The Trump administration announced Thursday that it plans to withdraw from the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization because of the agency's "anti-Israel bias." That's putting it mildly.
You'd think an institution with the motto "building peace in the minds of men and women" couldn't help but be a positive influence in the Middle East. Leave it to a UN agency to figure out how to parlay that mandate into an assault on Jews. UNESCO has become the tip of the spear in the UN's assault on Israel and earned a more appropriate name: the UN Erasure, Slander, and Cover-up Organization.
"E" is for UNESCO's efforts in recent years to erase Jewish history in the Holy Land. It does this by ignoring the original millennia-old Hebrew names of locations in Israel and using their much-newer Arabic names. UNESCO refers to the Temple Mount (Solomon's Temple) as "Haram al-Sharif" and the Western Wall as the Al-Buraq Plaza ("Buraq" being the mythical flying horse with a woman's head that Islamic tradition says took Mohammed up to heaven for a visit). This phenomenon has become known as temple denial.
In what Miriam Elman calls "a bid to usurp Jewish history," statements by UNESCO's World Heritage Committee have also denied Jewish historical links to the Cave of the Machpelah and its Tomb of the Patriarchs ( patriarchs, that is) in the Old City of Hebron (which UNESCO calls "Al Khalil"). On July 7, UNESCO erased Judaism from both the Old City and the tomb, declaring them parts of "Palestine."
Showing an awareness that the public is increasingly onto his agency's delegitimation of Israel, UNESCO Director of Public lnformation Neil Ford insists unconvincingly that it is "not trying to replace Israeli heritage with Palestinian heritage."
"S" stands for UNESCO's campaign of slander against Israel. It slanders Israel by including ancient Jewish historical sites safely under Israeli control on its list of "Endangered World Heritage Sites," while portraying its legitimate care and maintenance of sites sacred both to Jews and Muslims as attempts to destroy Islamic heritage. In April 2016, UNESCO accused Israel of planting "fake Jewish graves" in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Hebron. In 2012, it approved a request by the Palestinian Authority to list the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem as an endangered World Heritage Site because of ostensible Israeli threats.
Furthermore, UNESCO slanders Israel as an occupier of Palestinian territory – territory that includes Israel's capital, Jerusalem, as well as the ancient Jewish kingdoms of Judea and Samaria. One infamous 2016 UNESCO Executive Board decision, titled "Occupied Palestine," contains 13 repetitions of the phrase "Israel, the occupying power."
"C" is for "cover-up." UNESCO pointedly ignores Palestinian actions threatening Jewish and Christian historical sites not under Israeli control. Joseph's Tomb in Nablus was torched by Palestinians in 2000 and again in 2015. Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem has been the target of numerous Palestinian attacks, including fire in September 1996, bombings on April 10, 2005, and December 27, 2006. In 2010, UNESCO declared Rachel's Tomb was really the Bilal ibn Rabah Mosque.
In 2002, Palestinian terrorists seized the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and held the monastic keepers of the site hostage for 39 days, firing guns at Israeli soldiers whom they knew respected the ancient church too much to attempt storming it. The terrorists treated the site sacred to Christians as though it were a PLO latrine and, according to one Greek Orthodox priest, even used Bibles as toilet paper. When they finally negotiated their withdrawal, they stole sacred artifacts and left behind bombs, rigged to explode when disturbed.
Another dimension of UNESCO's cover-up role is its legitimation of questionable Palestinian institutions. In 2012, UNESCO endowed a chair in astronomy, astrophysics, and space sciences at the Islamic University in Gaza, also known as Hamas U. According to the Israeli foreign ministry, Hamas uses the university as "a warehouse for weapons and a venue for secret meetings of military leaders" and employs its laboratories "to develop and produce explosives and rockets."
Shortly after UNESCO recognized "Palestine" in 2011, the Obama administration cut its funding, prompting complaints from Director General Irina Bokova that the loss of revenue had left UNESCO crippled. But evidently not crippled enough to move past its obsession with erasing Judaism, slandering Israel, and covering up Palestinian crimes. According to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the front-runner in UNESCO's election for Bokova's replacement, Qatar's former Culture Minister Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari, "has repeatedly endorsed anti-Semitic works and denied a Jewish connection to Jerusalem." He'll fit right in.
The United States has spent years trying to reform UNESCO from within as its co-creator and chief donor. Having correctly concluded that those efforts have run their course and having withdrawn the U.S. completely from UNESCO, President Trump should now focus his powers of persuasion on encouraging U.S. allies around the world to do likewise.
A.J. Caschetta is a Shillman-Ginsburg fellow at the Middle East Forum and a senior lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
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