(Joshua Sharf/JNS.org) The pro-Israel education group StandWithUs and the International Legal Forum have started a petition at Change.org that urges the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to stop denying the connection between Jews and their religion's holy sites.
The petition states that UNESCO “is obligated to promote and educate about religious tolerance. UNESCO’s denying the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and its holy sites violates UNESCO’s own mandate by erasing the heritage of millions of people and violating their religious and cultural rights.”
The move comes in response to a recent UNESCO resolution that refers to the Temple Mount only by its Arab name, “Haram al-Sharif.” The location was the site of both the First and Second Jewish Temples, a fact that goes unmentioned in the UNESCO resolution.
The resolution also refers to the Western Wall Plaza—the last remnant of the Second Temple—by its Arabic name. An earlier version of the resolution had included the plaza as part of the Temple Mount’s Al-Aqsa Mosque complex.
UNESCO’s measure also calls both Hebron and Bethlehem “integral” parts of “Palestine.” Hebron is the site of the Cave of the Patriarchs, considered by both Muslims and Jews to be the burial tomb of Abraham and Sarah, and by Jews to also be the final resting place of Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, and Leah. Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, also contains Rachel’s Tomb. Israel, the resolution claims, is “planting Jewish fake graves in other spaces of the Muslim cemeteries.”
This is not the first time UNESCO has made controversial claims regarding holy sites in Israel. In 2010, it classified Rachel’s Tomb as the “Bilal bin Rabah Mosque.” Prior to that, even Palestinian literature had always referred to it as “Rachel’s Dome.”
In February 2012, the Palestinian Authority (PA) applied to UNESCO for World Heritage Site status for the old city of Hebron and its environs, including the Cave of the Patriarchs. That application acknowledges the Jewish patriarchs, but only mentions the mosque on the site, without referencing the synagogue.
In 2014, UNESCO recognized the farming terraces near Battir as a heritage site, following an emergency request, in order block further construction of Israel’s security fence.
The PA has the ability to apply for such status for sites as a result of its 2011 accession to membership in UNESCO. Under two U.S. laws, that membership triggered a suspension of U.S. funding for UNESCO, which had amounted to $80 million annually. Nevertheless, in 2012, the Obama Administration unsuccessfully sought to restore that funding, a request that it has renewed this year.
In 2014, under pressure from the Arab League, UNESCO halted an exhibit at its headquarters about the Jewish connection to the land of Israel. UNESCO permitted the exhibit to proceed that June, but only after the word “Israel” was removed from its title.