The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has expressed regret over Israel’s decision to withdraw from the agency following a resolution on Jerusalem voted against the country.
UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, said she was convinced that it “is inside UNESCO and not outside it” that States could best seek to overcome differences in the fields of competence.
Azoulay noted that she had received official notice from the Government of Israel on the country’s withdrawal from the agency effective from Dec. 31, 2018, a decision which was announced on Oct. 12, 2017.
“A Member of UNESCO since 1949, Israel has a rightful place inside the United Nations agency that is dedicated to education, culture and science,” she said.
Azoulay added that Israel has a rightful place inside an institution committed to the defence of freedom of expression, the prevention of all forms of anti-semitism and racism.
According to her, UNESCO has developed a unique programme of education about the Holocaust and the prevention of genocide.
“Israel also has a rightful place inside an institution that is among the most active in promoting dialogue among cultures, fighting violent extremism and conserving heritage affected, notably, by the destructive acts of terrorist organisations.
“In the face of disagreements among Member States, which lead to votes for which they are responsible, engaging fully in the work of UNESCO makes possible sustained dialogue, cooperation and partnerships that are more necessary than ever.
“And that I committed to support when I took office,” Azoulay stressed.
Israel had on July 4 reacted angrily and rejected a UNESCO World Heritage Council resolution denouncing Israeli activity in the Old City of Jerusalem.
The resolution slammed “the failure of the Israeli occupying authorities to cease the persistent excavations, tunneling, works, projects and other illegal practices in East Jerusalem, particularly in and around the Old City of Jerusalem, which are illegal under international law.”
The Foreign Ministry said the decision cannot change the reality that Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people.
“Another bizarre and irrelevant decision by UNESCO, that is acting on behalf of the enemies of history and the truth,” the ministry said in statement.
“Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people, and no decision by UNESCO can change that reality.
“It is sad, unnecessary and pathetic. It is worth noting that the decision didn’t even get a majority of votes.”
Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin lambasted UNESCO as “detached from reality” and said Israel would not halt excavations or other activity in the Old City.
“This body continues to demonstrate its partisanship and its denial of the history of the Jewish people,” saidd Elkin who is also Environmental Protection minister.
Education Ministry Naftali Bennett, who heads an Israeli committee dealing with UNESCO, said the UN body was failing in its duties to protect world heritage sites by focusing instead on Israel.
“UNESCO’s repeated fake claims do not change the Jewish connection to Jerusalem or reality on the ground,” said Bennett, who heads the Jewish Home party in the coalition.
“Jerusalem was the capital of the Jewish people long before Islam was introduced to the world, and it will remain Israel’s capital forever.”
“Instead of protecting hundreds of sites destroyed by radical Islam, including the al-Nuri mosque in Mosul, UNESCO is acting against the only Middle Eastern country safeguarding all holy sites and granting worshipers religious freedom,” he said.
Israel’s UN envoy Danny Danon also condemned the vote outcome as “disgraceful.”
“Nothing is more disgraceful than UNESCO declaring the world’s only Jewish state the ‘occupier’ of the Western Wall and Jerusalem’s Old City,” Danon said in a statement.
“I toured the City of David and the Old City with UN ambassadors from around the world and explained the deep and ancient connection between the Jewish people and the holiest sites of our nation.
“No faux ‘heritage committee’ can sever the bonds between our people and Jerusalem.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement welcomed the vote.
Times of Israel quoted Fatah spokesman in Europe Jamal Nazzal, as saying it was “historic justice” and was “another reflection of the international position which opposes Israeli policy, and of our position which rejects recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of the occupation.”