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Are Member States Finally Waking Up to UNESCO’s Anti-Israel Bias?

Sara McCleary

In a move that at this point should come as a surprise to absolutely no one, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has voted yet again in favour of a resolution that is overwhelmingly biased against Israel.

The resolution titled “Occupied Palestine,” submitted to UNESCO’s Executive Board by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, disavows Israeli ties to Jerusalem, denying the country’s rights to self-determination on its ancestral lands. After all, as B’nai Brith’s Ryan Bellerose has repeatedly noted, the Jewish people are indigenous to the land of Israel.

While the language in the updated resolution has been slightly modified from previous versions (for example, the line from the initial resolution denying Jewish ties to the Temple Mount has been dropped), the final approved text still reads: “All legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying power, which have altered or purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and in particular the ‘basic law’ on Jerusalem, are null and must be rescinded forthwith.”

Anyone with even a passing knowledge of Middle Eastern or Jewish history knows that denying Israel’s claim to Jerusalem has no basis in fact, as archaeological, historical and genetic evidence all point to the Jewish people’s connection to the land. As such, it appears that UNESCO has become nothing more than a high-stakes popularity contest, trying to appeal to the member states who promote the delegitimization of the Jewish state. For example, the resolution assigns responsibility for the ongoing conflict between the Israel Defence Forces and Hamas solely on Israel. You’d think, given that even the “new” Hamas charter calls for Israel’s destruction, that UNESCO could sink no lower than that.

Well, you’d be wrong.

The vote was intentionally planned to be held today (Tuesday, May 2, 2017), coinciding with Yom Ha’atzmaut – Israel’s Independence Day. That’s right: the anti-Israel pack within UNESCO felt it necessary to interrupt a day that should have been solely marked for celebrating, with a resolution that is not only offensive, but attempts to rewrite the history of Israel and the Jewish people.

As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted today, however, the resolution did come with a silver lining. Although it passed, it did so with only 22 votes in favour, while 10 nations voted against the resolution and 23 abstained. This means that significantly more nations voted against or abstained than supported the resolution.

“In the past two days I had talks with many of the leaders of your countries, heads of state, foreign ministers… regarding the absurd vote that is being held now in the UN,” Netanyahu said. “The result is that the number of countries supporting this absurd vote in UNESCO is getting smaller. A year ago, 32 [countries supporting similar votes], half a year ago it went down to 26, and now it has gone down to 22.

“My goal is to have no votes in UNESCO on Israel,” he concluded.

Israel also witnessed a victory of sorts when looking at the countries who voted against the resolution. Despite efforts to convince all EU member states to either abstain or support the resolution, six EU countries voted against it: Italy, the UK, Greece, Lithuania, Germany and the Netherlands.

This lack of consensus among EU members was apparently the result of Italy’s refusal to support or abstain. As the only European member to speak out against the resolution prior to Tuesday’s vote, Italy’s Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano said, “Our opinion is very clear. UNESCO cannot be the place for a permanent ideological confrontation.”

If only the rest of UNESCO’s membership would follow Italy’s lead, perhaps Israel could be treated fairly at the UN, like UN Ambassador to the United States Nikki Haley has been advocating for recently. Or, at the very least, perhaps the UN could allow Israel to actually enjoy its Independence Day without being made the centre of international controversy.