39 US lawmakers urge UNESCO to oppose resolution denying Jewish heritage in Jerusalem
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39 US lawmakers urge UNESCO to oppose resolution denying Jewish heritage in Jerusalem

People visiting the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, Israel, Oct. 25, 2015. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images)

Visitors at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on a rainy day, Oct. 25, 2015 (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images)

(JTA) — Thirty-nine members of Congress have urged a United Nations agency to oppose a resolution that diminishes Jewish and Christian ties to the Old City of Jerusalem.

A letter signed by Democratic and Republican lawmakers from the House of Representatives and Senate was sent earlier in the week to the executive board of UNESCO, the world body’s educational, scientific and cultural Organization, which is set to discuss the resolution on Thursday while meeting in Paris. A discussion and vote on the controversial resolution was postponed from the board’s meeting in July.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., initiated the letter.

The UNESCO resolution reportedly refers to the Temple Mount several times as Al Haram Al Sharif, the Islamic term for the Temple Mount, without mentioning that it is the holiest site in Judaism, according to UN Watch. It also uses the term Buraq Plaza, placing Western Wall Plaza in quotes, appearing to deny a Jewish connection to the site. The Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron is referred to as the al-Ḥaram al-Ibrahimi and Rachel’s Tomb, outside Bethlehem, is noted as the Bilal ibn Rabaḥ Mosque.

A similar resolution was adopted by UNESCO’s executive board in April.

“UNESCO’s mission is to build intercultural understanding through protection of heritage and support for cultural diversity. This unnecessarily divisive and selective resolution undermines the very purpose and integrity of UNESCO by seeking to rewrite Jerusalem’s history, rejects Jerusalem’s multi-cultural heritage, and undercuts Jerusalem’s extraordinary diversity,” the U.S. lawmakers’ letter says.

It adds: “Attempting to erase the Jewish and Christian connection to this sacred city will further damage the prospects of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. It is incumbent upon all Member States of the Executive Board to respect and protect the religious, cultural, and historical significance of Jerusalem as they would all other World Heritage sites and to uphold the values and ideals enshrined in UNESCO’s Constitution.”

In a statement,  Ros-Lehtinen called the resolution “irresponsible and reprehensible,” and said it “falsely lays the blame for the violence on Israel since last October while ignoring the acts of terror and violence that are being incited by the Palestinian Authority and Abu Mazen,” the nom de guerre for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Cruz said in a statement: “The United Nations’ obsessive hostility towards Israel will be on display yet again this week as UNESCO considers another blatantly biased resolution that unjustly singles out our close ally Israel with false accusations and criticism, and attempts to erase the specific deep-rooted, historical connection of Jews and Christians to Jerusalem, Israel’s eternal capital.” Cruz said in a statement.

Ros-Lehtinen and Cruz also sent a separate letter to Samantha Powers, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and Crystal Nix-Hines, the U.S. envoy to UNESCO, urging them to use the “full voice, vote, and influence of the United States to defeat the measure.”

During an event Thursday at the president’s residence in Jerusalem in honor of the upcoming holiday of Sukkot, Reuven Rivlin also addressed the upcoming UNESCO vote.

“The festivals of Israel all highlight the inextricable bond between our people and our land, and no forum or body in the world can come and deny the connection between the Jewish people, the Land of Israel and Jerusalem – and any such body that does so simply embarrasses itself,” he said, adding: “We can understand criticism, but you cannot change history.”

Meanwhile, Israel’s Foreign Ministry has asked the Holy See, which holds nonvoting observer status at UNESCO, to assist in defeating the resolution, arguing that the resolution also harms Christians, Ynet reported.