H.E. Irina Bokova
7, place de Fontenoy
75352 Paris 07 SP
Dear Madam Director General:
We are writing to share our concern on recent highly politicized and one-sided resolutions passed by UNESCO’s Executive Board which are of significance to Israel and of concern to the Jewish community worldwide.
First, on the issue of archeological excavations in Jerusalem, we were alarmed by the bias of the resolution and the call for the establishment of a specially appointed “experts” body to be “stationed in East Jerusalem to report on all aspects covering the architectural, educational, cultural and demographical situation there.” This resolution provides a one-sided perspective of excavations in Jerusalem, warning only Israel of potential infractions. As they have in the past, these UNESCO resolutions fail to mention Palestinian work on the Al Aqsa mosque compound, which has destroyed important archeological artifacts and locations. The establishment of a monitor of Israeli archeological projects flowing from this biased approach represents an inappropriate expansion of UNESCO’s involvement that undermines its credibility.
The resolutions regarding Jewish holy sites in Bethlehem and Hebron reflect a similar bias and dismiss the deep biblical, religious and historic connection of the Tomb of the Patriarchs/Maarat Hamachpelah in Hebron and of Rachel’s Tomb/ Kever Rachel in Bethlehem to the Jewish people from biblical times up through the ages. Israel’s decision to designate these holy places as Jewish heritage sites reflects the age old significance of these sites to the Jewish people. It does nothing to deny the connection Muslims have to these sites and the biblical patriarchs and matriarchs, nor does it impact Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. In contrast, the one-sided UNESCO resolution provides only a Palestinian perspective of these sites, with absolute disregard for the Jewish religious connection – codified in the Resolution’s exclusive use of the Arabic and English names for these sites, while failing to list the Hebrew names as well.
It is greatly troubling that an organization established to protect historical and heritage sites around the world is addressing these issues from a purely Palestinian and Muslim perspective, while ignoring the Jewish connection to these heritage sites, and Israeli efforts to protect historical artifacts. We look to bodies like UNESCO to uphold the principle that affirming one people’s connection to their history need not by its nature diminish the history or faith tradition of another. Especially in light of this, we further wonder why the Executive Board felt it necessary to comment on the Gaza blockade, as well as to express continued concern about Israel’s security barrier and the Golan.
Heights, and question how such purely political statements are in any way relevant to UNESCO’s mission.
These resolutions have served to raise our concern that UNESCO is approaching issues related to Israel and Jewish heritage sites in the region in a highly and inappropriately political manner.
The sad irony is that, perhaps with the hope of bringing Israeli Palestinian peace closer, these UNESCO resolutions only exacerbate mistrust and play into the hands of those whose rejection of the Jewish and Israeli narrative makes peace even more elusive.
Madam Secretary, given the urgency of these issues, I welcome the opportunity to discuss them with you and will reach out to see when we can speak on the phone.
Abraham H. Foxman