Yair Lapid

How UNESCO erases history

The UN's decision fundamentally incites violence, a reminder why Jews need a strong and free country

Bob Dylan, who was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature, has a wonderful song called “Forever Young,” which begins with the words: “May God bless and keep you always, May your wishes all come true.”

Dylan says he took those wonderful lines from an ancient Jewish prayer which appears in the Book of Numbers, chapter 6, verse 24. That prayer is the earliest scripture ever found. It was discovered carved into silver tablets from the days of the First Temple. They were found in a cave in Jerusalem, written in ancient Hebrew. Researchers dated them to around 600 BCE. Already then, Jerusalem was a vibrant Jewish city where life, trade, prayers and even disputes took place in Hebrew.

Hebrew was also the language used by Jesus 600 years later when he entered Jerusalem riding a donkey.

Maybe that’s why the latest decision by UNESCO is so offensive and infuriating; it denies the connection between Jerusalem and Jews (and Judaism). They don’t bother to explain the decision, but just arbitrarily decided that the Temple Mount and Western Wall Plaza, which lies next to it, belong to the Palestinians, while using only the Arabic names of the two places (despite the fact that the Al Aqsa Mosque was built on the ruins of the Jewish Temple some 1,300 years later).

UNESCO decided to wipe out the history as it really was for political reasons. Along the way, it wiped out its own integrity, its goals and any remaining faith and respect anyone may have had for the organization.

What is even more embarrassing is that democratic nations with an understanding of history — countries like Italy, France and Spain — abstained from that vote. Are Christians in Europe willing to silently allow the deletion of 3,000 years of Jewish history and 2,000 years of Christian history? I know it sounds like I’m intentionally taking it to the absurd extreme, but why is it absurd when it comes to Europe and not when someone tries to deny not only Israel’s present, but also its past?

This resolution is so extreme, and its motives so offensive that it even created discomfort within UNESCO. The Chairperson of the UNESCO Executive Board apologized for it and said that regarding the Jewish connection to Jerusalem he is, “very well aware of that and personally would never deny that.” The Director General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, distanced herself from the decision and clarified that “Jerusalem is the city of King David.” I take my hat off to them both for their honesty but it only emphasizes the madness: two leaders of UNESCO have to state publicly that what is written in the Bible and in the history books is right, because the organization they lead argues the opposite.

I wasn’t surprised. The obsession of some UN organizations towards Israel is no secret. In the past decade, the UN Human Rights Council has passed 61 resolutions condemning human rights violations across the world, from the 400,000 murdered in Syria through Afghanistan to Iraq and other conflict zones in the world. In that same decade, the organization passed 67 resolutions condemning Israel. That isn’t a typographical error. The UN Human Rights Council has condemned Israel, a democracy that abides by international law and protects minority rights, more times than the rest of the world combined.

Other UN organizations have also taken part in this madness. In 2014, for example, the UN General Assembly had 24 condemnation resolutions and 20 of them were against Israel, while only 1 dealt with Syria. The World Health Organization condemned only one country in its last report, Israel. The condemnation focused on what the World Health Organization called “the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights.” It didn’t mention the fact that on the other side of the Golan Heights, in Syria, tens of thousands of children are being murdered and that Israel’s only involvement in health issues is that we bring injured children from Syria into our hospitals for treatment.

I could go on with examples, but I think the point is clear. Facts apparently don’t concern the various UN organizations. When you tell them the only logical explanation is anti-Semitism, they appear shocked and say it’s appalling that Israelis always use that argument. Really?

Do you have another explanation for the obsessive focus on one nation, one group, on conflict? Do you have another explanation for why the only Middle Eastern country to guarantee freedom of religion for everyone (try to think of another) is the one attacked on a daily basis?

Do you have another explanation why UNESCO ignores the fact that Israel, the Jewish state, bans Jews from praying on the Temple Mount so as not to offended Muslim sensibilities?

Do you have another explanation why the resolution condemns the fact that the Jews who visit the Temple Mount are “right wing,” which is a blatant intervention in internal Israeli politics? What does it matter to UNESCO which side of the political map they come from? Who wrote that clause into the decision?

Aside from the fact that the resolution is scandalous, it’s also dangerous. The Temple Mount is the most sensitive site in the Middle East, maybe the world. The wave of terrorism against Israel this past year broke out because of conspiracy theories, spread by Islamic fundamentalists, that Israel was trying to change the status quo on the Temple Mount. Israel stated and explained that we have no intention of changing the status quo or impinging on Muslim rights. I’m a member of the opposition government in Israel, but on this I can testify that our government speaks the truth and stands by it, despite the difficulties.

When young Palestinians who have already been fueled by incitement against Israel read a decision like this one by UNESCO, they become convinced that the conspiracy theories are true. The next stage is that they take a knife, a gun or a Molotov cocktail and carry out a terror attack. People will die. Innocent people who have done nothing wrong will die. That’s usually what happens when irresponsible organizations get involved in complex situations which they don’t understand.

When UNESCO’s Executive Board votes to ratify this resolution those countries who abstained should cast a real vote and take a stand. They can stand for history, facts and truth or they can admit they have a problem with Jews, which is just a reminder why our people need a strong and free country.

Member of Knesset Yair Lapid is the Chairperson of Yesh Atid, a former Finance Minister and member of the Security Cabinet, and currently sits on the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

About the Author
Yair Lapid is the former Prime Minister of Israel and currently the Leader of the Opposition in Israel.
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