The Republican Lieutenant Governors Association, under its chairwoman, Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, sent a letter dated Wednesday, Oct. 12 to a U.S. official encouraging opposition to a recent UNESCO foray into a hot-button issue in Israel.
The UNESCO executive board nevertheless adopted a resolution Thursday, Oct. 13 in Paris, one that claims the Temple Mount is sacred only to Muslims and fails to mention that it is sacred to Jews as well, according to Haaretz and JTA.
Beforehand, the Republican Lieutenant Governors Association executive committee sent their letter to the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, urging her to work with members of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to ensure they oppose the resolution. The letter argued that the resolution “does not currently reflect and respect in its language the many great and different cultures and religions that contribute to Jerusalem’s makeup,” according to a news release.
The seven lieutenant governors who signed the letter to Ambassador Power traveled with the Republican Lieutenant Governors Association earlier this year on a delegation to Israel designed to stimulate economic development and trade while strengthening relationships between state-level leaders at home and one of the United States’ most important allies abroad: Israel, according to the release.
The lieutenant governors write in their letter, “we do not believe it is the place of UNESCO or its subsidiary bodies, as an organization dedicated to cultural and historical preservation, to wade into politically, religiously, and diplomatically complicated terrain.”
The seven lieutenant governors who co-signed the letter are Kleefisch, Mark Hutchison (Nevada), Carlos Lopez-Cantera (Florida), Kim Reynolds (Iowa), Jeff Colyer (Kansas), Dan Forest (North Carolina) and Dan Patrick (Texas).
Reaction in Jewish world
Israeli officials and Jewish groups reacted with outrage to the preliminary vote by the United Nations cultural agency. The UNESCO executive board passed the Palestinian-backed measure with 24 votes in favor and 6 against, with 26 countries abstaining.
“Jews care about the Wall very much. This is a holy place for the Jews,” said Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of the board of Women of the Wall and executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the legal and advocacy arm of the Reform Movement in Israel. “Anyone who would say different has other things in mind.”
She told the Chronicle that she sees the UNESCO resolution as “chutzpah.”
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said he was “outraged” by the vote, which he said in a statement “denies thousands of years of Jewish connection to Jerusalem’s Western Wall.
“Would UNESCO vote to deny the Christian connection to the Vatican? Or the Muslim connection to Mecca?” he asked.
“The UNESCO vote claims that there is no connection between the Jewish people and the Western Wall. In fact, it is the UNESCO vote that has no connection to reality.”
“The UNESCO theater of the absurd continues,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a statement. “Today that organization adopted another delusional decision stating that the Jewish people have no connection to the Temple Mount or the Western Wall.
“Even if they do not read the Bible, I would suggest that UNESCO members visit the Arch of Titus in Rome. On it one can see what the Romans brought back to Rome after they destroyed and looted the Second Temple on the Temple Mount 2,000 years ago. There, engraved on the Arch of Titus, is the seven-branched menorah that is the symbol of the Jewish People and, I remind you, is also the symbol of the Jewish state today. Soon, UNESCO will say that the Emperor Titus engaged in Zionist propaganda.”
Soon after Netanyahu’s statement, Israel suspended cooperation with UNESCO.
Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog, head of the Zionist Union, accused UNESCO of giving a “bad name to diplomacy” in a statement posted to Facebook.
“At a time when so many archaeological discoveries reaffirm the historical Jewish ties to Jerusalem and the sanctity and security of the holy places of all religions has been reestablished after decades of neglect and discrimination between 1948 and 1967, these results simply ignore facts and deny reality,” reads a statement from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
“We thank the U.S. for their leadership opposing these discriminatory resolutions and deeply regret that France, Argentina, and others still did not vote against the resolution, even though they abstained.”
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency contributed to this story.