Thursday, November 04, 2010

UNESCO delivers a serious blow to Jewish heritage

Rachel's tomb in Hebron (Photo: Tomer Neuberg/Jini)

With its decision to brand Jewish holy sites as Palestinian, UNESCO has taken one more step along the road to erasing the Jewish heritage of the Middle East. But we may have no choice but to work with the international body.

In its biannual session which ended last week, UNESCO adopted proposals initiated by Arab member states to name two Jewish historical sites “Palestinian.” In a 44-1 vote, with 12 abstentions, the UNESCO board declared the “Haram al-Ibrahm/the Cave of the Patriarchs and Bilal bin Rabah Mosque/Rachel’s Tomb” to be “an integral part of the occupied Palestinian territories”; “ any unilateral action by the Israeli authorities is to be considered a violation of international law.”

The news that UNESCO has voted to designate the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel's Shrine in Bethlehem as mosques is bad news indeed: it shows that the Arab and Muslim block in the UN only have to stake a claim, no matter how dubious, and that claim would be endorsed. If they were to put forward a resolution tomorrow that the earth was flat, that resolution would be carried by an automatic majority.

The claim that Rachel's tomb is actually the Bilal bin Rabah mosque is of recent vintage. As Nadav Shagrai has noted the Palestinians only began calling the site a mosque, named after an obscure character in the Koran, in the 1990s.

Israel's reaction has been furious. According to Jonathan Lis writing in Haaretz:

"Israel on Wednesday said it would reduce cooperation with the United Nations' cultural watchdog after the body classified Rachel's Tomb in the West Bank as a mosque.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said Israel would not cooperate with UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization - in administering five protected sites in Palestinian territory as a dispute that has escalated in recent weeks came to a head."(...)

"Speaking with journalists in Jerusalem, Ayalon blamed the Palestinians for influencing the UN to side against Israel."This is another attempt at de-legitimization by the Palestinian Authority," he said."

UNESCO was once one of the least politicised of the UN organisations. It seems inconceivable that UNESCO might today designate the White City of Tel Aviv as a Heritage site. After all, Tel Aviv too is being de-legitimised as a Jewish city: another lie is taking root that Tel Aviv was once the Arab village of Tel al-Rabia.

The politicisation of UNESCO is a serious blow to Israel and anyone who is concerned with the preservation of Jewish heritage. This heritage is under threat throughout the Middle East.

For instance, Point of No Return has documented the struggle to save Ezekiel's tomb in Iraq from being turned into a mosque. In that struggle, Jewish groups have called for the site to be handed over to UNESCO control. The international body has been considered as an infinitely preferable option to control by the Islamic religious authorities.

Similarly, Jewish groups have appealed to UNESCO to take over control of Jewish archives and artefacts in Egypt.

Now their faith in UNESCO seems sadly misplaced.

But for Danny Ayalon to cut Israel's links entirely with UNESCO in a fit of pique would seem counter-productive. UNESCO must remain a lever by which Jews might exert pressure over Arab and Muslim interests.

Belatedly, Danny Ayalon seems to have had second thoughts. Haaretz noted:" Israel's reaction was not quite as serious as it first appeared. Ayalon's spokeswoman said that Israel would cut off relations with UNESCO altogether - but shortly after said that the announcement had been made in error and retracted the statement. "

Jews heaved a sigh of relief when the antisemitic Farouk Hosni, Egypt's candidate to become UNESCO Director-General, was defeated a year ago by the Bulgarian Irina Bokova. But Jewish hopes that Mrs Bokova would preside over a more even-handed organisation have been cruelly dashed. This does not mean that Jews should despair altogether of UNESCO. It's essential to keep talking to them and working with them. We may have no other choice.


Anonymous said...

in Bokowa's Wikipedia I found a link to this FAZ-piece

He really lets it rip on Bokowa (member of disgusting old power elite) the author is Bulgarian-born, which I didn't know, but he is somebody, whom I stopped listening to on radio because he got on my nerves with his "Islam is peace" esoteric rhetoric i.e. the "it is their culture, we must respect it" and "all the world is one" stuff.

according to Google News he seems not to have had anything to say to the Rachel tomb story. If something shows up, I'll let you now - for now it is only to point out the irony of it all.

bataween said...

Thanks for that insight into Bokova. Sadly such 'liberals' as the author never seem to see a contradiction in their liberalism when it comes to the Jews.

Sylvia said...

Adding insult to injury:
The UNESCO sponsored World Philosophers' conference will take place in Teheran.
So guess who's not welcome to the party?

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

The whole UN is illegitimate and that ought to be clearly and loudly stated to the world. Abraham Yeselson and Anthony Gaglione, two political scientists, called the UN "a dangerous place," as the title of their book about it. They wrote that the UN was about as relevant to peace as a battleship or an atomic bomb.

btw, have you heard that UK foreign minister Hague more or less promised Mahmoud Abbas that the UK would recognize a "palestine state" even without negotiations with Israel and obviously without a signed agreement with Israel, although this contradicts SC res. 242?? [see the JPost]

bataween said...

William 'disproportionate' Hague is a nasty piece of work. But I can't think of a UK foreign minister who was any better on Israel - David Milliband, for instance....

Anonymous said...

Sylvia's alert to this charade
got me into conspiracy mood

shortly after Marmara A'jad and Putin met with Erdogan in Istanbul. The orthodox church has recently been granted a never before favour from the Turks which made Putin ululate.
Bulgaria is an orthodox country.
Moscow has been working hard on its claim of first place in the Orthodox world (not long ago they had Kiev cave).
Never mind that that UNESCO woman is from communist nobility. They recognize people good at power play and the orthodox have a history of that.

Yes I sound confusing but I wish to alert y'all that as of now I might find any news of any preferential treatment for orthodox in Iran highly significant.