UNESCO, the United Nations organization supposedly in charge of education, science and culture, has passed many insane resolutions in the past. But its latest vote to essentially deny Jewish and Christian ties to Jerusalem has reached new heights of political madness.
Fortunately, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UNESCO’s own director Irina Bokova and other top U.N. officials have distanced themselves from the Oct. 13 Palestinian-backed resolution, which effectively denies Judaism and Christianity’s connections to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount and its Western Wall.
The resolution, titled “Occupied Palestine,” condemns a long list of alleged Israeli actions against Palestinians. But while much of this has been part of UNESCO’s standard language since it admitted Palestine as a member state in 2011, this year’s text refers to Judaism and Christianity’s holiest sites exclusively by their Arabic names, casting doubts about their connections to any religion other than Islam.
The resolution was passed with 24 votes in favor, including Iran and Sudan, and six against, including the United States, Great Britain, Germany and the Netherlands. There were 26 abstentions, including France, India and Argentina, which had voted in favor of less inflammatory pro-Palestinian resolutions in recent years.
In a rare diplomatic about-face, Mexico voted for the resolution but a few days later announced it was changing its vote retroactively to an abstention. Simultaneously, the Mexican government announced that it was firing its ambassador to UNESCO, Andres Roemer Slomianski, for allegedly not informing his superiors about the contents of the resolution.
But Hillel Neuer, director of U.N. Watch, a United Nations watchdog group, says Roemer walked out of the room before the vote because he could not support it. Mexico’s pro-resolution vote was cast by one of Roemer’s subordinates.
Roemer “is not only a diplomat, political analyst, attorney, economist, think-tank founder, and author of 16 books and two award-winning plays. He is also a hero,” Neuer wrote in Unwatch.org. “Out of conscience, he could not bring himself to carry out his government’s instructions.”
A Mexican source familiar with the incident tells me that Roemer did indeed inform his superiors — including Mexico’s Foreign Affairs Secretary Claudia Ruiz Massieu — well ahead of time, and recommended that the resolution not be supported.
According to the source, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and his foreign minister had told key members of Mexico’s Jewish community on their return from Israel — where they attended the Sept. 30 funeral of Israeli president Shimon Peres — that Mexico would not support the resolution. But their instructions were never officially transmitted to Roemer’s office, the well-placed source told me.
After the vote, U.N. Secretary-General Ban issued a statement saying that he “reaffirms the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions and stresses the importance of the religious and historical link of the Jewish, Muslim and Christian peoples to the holy site.”
The statement added that “any perceived undertaking to repudiate the undeniable common reverence for these sites does not serve the interests of peace and will only feed violence and radicalism.”
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the UNESCO resolution a “delusional decision.”
He added: “To declare that Israel has no connection to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall is like saying that China has no connection to the Great Wall of China or that Egypt has no connection to the Pyramids.”
UNESCO is already in deep financial trouble because of its extremist positions. The United States withdrew its $80 million annual contribution to UNESCO following the organization’s admission of Palestine as a member state. And Japan, UNESCO’S second-largest contributor, announced last week it is suspending its dues this year, apparently angry over UNESCO’s decision to list China’s Rape of Nanking documents about Japan’s 1937 massacre as a memory of the world.
My opinion: Palestinians have the right to demand their own state alongside Israel, but they are discrediting their own cause by trying to re-write 3,000 years of history in such a ridiculous manner.
And UNESCO has added to its growing reputation as an international joke. Instead of being a hotbed of extremism and passing political resolutions, it should stick to its mission of enhancing education, science and culture around the world.
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Watch “Oppenheimer Presenta” Sundays at 9 p.m. on CNN en Español