A U.N. official in the Middle East turned down an offer from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to host a seminar on the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount.

The U.N.’s special Middle East envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, rejected the offer proffered more than two weeks after the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization adopted a resolution that denies a Jewish connection to the Western Wall and the Temple Mount.

“UN staff in Jerusalem know the history of the region, its people and religions all too well,” Mladenov told the French news agency AFP.

He added that such invitations should be issued to the Paris-based UNESCO and the ambassadors of the agency’s member-states based there.

Netanyahu posted Friday on Facebook: “Two weeks ago, I was shocked to hear that UNESCO adopted a decision denying any Jewish connection to the Temple Mount, our holiest site. It is hard to believe that anyone, let alone an organization tasked with preserving history, could deny this link which spans thousands of years.

“That is why today I am announcing a seminar on Jewish history for all UN personnel in Israel. I will personally host the lecture at the Prime Minister’s Office. The seminar will be given by a leading scholar of Jewish history and will be free to all UN staff and diplomats, including of countries which voted for this outrageous decision.”

Netanyahu also posted the invitation, which his spokesman told international media is a serious invitation for a seminar to take place next week, on Twitter.

Some 33 countries voted to approve the resolution, which refers to the Western Wall by its Arabic name, Al-Buraq Plaza, and refers to the Temple Mount only by its Arabic designations as the Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al Sharif. Six countries voted against the resolution and 17 abstained. Four European Union countries and several with strong diplomatic relations with Israel approved the resolution.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas faces heat for UN resolution wavering

This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

A set of Palestinian initiatives aimed at advancing policy through anti-Israel measures at international organizations, or using international forums, appear to be in disarray following a series of setbacks.

Late last week, Irinia Bokova, the director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was forced to repudiate a Palestinian-backed initiative that ignored all historic Jewish ties to the Temple Mount area of Jerusalem’s Old City.

“This decision was made by the economic council and the management council of UNESCO which are both management bodies, and was not made by me,” she clarified, in a statement, adding that she maintains “Jerusalem is a Holy Land of the three monotheistic religions, a place of dialogue for all Jewish, Christian and Muslim people, nothing should be undertaken to alter its integrity and authenticity. It is a mosaic of cultures and peoples, whose history has shaped the history of all humanity. Only respect and dialogue can build the trust we need to move forward – this is the strength of UNESCO, for the benefit of all.” 

It was the second time this year that Bokova, who aspires to succeed UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, was forced to step in when an anti-Israel move crossed the bounds. In January, she condemned Iran for sponsoring a conference denying the Holocaust. 

Bokova’s backtracking followed another embarrassment related to Palestinian initiatives. Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour announced that, following a Palestinian about-face, his country would not install CCTV cameras on the Temple Mount, called Haram Al-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary, by Muslims, which is the site of Islam’s holy Al-Aqsa mosque and, for Jews, known as the site of the ancient temples. 

In an interview with the semi-governmental Petra news agency, Ensour disclosed that, having disposed of initial Israeli opposition to the idea, “we were surprised since our intention to carry out the project, by the response of some of our Palestinian brethren to the project, adding that they voiced their concern and cast doubt on its aims and objectives.” 

The Palestinian government declined to explain its reversal following months of demands that cameras document “Israel police violations.” In recent weeks, as the prospect of cameras placed on the contentious site grew more plausible, a number of banners declaring, “We don’t need any cameras here. Only Allah sees all,” and “the picture is clear – so no cameras are needed,” among other mottos, have appeared.  

Ensour said “we decided to halt implementation” of the plan out of respect for “our brethren in Palestine.”   

For many Israeli observers, the volte-face, and the embarrassment to Jordan, were the consequence of long-time and inaccurate Palestinian accusations that Israel “is invading” the holy site, which were cameras present, might be exposed as frauds.

On Monday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is visiting New York, was blasted by his own political allies when it emerged that he is leaning towards shelving the Palestinian effort to secure a UN Security Council resolution condemning and declaring as illegal the ongoing construction in Israeli West Bank communities, at the behest of France, that hopes to convene its own Israeli-Palestinian peace summit this summer.

Senior Israeli and Palestinian officials have told numerous local media outlets that the French government has demanded that the Palestinian delegation stand down so as not to sabotage its own efforts.

“The opportunity to go to the Security Council will always be there and we want to give a chance to the French initiative because, in the end, this is an initiative that serves us and not one that hurts us,” one Palestinian official told the Israeli daily Haaretz.

Another setback, the third in two weeks, has provoked expressions of frustration form Abbas supporters in Ramallah, who fear their hands are tied as a long, hot summer recess looms and as issues such as the ongoing killing in Syria and the refugee crisis in Europe have overshadowed Palestinian demands in the international arena. 

Until Monday, despite hints of official wavering, Palestinian diplomats continued to assure Western diplomats and the international media that the demand for a vote on the Palestinian resolution was not in question. The confusion is such that Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki, in New York with Abbas, confirmed the Haaretz report one day after his office in Ramallah denied it.

Some exasperated senior Palestinian officials, who have not been kept in the loop of the president’s thinking, believe shelving the resolution is a mistake when, in fact, there is no inconsistency between the resolution and the French-sponsored conference.

Mustafa Barghouti, the head of the government-affiliated Palestinian National Initiative and a longtime insider of the Palestinian corridors of power, who many consider a possible successor to Abbas, said that

“It’s impossible to rely solely on the French initiative, since to this day we don’t know what it’s based on, and on the other hand, we know very well that Israel and the U.S. won’t lend a hand to implementing such an important move, and Israel will continue building in the settlements and expropriating large parts of the West Bank as if there were no global public opinion.”

“Therefore, if there’s a trend we should support in practice, it’s increasing anti-Israel boycott activity and intensifying the popular struggle.” 

French chief rabbi slams Paris’ ‘ignoring Jewish ties to Jerusalem’ in UNESCO vote

In an unusual commentary on his country’s foreign policy, the chief rabbi of France spoke out against its vote at the United Nations on a resolution that he said ignored Jewish ties to Jerusalem.

In a statement Thursday, Rabbi Haim Korsia expressed his “strong disapproval” of the April 16 resolution by UNESCO, the Paris-based UN organization dealing with education, culture and heritage, which refers to the Temple Mount area solely as Al-Aksa Mosque/Al-Haram Al Sharif, except for two references to the Western Wall Plaza that were put in parentheses.

The broad-ranging resolution, which France’s mission to UNESCO supported in a vote, condemns Israeli actions in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip but focuses in large part on Israeli actions with regard to the Temple Mount and Western Wall Plaza.

UNESCO has passed similar resolutions in the past, also with French support but the April 16 resolutions provoked particularly strong-worded condemnations from French Jewish groups, with Roger Cukierman, president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities, calling the French vote in favor of it “scandalous.”

Korsia wrote that French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, told him France did not mean to downplay Judaism’s ties to Jerusalem with the vote.

France, Russia and China were among the 33 countries the voted in favor, along with Sweden and Spain. Seventeen countries abstained while six voted against, including the United States, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam all consider the Temple Mount to be a holy site. The text approved also referred to the plaza area by the Western Wall as al-Buraq Plaza — language that the Simon Wiesenthal Center alleges was lifted from Hamas literature.

“On the eve of Passover, a holiday when Jewish pilgrims would ascend to the Temple in Jerusalem, the chief rabbi of France reaffirms the indestructible ties that unite the Jewish people and Jerusalem and urges UNESCO executive council to reconsider their position as soon as possible,” Korsia’s office wrote in the statement.

UNESCO says no Jewish history on Temple Mount; Hebron and Bethlehem ‘integral part of Palestine’

UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Association, announced a number of resolutions just before the weekend started. One, submitted by the Russian Federation, called for defining UNESCO’s role in safeguarding and preserving Palmyra and other Syrian World Heritage sites. Another was about “Enhancing UNESCO’s contributions to promote a culture of mutual respect and tolerance.”

A third was simply entitled “Occupied Palestine” and addressed the Jerusalem Old City hotspot that Jews refer to as the Temple Mount and Muslims call Haram Al-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary. Except that the Jewish link to the site, considered the holiest place for Jews, went unmentioned.

In the context of Jerusalem’s Old City, the document refers to Israel solely as “the occupying power” and refers to the site itself, the world famous esplanade flanked by the Western Wall — considered by many experts to be the last existing retaining wall of the mount that once held the ancient Jewish temples — only by its Islamic moniker. The decision refers to the plaza fronting the Western Wall only in quotation marks, except when using one of its Arabic names, Al-Buraq, a reference to the Prophet Mohammed’s ascent to heaven.

The Israeli government responded with fury.

“This is yet another absurd UN decision,” an incandescent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement released late on Saturday. “UNESCO ignores the unique historic connection of Judaism to the Temple Mount, where the two temples stood for a thousand years and to which every Jew in the world has prayed for thousands of years. The UN is rewriting a basic part of human history and has again proven that there is no low to which it will not stoop.”

Carmel Shama Hacohen, Israel’s representative to UNESCO, that has its seat in Paris, issued a press release declaring that “even if UNESCO passes dozens of resolutions, and decides to continue passing thousands more, Jerusalem will always remain as part of the capital of Israel and the Jewish people.”

On Saturday night, addressing Jordan, Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, and Sudan, the nations which presented the resolution, Shama Hacohen averred that, “As you continue on this path of incitement, lies and terror you will be sending UNESCO down a path towards irrelevance.”

The Jordan Times reveled: “Jordan triumphant in ‘diplomatic showdown’ over Jerusalem at UNESCO.”

Jews are permitted to visit the site at pre-arranged times, but under international agreements signed in 1967, when Israel captured the area from Jordan in the 1967 war, Jewish worship is banned.

Without citing specifics, the resolution also condemned Israel for “planting fake Jewish graves in other spaces of the Muslim cemeteries” and for “the continued conversion of many Islamic and Byzantine remains into the so-called Jewish ritual baths or into Jewish prayer places.”

Among the states supporting the decision were Argentina, France, Spain, Slovenia, Sweden, India and Russia, several of which enjoys ostensibly warm relations Israel.

A UNESCO spokesman declined to comment on the decision.

The Israeli government also declined to comment beyond the statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office. 

The resolution, considered a victory for anti-Israel hard-liners, also affirms that Hebron, a city that according to a most histories has a 3000-year history of Jewish life, and Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, are “are an integral part of Palestine.”

Referencing “ongoing Israeli illegal excavations, works, construction of private roads for settlers and a separation wall inside the Old City of Al-Khalīl/Hebron, that harmfully affect the integrity of the site, and the subsequent denial of freedom of movement and freedom of access to places of worship,” UNESCO also urged “Israel, the occupying Power, to end these violations in compliance with provisions of relevant UNESCO conventions, resolutions and decisions.”

This resolution is not the first attempt to designate anew holy sites in what may be the most contested spot in the Middle East.

In October, 2015, facing the rejection of Russia, China and even Cuba, that usually joins anti-Israel initiatives, the Palestinian delegation to UNESCO withdrew a proposed resolution that would have defined the Western Wall itself as an “integral part” of the compound holy to Muslims.

Anwar Ben Badis, a professor of Arabic and Aramaic at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at Al-Quds University, who often leads tours of the esplanade, said the decision was “unequivocally political, not legal or binding in any way, but at attempt to support and further the Palestinian struggle.”

Speaking with The Media Line, Ben Badis said he believes “that every decision provides international support to everything the Palestinians are doing to free Al-Aqsa and all of Palestine.”

UNESCO recognizes Israel’s Aleppo Codex in registry of world treasures

The Aleppo Codex — believed to be the world’s oldest surviving copy of the Hebrew Bible — has been officially recognized as a treasured item by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization.

The codex, which is on permanent display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, will be listed in UNESCO’s International Memory of the World Register, Haaretz reported Tuesday.

UNESCO officially recognized the codex on Monday, according to Haaretz, deciding it belongs in its registry of 300 items and collections from all over the world. The registry already includes two other items from Israel: the Israel Museum’s Rothschild Miscellany, a collection of illustrated 15th-century manuscripts, and the Pages of Testimony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, which documents the names and stories of Holocaust victims.

Written in northern Israel around 930 CE, the codex has a storied and transient history. It was smuggled into Israel from Syria 60 years ago, and since then 200 of the original 500 pages have mysteriously disappeared.

An award-winning 2013 book — “The Aleppo Codex: In Pursuit of One of the World’s Most Coveted, Sacred and Mysterious Books” — chronicles its history.

According to Haaretz, 7,200 pages of Isaac Newton’s papers, which are stored in Israel’s National Library in Jerusalem, was also added to the UNESCO registry this week.

Nazi-hunting couple to combat genocide for UNESCO

A French Nazi-hunting couple will work as genocide-prevention ambassadors for the United Nations’ education agency.

Serge and Beate Klarsfeld were recognized on Monday by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization for their work to call “societies to recognize their historical and moral responsibilities.”

They will contribute to UNESCO’s efforts to curb genocide in places such as the Middle East and Africa, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

“You have done more than hand out justice, you gave a name, a face and a unique story to those whom some aimed to wipe from the surface of the earth,” said Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s director general.

Serge Klarsfeld, 80, a French Holocaust survivor and historian, and German-born Beate, 76, created a database from documents from around the world that has helped convict multiple Nazi war criminals. They also founded the Sons and Daughters of Jewish Deportees from France association, for descendants of Jews displaced or deported during the German occupation of France.

The Klarsfelds tracked down infamous Nazi Klaus Barbie, known as the “Butcher of Lyon” for torturing prisoners while stationed in Lyon, in Bolivia and spearheaded his extradition to France in 1983.

United Nations censures Israel

This article first appeared on The Media Line.

As part of their strategy to obtain a Palestinian state using diplomatic means, Palestinians welcomed a UN resolution that sharply criticized Israel for limiting Muslim access to Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound. The site, which is the flashpoint for bloodshed and violence amid mounting tensions over the holy site, is sacred to both Muslims and Jews.

The resolution, “deeply deplores the recent repression in East Jerusalem and the failure of Israel, the occupying power, to cease the persistent excavations and works in East Jerusalem particularly in and around the Old City.” UNESCO “strongly condemns Israeli aggression and illegal measures restricting freedom of worship and access to the holy Muslim site of the Al-Aqsa mosque.”

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said the resolution “aims to transform the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a religious confrontation and its adoption is a disgrace.” Israel also said the UN must condemn Palestinian stabbing and shooting attacks that have left 11 Israelis dead in the past month. More than 50 Palestinians have died, about half of them during attacks and the other half in clashes with Israeli soldiers.

UNESCO stands for the UN’s educational, scientific and cultural organization. It is a specialized UN agency that tries to build the “defenses of peace,” according to its website. It is UNESCO that declares “world heritage sites” and while its resolutions are not binding, they play a role in the Israeli-Palestinian propaganda wall.

In this case, Arab states including Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, who submitted the resolution on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, dropped a draft that read “affirms that the Buraq Plaza (Muslim name for the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site), is an integral part of al-Aksa Mosque/ al-Haram al-Sharif.”

UNESCO director general Irina Bokova pushed hard against the draft warning that it “could be seen to alter the status of the old city of Jerusalem and its walls and incite further tensions.”

She, backed by the US, got her way but the resolution did say the Mugrabi gate, the gate used by tourists to enter the al-Aqsa mosque plaza, is part of the Haram al-Sharif, a decision that angered Israel.

The site, located in the southeastern corner of the Old City of Jerusalem, is sacred to both faiths. Jews call it the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, and part of a retaining wall of the Second Temple. Muslims call (Buraq wall) part of Haram al-Sharif, referring to the compound's Al-Aqsa mosque as the holiest Islamic building outside Saudi Arabia. Jerusalem’s Old City and walls are on the UNESCO list of protected world heritage sites.

Morad Sudan, the head of the Palestinian National Commission for Education, Culture and Science was disappointed in the watered-down resolution.

“The draft was suggested in coordination with all of the Arab and Muslim members of UNESCO,” Sudan told The Media Line. “We wanted to declare the wall an integral part of the al-Aqsa compound as a first step in forbidding Jews from approaching the holy site. They pray there and slip written prayers into the cracks of the wall.”

While Jews can pray at the Western Wall, Israel has upheld a rule since 1967 that non-Muslims are not allowed to pray at the site. Rumors that Israel was planning to change that status quo were the spark that set off the current wave of Palestinian attacks that have left 11 Israelis dead. More than 50 Palestinians have also died, half of them alleged attackers, and half in clashes with Israeli troops.

Sheikh Kamal Khatib, deputy head of the Islamic movement in Jerusalem, said the decision not to go ahead with the original draft resolution was “very dangerous, and a waiver of Islamic and historical right.”

The President of the Supreme Islamic Council in Jerusalem, Sheikh Ikrima Sabri, angered Jews when he questioned their ties to the site.

“Muslims must retain ownership of the Western Wall,” he told The Media Line. “Muslims used to pray facing the al-Aqsa mosque.”

The direction of Muslim prayer later changed to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

The Secretariat of the United Nations quoted the Deputy spokesman of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Farhan Haq, as saying: “The position of Ban Ki-moon is very clear in this regard, which calls for the need to maintain the current historical situation of the holy places.”

UNESCO votes to classify Rachel’s Tomb and the Tomb of the Patriarchs as Muslim sites

UNESCO, the U.N. cultural agency, condemned Israel for what it said are attempts to alter the status quo at the Temple Mount.

While the resolution approved Wednesday morning in Paris by the executive board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization dropped plans to label the Temple Mount a Muslim site, the organization recognized Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron as Muslim sites that are part of a Palestinian state. Both sites are holy to Jews and listed in the Bible as the burial places of the Jewish patriarchs and matriarchs.

The vote was 26-6 in favor of the resolution, with 25 abstentions.

Before the vote, the six Arab countries that submitted the proposal on behalf of the Palestinians — Algeria, Egypt, Kuwait, Morocco, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates — removed from the proposal a statement declaring the Western Wall in Jerusalem part of the Al-Aqsa mosque complex and naming it part of the Muslim religious site. It also removed references to Jerusalem as “the occupied capital of Palestine” in order to garner support for the proposal.

The final text of the resolution included condemnation of the “aggression and illegal measures taken against the freedom of worship and access of Muslims to Al-Aqsa Mosque and Israel’s attempts to break the status quo since 1967.”

Israeli officials and American Jewish groups protested the resolution as a farce and outright lie.

On Tuesday, UNESCO head Irina Bokova said in a statement that she “deplores” the proposal and called on the board to “take decisions that do not further inflame tensions on the ground and that encourage respect for the sanctity of the Holy Sites.” She postponed the vote on the proposal from Tuesday to Wednesday.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center released a statement condemning UNESCO for “abetting the big lie spread by both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas denying the 3,500 year bond between the Jewish People and the Holy Land, but contribute to reframing the Arab-Israeli conflict into an ideological religious conflict.”

StandWithUs, a pro-Israel group based in Los Angeles, said UNESCO's reclassification “will only serve to distance any possibility of peace and exascerbate existing tensions on the ground.”

UNESCO head ‘deplores’ proposal declaring Western Wall a Muslim site

The head of the United Nations cultural agency said she “deplores” a proposal under discussion by the agency’s executive board that would declare the Western Wall a Muslim holy site.

Irina Bokova, the director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, called on the board to “take decisions that do not further inflame tensions on the ground and that encourage respect for the sanctity of the Holy Sites.”

“The protection of cultural heritage should not be taken hostage, as this undermines UNESCO’s mandate and efforts,” she said in a statement issued Tuesday.

“We all have responsibility to UNESCO’s mandate, to take decisions that promote dialogue, tolerance and peace,” she said. “This is especially important for young people, who should be nurtured and educated for peace.”

The executive board, which is holding its 197th session, could vote on the proposal on Tuesday or Wednesday, according to reports.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said it is working with friendly countries and UNESCO officials to defeat the proposal.

“This is a clear endeavor to distort history, in order to erase the connection between the Jewish people and its holiest site, and to create a false reality,” the ministry said.

Six Muslim Arab countries — Algeria, Egypt, Kuwait, Morocco, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates — submitted the proposal on behalf of the Palestinians. The proposal refers to Jerusalem as “the occupied capital of Palestine,” according to Ynet. It also blames Israel for the recent escalation of violence and seeks to confirm an earlier UNESCO decision that the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb, two West Bank sites holy to both Jews and Muslims, are part of a Palestinian state.

The Old City of Jerusalem and its walls are inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Since 1982 they have appeared on the list of World Heritage in Danger sites.

A listing on the World Heritage List makes a site eligible for UNESCO assistance and encourages other organizations and individuals to preserve the site. Listing the Western Wall as a Palestinian site as opposed to an Israeli one could detract from efforts to preserve it as Jewish.

The Wall, known in Hebrew as the Kotel, is believed to be one of the few remnants of the retaining wall of the ancient Temple, which the Romans destroyed nearly 2,000 years ago. A venue for Jewish prayer services and individual Jewish prayer, the Wall is a stop on most tours of Israel.

It is adjacent to the Temple Mount, a site holy to both Jews and Muslims. The current wave of violence in Israel was sparked by and continues over rumors that Israel plans to take over the site and change the status quo under which Jews are allowed to visit the site during specific hours but are not allowed to pray there.

Nine more Jewish symbols UNESCO should claim for other religions

On Monday, news broke that UNESCO, the United Nations cultural agency, is to vote on a Palestinian-backed proposal declaring the Western Wall a Muslim site.

The last remnant of the long-destroyed Jewish Temple, the Western Wall is hands-down Judaism’s holiest site and arguably the most famous site in Israel. It’s adjacent to the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary — once the site of the Temple and now of al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam (after Mecca and Medina).

Jews are barred from praying on the mount by both secular and religious Israeli decree. But rumors among Palestinians that Israel was plotting to change this “status quo” sparked the current surge of violence in the country, despite the assurances of Israeli leaders that nothing was changing.

While Muslim and Arab leaders have long claimed Jews have no religious claim to the Temple Mount — even questioning the historic existence of the Temple — this is the first time they have gone so far as to claim the Western Wall itself.

But why stop with the Western Wall? Here are some other Jewish things UNESCO might want to consider claiming for other religions.

1. Hanukkah: It’s coming up, so if UNESCO acts quickly, Muslims could be enjoying eight nights of candle-lighting, latke-eating and gift-giving in time in no time. Maybe it can’t compete with Christmas, but it’s definitely more fun than Ramadan.

2. The Bible: Christians might enjoy this wealth of texts  — oh wait, they already do and call it the Old Testament!

3. Challah: These braided loaves are beautiful and delicious, but they’re also kind of fattening. We’ll let the Christians have them, so long as they promise to pronounce the guttural “ch” sound.

4. Bernie Sanders: OK, we were kind of excited about the possibility of him being the first Jewish president of the United States (even if no one thinks he will actually be elected). But Buddhists have never had a president either, and Sanders’ Vermont is chock-full of Buddhist-themed yoga retreats, so they can have him.

5. Ruth Bader Ginsburg: How many Supreme Court justices do the Jewish people really need? Let a Hindu have a chance to try on those nifty black robes and interpret the laws of the land.

6. Kippahs: These head coverings, also known as yarmulkes, make a great crocheting project, but they can be annoying the way they’re always falling off unless attached with bobby pins. Since the pope already wears a hat that looks like one, we hereby donate the kippah to the Catholics.

7. Yiddish: It’s expressive and colorful, but let’s face it: Outside the haredi Orthodox community, most Jews know only a handful of words in this linguistic blend of German and Hebrew. So, we won’t kvetch too much if UNESCO wants to donate it to the Protestants of the world.

8. The Star of David: It’s symmetrical and looks nice on a necklace or Israeli flag, but we’ll let the Taoists have it if they’re willing to give us the Yin-and-Yang symbol in exchange.

9. Natalie Portman: She’s gorgeous, talented and smart, and was born in Israel (which many people believe is really Palestine). Like most Muslims, she is critical of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Just throw a hijab on her, and she’s Islam-ready.

UNESCO to vote on proposal declaring Western Wall a Muslim site

A Palestinian effort to have a United Nations agency declare Judaism’s holiest site a Muslim holy site is “an attempt to distort history,” Israel said.

UNESCO, the U.N.’s cultural body, is scheduled to vote Tuesday on the proposal concerning the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

In a statement Monday, Israel’s Foreign Ministry called the proposal “an attempt to distort history and blur the connection between the Jewish people and its holiest place and to create a false reality,” the Times of Israel reported.

Six Muslim Arab countries submitted the UNESCO proposal on behalf of the Palestinians. The proposal refers to Jerusalem as “the occupied capital of Palestine,” according to Ynet.

The proposal is believed to have a good chance of passing because the majority of UNESCO’s members have historically supported Palestinian bids.

Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, condemned the proposal, saying, “This shameful and deceitful Palestinian attempt to rewrite history will fail the test of reality.”

The Wall, known in Hebrew as the Kotel, is believed to be one of the few remnants of the retaining wall of the ancient Temple, which the Romans destroyed nearly 2,000 years ago. A venue for Jewish prayer services and individual Jewish prayer, the Wall is a stop on most tours of Israel.

It is adjacent to the Temple Mount, a site holy to both Jews and Muslims.

According to the World Jewish Congress, the proposal blames Israel for the recent escalation of violence and seeks to confirm an earlier UNESCO decision that the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb, two West Bank sites holy to both Jews and Muslims, are part of a Palestinian state.

In a statement Monday, World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder said adopting the resolution would exacerbate tensions in Israel.

The proposal “goes in the face of the UNESCO Constitution, which very clearly states the organization’s aim to contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration and coexistence,” Lauder said. “It would make a mockery of that founding principle if the UNESCO Executive Council were to back such a resolution. UNESCO must not be turned into a battleground for conflicts between religions.”​

Several other Jewish organizations, including the Orthodox Union and B’nai B’rith International, also issued statements Monday slamming the proposal.

“We call upon the international community to recognize this resolution for the absurdity that it is,” Nathan Diament, the Orthodox Union’s executive director for public policy, said in a news release.

Palestinian Perfidy at the UNESCO World Heritage Committee: A direct assault on the core of Judaism

The 39th UNESCO World Heritage Committee (WHC) has just ended its ten day annual meeting, this year in Bonn, Germany. Once again,the Wiesenthal Centre was the only accredited Jewish NGO

Since the Palestinians's admittance to UNESCO in November 2011 they have wreaked havoc, best illustrated by their voracious appetite at UNESCO's WHC:

– 2012 in St. Petersburg, Russia, running roughshod over UNESCO's professional advisor, ICOMOS, they demanded and received Christianity's prime Holy Place, the Church of the Nativity and the Bethlehem Pilgrimage Route.

– At Paris board meetings, Rachel's Tomb and the Hebron Tomb of the Patriarchs (Ma'arat HaMachpelah) were reclassified as mosques.

– 2013 in Cambodia, a wish-list appeared that included the Qumran Caves and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

– 2014 In Qatar, Battir –  the Galilee Betar redolent of Bar Kokhba's Jewish revolt against Roman occupation.

Today, the greatest provocation in its campaign of ID theft of the Jewish narrative has arrived as paragraphs 9 and 20 of the perennial Jerusalem resolution crafted by Palestinians and Jordanians. Four times this document re-names Judaism's greatest shrine, the “Kotel” or Western Wall esplanade, as “the Buraq Plaza”.

Buraq, according to Islam, is Muhammad’s winged steed, who flew the Prophet from Mecca to Jerusalem, for his night journey to heaven. He was tethered overnight to a wall until the Prophet returned to fly back to Mecca.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center discovered at the Frankfurt Book Fair and this year in the Doha, Riyadh and Muscat fairs,”The Buraq Wall”, a text exhibited by a Palestinian publisher- reportedly a Hamas front:

How a Jewish conspiracy stole the Wall to substantiate the lie of its Temple on the site of Al-Aqsa.  How that “Western Wall” must now be returned to the embrace of Islam.

Ironically, three days before the Palestinian ploy at Bonn, 17 of the 21 member-states of the World Heritage Committee (WHC) applauded the inscription of Israel's 9th Heritage site, the Beit Shearim Necropolis. This was the Tomb of Sanhedrin President, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi and fellow authors of the Mishna.  The walls of the catacomb are replete with Jewish, Greek and Roman motifs revealing an intercultural dialogue. 

Finland's Delegate noted that “the site is cosmopolitan but also provides historical evidence of the Jewish presence”.

Sadly an unpalatable argument for the four Muslim members – Algeria, Lebanon, Malaysia, Qatar – which all abstained.

The German host registered a diplomatic coup in negotiating Korean objection to a Japanese site to be voted for inscription, that had once held Korean and other slave labourers.  There was no debate as Japan acknowledged “the foreign unwilling labourers working in harsh conditions” and agreed to place there a documentation centre memorial.

The site could then be approved by acclamation.

A second German diplomatic victory was not to be.

The Palestinians had seemed to accept a toned-down version of the Jerusalem resolution, in which Germany had insisted and obtained the Wiesenthal Centre's request to remove the “Buraq” references, in favour of the term  “Western Wall”.

The final day of the meeting, Algeria,Lebanon and Qatar – fronting for the Palestinians – introduced an outrageous version,linking the Kotel (Buraq) to Al-Aqsa via the Mughrabi Ascent, effectively Islamicizing the Wall and, by association, negating the veracity of the Temple.

This was not only an embarrassment to the German hosts, but a fabricated battle-cry to the Muslim world that Al -Aqsa is under Jewish attack.

Interestingly, the document also lambasts Israel for its excavations and its improvements in Jerusalem as “damage to cultural heritage.” Yet, two days before, when Yemen's Old City of Sanaa was inscribed, no one mentioned the recent damage to that site by  Saudi bombing.

The hard-line Jerusalem resolution was passed by secret ballot with 13 for, 2 against, 4 abstentions and one absent.

The Israeli Ambassador's hard-hitting response called “UNESCO manipulated…a court-martial  of lies…the adoption of this resolution in Germany a disgrace…a Jerusalem without Israel would be no different from the Middle East [pillaged by ISIS] ..”

Of course, the resolution is not binding and serves mainly for pyrotechnics. Nevertheless, such Palestinian perfidy pushes further the ongoing delegitimization campaign against Israel. 

The 2016 UNESCO World Heritage Committee is to be held in Istanbul and Buraq, the winged steed, will surely be there.  Hopefully, he will stay grounded.

Shimon Samuels is Director for International Relations of the Simon Wiesenthal Center

Arabs and Jews quarrel over Acre’s Old City

This story orginally appeared on The Media Line.

Minarets, green domes and an Ottoman-era clock tower look out over the brightly painted fishing boats that line the quayside. Tourists stroll beside gaggles of children on outings from nearby Muslim schools. The old city of Acre is made uniquely beautiful by the sparkle of blue water from the Mediterranean Sea surrounding the ancient port town on three sides. For its examples of Ottoman architecture – a citadel, mosques, khans and a Turkish bathhouse – and for the Crusader ruins buried below, the city was awarded UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization) heritage status in 2001.

Acre features heavily in the long history of the region, with the remains of both the largest Crusader town left in the world and evidence of permanent habitation dating back five millennia. The modern day city’s 46,000 residents are mixed demographically with around two thirds being Jewish, and one third Arab.

The winding alleys and timeworn buildings are what gives the old city its atmosphere, valued by both tourists and UNESCO alike. But many of these ancient buildings are in need of repair. The beauty of such structures goes hand-in-hand with the difficulty present in maintaining them – any repairs must be done using materials which preserve the ancient look of the old city. This makes repairs unaffordable to many of the residents of the old city, an area which suffers from high levels of poverty. In an effort to counteract this, investment has been brought into the old city seeking to harness the potential income from the numerous tourists who visit the town each year. There are new bed and breakfasts and restaurants catering to tourists.

The Jewish-led municipality of Acre is using this investment as a means of permanently changing the character of the city, accuse Basel Ghattas and Aida Touma-Suleiman, both members of the mostly Arab Joint List party. Arabs make up around 28% of the city’s population but almost all of the residents in the old city. This, charges Ghattas, is something the Israeli government wants to change.

The poor state of housing in the old city, Ghattas told a small group of journalists on a recent tour, is perpetuated by the mayor in order to drive out Arab residents. Most of the people living in Acre’s old city do not own their properties, but rent them from the municipality. These buildings are in dire need of repairs, said Ghattas, but the authorities refuse to let tenants alter the buildings, in the hopes that this will eventually cause them to leave.

“They’re homes are in a very bad situation because they prevent them from maintaining the buildings. As a result, they think, the people will leave. The hidden agenda is to evacuate Acre of its Arab citizens… to throw them out of their homes,” Ghattas told The Media Line.

The aesthetics of the buildings, due to the city’s UNESCO heritage status, is being used as an excuse to refuse permission to residents to conduct repairs, argues parliamentarian Aida Touma-Suleiman. At the same time the historical buildings of the old city have been earmarked for redevelopment. Several of the khans – historical courtyards that make up several of Acre’s most iconic sites – will be converted into expensive hotels for tourists, she said, and a number of Arab families have been informed they will be evicted, Touma-Suleiman told The Media Line.

“For many years the aim was to evacuate most of the old city of its own inhabitants and to turn it into a touristic city that is mostly inhabited by artists and investors, hotels, small boutique hotels – businesses that are mainly for tourism,” Touma-Suleiman said, adding that a combination of racism against Arabs and naked capitalist interest were behind the drive to force out Arab families.

The mayor’s office sharply rejected claims that they are trying to force Arab residents out of the old city.

“This is of course not true,” Daniel Arama, Head of Tourism in Economic Companies and a representative of the municipality of Acre told The Media Line. He insisted that the municipality had in fact sought to invest in residents of the old city through projects aimed at helping locals to set up sustainable businesses – guest houses, small restaurants and crafts centers.

He dismissed claims that investment in the old city would impact on the character of the heritage site and said the city often gave permission to residents who wished to conduct repairs on their homes.

The Arab parliamentarians have written a letter to Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO, asking that the organization send an investigative team to Acre to decide if the terms of the city’s heritage nomination have been breached.

Ghattas believes that status has been compromised in two ways: firstly that certain renovations, namely large hotel constructions, will impinge on the visual atmosphere of the city; and secondly that the cultural heritage of the city is being deliberately diminished by the municipality. The MKs pointed out that improvements in the economic and social condition of local residents was identified as an important part in maintaining the city’s cultural identity and a prerequisite to Acre being recognized by UNESCO.

Ghattas and Touma-Suleiman believe that the threat of Acre losing its UNESCO heritage status will be useful political pressure to apply against the municipality – especially in the context of an Israeli government which is increasingly finding itself criticized by the international community. Acre is one of eight UNESCO heritage sites in Israel.

UNESCO is unlikely to revoke the city’s heritage status, said Arama, of the mayor’s office, adding that risking Acre’s standing was “a stupid thing to do.” He added that Acre doesn’t directly gain money from UNESCO but that the acknowledgment of the city’s unique value was important.

A level of suspicion among Arab residents towards the municipality is sometimes understandable, Professor Itzchak Weismann, of the Department of Middle Eastern History at Haifa University, told The Media Line. He pointed to Acre as the best example of a mixed city in Israel, where relations between Jews and Arabs were historically “much better” than other integrated cities in the country. But he admitted that there were incidents in the past that still lingered in Arab residents’ memories and prevented them from trusting the authorities.

In Jaffa, also a mixed city next to Tel Aviv, gentrification made rents skyrocket and many Arabs were forced to leave. Their homes were replaced with upscale restaurants and art galleries. People are afraid that will happen in Acre too, Weismann said.

“There are reasons (for Arab resident) to be worried – the state could do more,” Weismann told The Media Line, but he pointed to Shimon Lankri, the mayor of Acre, as an example of progress. Weismann suggested that Lankri was doing more for Arabs and Jews in the city and this could be seen in the last election result – “He has some support from Arabs, not 100% but maybe around half.”

“The city is very dear to my heart,” said Weismann, “there is still much to do but the city is (going) in the right direction.”

UNESCO sets date for Jews in Israel exhibit

After sustaining withering criticism for its abrupt decision to postpone a planned exhibition about the millennia of Jewish history in the land of Israel, UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural and education arm, announced Jan. 21 that the exhibition will be presented at its Paris headquarters, opening June 11.

Co-sponsored with the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, the show, “People, Book, Land — The 3,500-Year Relationship of the Jewish People to the Holy Land,” had been in the works for more than two years and was days away from its initially scheduled Jan. 20 opening when a representative for the Arab League urged UNESCO to cancel it.

In a Jan. 14 letter to UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, a representative for 22 Arab countries claimed that mounting such an exhibition could threaten the efforts being made by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to achieve a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The same day, a UNESCO staffer informed a Wiesenthal Center executive in Paris that the exhibition would be postponed “to a later date.” 

[Related: UNESCO halts Israel’s Jewish history show after Arab nations protest]

That move generated immediate outcry from Jewish leaders worldwide and from U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, who called UNESCO’s decision “wrong.”

On Jan. 21, after multiple meetings with Wiesenthal Center executives, UNESCO announced the exhibition will be inaugurated in June at UNESCO House in Paris. In the statement, UNESCO said it “was in discussions with the Wiesenthal to finalize the last points” of the exhibition. According to the Wiesenthal Center, however, the show had been ready to open by its original January date. Moreover, its content had been vetted by UNESCO staff and three separate teams of UNESCO-appointed academics over the course of its two-year development.

On Jan. 23, Rabbi Marvin Hier called UNESCO’s about-face a major victory. “It was simply ludicrous for the 22 Arab states that belong to UNESCO to attempt to torpedo the exhibition, just days before its opening, on the grounds that it interferes with Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to jumpstart the Middle East peace process,” Hier said in a statement. “Our exhibition, vetted and approved by both the UNESCO and Wiesenthal Center’s teams, had nothing to do with the peace process.”

UNESCO to go ahead with disputed Jewish exhibition

A United Nations exhibition about Jews and the Holy Land, postponed after Arab countries warned it could harm Middle East peace efforts, will go ahead in June, organizers confirmed on Monday.

The exhibition was due to open last week at the Paris headquarters of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural organisation (UNESCO) but was held up after 22 Arab member countries said could have a negative impact on peace talks.

The postponement of the exhibition entitled “People, Book, Land, The 3,500 Year Relationship of the Jewish People to the Holy Land” prompted criticism from Israel, the United States, Canada and Jewish groups around the world.

“The date has been set for June, 11,” a UNESCO spokeswoman said without elaborating. The exhibition was co-sponsored by Israel, Canada and Montenegro.

The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, co-organiser of the exhibition, said in a statement the exhibition had nothing to do with recent efforts by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts to revive the Middle East peace process.

Kerry has been on a diplomatic blitz in recent weeks to persuade Israel and the Palestinians, who resumed statehood talks in July after a three-year deadlock, to agree on an outline proposal addressing the core issues of their conflict.

“While the Arab League was trying to kill this exhibition and all the attention was focused on Paris, the U.N. headquarters in New York is hosting an exhibit entitled 'Palestine' based entirely on the Arab narrative, which was not criticised as an interference in Secretary Kerry's mission,” Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Center, said in the statement.

Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on a “two-state solution” in which Jewish and Palestinian states would exist peacefully side-by-side broke down in 2010 in a dispute over Israeli settlement construction.

Reporting by Maya Nikolaeva and Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Tom Heneghan

UNESCO postpones Israeli-Jewish history show

When UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, abruptly and indefinitely postponed the Jan. 20 opening of an exhibition in Paris on the 3,500-year history of Jews in the land of Israel, Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and co-founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Los-Angeles-based NGO that co-sponsored the exhibit with UNESCO, said he hoped Jews around the world would voice their displeasure with the decision. 

“Hundreds of thousands of letters they deserve,” Hier said on Jan. 17, three days after a representative from the Arab League persuaded UNESCO to put off the exhibition with a last-minute letter of protest. “Otherwise, UNESCO has fully adopted the Arab narrative of the history of the Middle East, and if Jews around the world don’t like that, we have to let them know.” 

In the days that followed, many did just that. Jewish leaders from around the world decried UNESCO’s decision to halt the exhibit, numerous news outlets covered the story, and the United States — even though it had refused to co-sponsor the exhibit one week earlier — called the move “wrong.” And, in a statement released Jan. 21, UNESCO said it was “in discussions with the Simon Wiesenthal Center to finalize the last points and inaugurate the exhibition in the month of June.”

The origin of the exhibit goes back to October 2011, immediately following UNESCO’s decision to admit Palestine as a full member state. UNESCO then worked for two years with the Wiesenthal Center to create the show titled “People, Book, Land —The 3,500-Year Relationship of the Jewish People to the Holy Land.” UNESCO personnel had vetted each of 24 informational panels to be displayed in the exhibition, and it had convened three separate  groups of outside academic expert overseers, who forced a few key changes to the exhibition, including removing the word “Israel” from the show’s title.

The display’s materials already had arrived at UNESCO House in Paris, thousands of invitations to the opening already had been mailed, and many dignitaries and supporters of the Wiesenthal Center already had made travel arrangements when Abdulla Alneaimi, a delegate to UNESCO from the United Arab Emirates, wrote on Jan. 14 to UNESCO, urging the organization to cancel the exhibition. 

“The subject of this exhibition is highly political, though the appearance of the title seems trivial,” wrote Alneaimi, chairman of the Arab group of countries with delegates to UNESCO. “Even more serious, the defense of this theme is one of the reasons used by the opponents of peace in Israel, and the publicity that will accompany and surely follow the exhibit can only cause damage to the ongoing peace negotiations, and the constant efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry, as well as the neutrality and objectivity of UNESCO.”

Hier said he first broached the possibility of UNESCO co-sponsoring an exhibition about the millennia-long Jewish connection to Israel on Oct. 31, 2011, the same day UNESCO granted full membership to Palestine as an official state. Six months later, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova visited Los Angeles and signed on to the idea of the exhibition. UNESCO agreed to host the exhibition; the Wiesenthal Center committed to fund the entire cost — more than $100,000 — and hired Robert S. Wistrich, a professor of European and Jewish history at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, to compose the texts for the displays.  

Three other nations — Israel, Canada and Montenegro — joined as co-sponsors of the exhibit. Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, invited the United States to join as an official co-sponsor as well, but in a letter on Jan. 9, 2014, a State Department staff member declined, citing the “sensitive juncture in the ongoing Middle East peace process.” 

Hier called the U.S. decision not to co-sponsor the exhibit “very problematic” and even speculated that, had the United States joined in, UNESCO might not have postponed the exhibit. 

“Had the United States come in as a partner, [UNESCO] would have been frightened,” Hier said. 

In the wake of the controversy, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power called UNESCO’s decision to postpone the exhibit “wrong.”  

“UNESCO is supposed to be fostering discussion and interaction between civil society and member states,” Power told Reuters on Jan. 17, “and organizations such as the Wiesenthal Center have a right to be heard and to contribute to UNESCO’s mission.”

Hier initially called the postponement of the show tantamount to an outright cancellation, but after UNESCO said in a statement on Jan. 17 that it is “committed and actively engaged to working with Member States and partners to hold the exhibition in conditions that promote cooperation and dialogue,” Cooper declared himself willing to “go one more round to find out what it is the problems are.” 

Cooper, who met with UNESCO’s Bokova on Jan. 21, the day the Paris-based agency announced the tentative June date, said the Wiesenthal Center “will only officially react when we have it in writing.”

UNESCO has asserted that some elements of the exhibit hadn’t yet been agreed upon, including “unresolved issues relating to potentially contestable textual and visual historical points, which might be perceived by Member States as endangering the peace process.”

Cooper, who led the exhibit’s development for the Wiesenthal Center and held a press conference on Jan. 20 in Paris decrying UNESCO’s decision to postpone it, told the Journal on Jan. 20 he didn’t know what elements UNESCO was referring to. 

“We don’t have any plans to change the body of that exhibition,” Cooper said from Paris on Jan. 20. “It was already ready to be hung, which means it had been vetted by UNESCO.” 

The exhibit may eventually be mounted at UNESCO House in Paris, but it remains to be seen whether that will blunt the outrage that Jews and Jewish leaders have expressed in recent days at the decision to postpone. Cooper said the Jewish reactions he’s heard have been nearly unanimous. 

“I cannot recall, frankly, since Durban, 2001,” Cooper said, recalling the World Conference Against Racism where delegates to the United Nations likened Zionism to racism, “in which there was a kind of gut-level reaction from Jews all over the world, of different religious and political persuasions, that said, ‘You know what? We’ve just been slapped across the face.’ ”

Hier, as the head of an organization that focuses a great deal of its efforts on memorializing the Holocaust, took care to note that UNESCO will commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day in Paris later this month.

“They’re excellent at commemorating the Holocaust,” Hier said. “I applaud them for that, but it’s too bad that it stops at that.

“UNESCO prides itself on being a place of education, of culture, of freedom of expression,” Hier continued. “Only one idea is verboten in UNESCO: the idea that the Jews had a 3,500-year relationship with the land of Israel. 

“That? Take that idea somewhere else.”