Israel in October 2016 suspended co-operation with the UN’s cultural agency, UNESCO, accusing it of denying Judaism’s connections to the religion’s holiest sites. It also notified the Israel National Commission of UNESCO to suspend all professional activities with the international organisation.
The action came after UNESCO approved a draft resolution, which repeatedly used only the Islamic name for a hilltop complex, which is also the holiest site in Judaism. The draft was passed at committee state by 24 votes in favour, six against and 26 abstentions. Now, the draft resolution will be sent to UNESCO’s executive body which will decided via vote that it should be adopted or not.
UNESCO’s draft resolution
The resolution, sponsored by several Arab countries, refers to occupied Palestine. It seeks to safeguard the Palestinian cultural heritage and the distinctive character of east Jerusalem. It used the Islamic name, al-Haram al-Sharif/al-Aqsa Mosque, for the hilltop compound, which includes the Western Wall. The wall is remnant of the biblical temple and the holiest site where Jews can pray. For Muslims, Haram al-Sharif is the place from where the Prophet Muhammad went to Heaven. It is the third holiest site in Islam. It also criticises Israel’s activities at holy places in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.
Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett said a UNESCO draft decision concerning Jerusalem denies history and encourages terror. He also said that UNSECO is aiding Islamist terror by ignoring thousands of years of Jewish ties to Jerusalem. East Jerusalem, with sites holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims, was captured by Israel during the 1967 Mideast war.