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Israel reproaches Swedish envoy, cuts UN funding over UNESCO resolution

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the U.N. General Assembly on Oct. 1, 2015. Credit: U.N. Photo/Cia Pak.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the U.N. General Assembly on Oct. 1, 2015. Credit: U.N. Photo/Cia Pak.

Following UNESCO’s May 2 vote to deny Israel’s sovereignty over its capital city of Jerusalem, the Jewish state has taken immediate steps to counter the latest anti-Israel move at the United Nations by censuring Sweden’s ambassador to Israel and announcing a funding cut to the world body.

Israel summoned Swedish Ambassador Carl Magnus Nesser Wednesday to protest Sweden’s vote in favor of the UNESCO resolution, which described the Jewish state as an “occupying power” in Jerusalem and said any Israeli efforts to assert sovereignty over the holy city are “null and must be rescinded forthwith.” Rodica Radian-Gordon, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s deputy director-general for Europe, and Alon Bar, head of the Foreign Ministry’s international organizations department, reproached the Swedish envoy.

Sweden was the only European Union country to vote in favor of the resolution, which passed in a 22-10 vote, with 26 countries either abstaining (23) or not registering a voting decision (three).

“Hard to believe Sweden is the only European country which voted against Israel at UNESCO today! Nothing short of shameful,” tweeted Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon.

Six EU countries—Italy, Greece, Germany, the Netherlands, Lithuania and the U.K.—voted against the resolution, while France, Spain, Slovenia and Estonia abstained.

Explaining Sweden’s support for the resolution, the country’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday it “welcomes the constructive efforts undertaken by Palestine and Jordan in presenting a more focused draft resolution to the [UNESCO] Executive Board. The text has improved substantially compared to previous years.”

The Swedish ministry added, “However, since the EU unfortunately has not been able to stay united, and since Sweden believes the current text is acceptable, Sweden has voted in favor.”

Sweden was presumably referring to Arab states’ softening of the resolution’s language to acknowledge “the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions,” in an effort to garner European support for the measure. Last October, UNESCO passed two anti-Israel resolutions with harsher language, denying all Jewish and Christian connections to Jerusalem’s holy sites.

Nahshon called the Swedish statement “a masterpiece of hypocrisy, playing skillfully with nasty anti-Israel propaganda.”

Following the reprimand of the Swedish ambassador and in response to what he called UNESCO’s “absurd” resolution, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Wednesday ordered the Israeli Foreign Ministry to deduct $1 million from Israel’s annual funding to the U.N.

“Yesterday, UNESCO again passed a delusional resolution regarding Israel’s status in Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years,” said Netanyahu.

“I have instructed Foreign Ministry Director General Yuval Rotem to deduct $1 million from the funds that Israel transfers to the U.N. Israel will not sit by while the organization calls for the denial of our sovereignty in Jerusalem,” he added.

The funding cut adds to the $2 million Israel said it would withhold from the world body following the passage of anti-Israel resolutions at the U.N. Human Rights Council in March, as well as the $6 million Israel had cut in the aftermath of last December’s U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334, which described eastern Jerusalem’s Jewish holy sites as “occupied Palestinian territory.” In all, rather than contributing the originally allocated $11.7 million to the U.N. budget this year, Israel will now contribute $2.7 million.

After announcing the cut in U.N. funding, the prime minister thanked the countries that opposed the UNESCO resolution.

“More countries opposed this resolution than last year and fewer countries supported it. I thank the countries that acceded to my request to vote against this resolution, especially the U.S., which did not need any sort of appeal,” Netanyahu said. The Obama administration had enabled the passage of last December’s Security Council measure by abstaining from the vote and declining to use its veto power, but the nascent Trump administration, through Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, has so far unabashedly defended Israel at the world body.

Netanyahu highlighted Italy’s opposition to the UNESCO measure, noting it was the “first European country to announce that it would oppose the resolution.” The prime minister also thanked the leaders of Ukraine, Paraguay and Togo for their votes against the resolution.

“For the first time in UNESCO,” Netanyahu said, “more countries voted to oppose or abstained than voted in favor, and of course this is important.”

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