Mounting Outrage

A recent resolution passed by Unesco denies the Jewish significance of the Temple Mount

Jonathan Neumann

“And Solomon built the house,” I Kings tells us, “and finished it.” That house, the Temple, has been at the centre of Jewish life ever since — Jesus, for example, condemned the sacrilege he witnessed there, charging that God’s house had become a “den of robbers”. And even in the two millennia since, when no Temple has stood on the mount that bears its name, Jews worldwide have prayed towards it.

A recent resolution passed at Unesco, however, denies the significance of the Temple Mount to any religion but Islam. This motion has not come out of nowhere. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, one of the UN’s 15 specialised agencies, has been a source of repeated controversy since it was founded immediately after the Second World War. In particular, it was a major forum of Cold War and North-South conflict, ultimately leading to the US and Britain withdrawing from the organisation for several years.

Among the intractable problems at Unesco, as indeed in the UN generally, is the Arab conflict with Israel. One watchdog claims that Unesco is the most anti-Israel of all UN agencies, typically condemning Israel ten times a year with no criticisms of any other country. A recent example of its animus towards Israel was in 2011, when Palestine was controversially admitted as a full member state. France voted in favour, Britain abstained, and the US and Germany, along with Israel, opposed the measure. Needless to say, in a body dominated by Islamic and other anti-Western countries, the vote passed overwhelmingly. US law, however, prohibits American funding to bodies that recognise Palestine, and Unesco immediately lost 22 per cent of its budget.

Its recent resolution affirms the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem to the three monotheistic religions, but condemns Israel as “the Occupying Power” of the “Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif”, using the Muslim names for the Temple Mount but emphatically not the Jewish or Christian ones. The motion has been condemned not just by Israel (the Israeli envoy to Unesco threw a copy into a dustbin marked “history”) but also by both American presidential candidates.

This strategy of erasure is deliberate. In 2015, Arab states managed to change the Unesco designation of the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and the Tomb of Rachel near Bethlehem from Jewish sites to exclusively Muslim ones. Islam, as is well known, has a history of building mosques on the religious sites of other faiths, including Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism and paganism. The obliteration of the Jewish and Christian connection to the Temple Mount is the diplomatic equivalent. Islamists have even destroyed religious sites. And any Israeli archaeologist will confirm that the Islamic authority that controls the Temple Mount routinely does the same to inconvenient historical artefacts it uncovers.

If Islam is permitted to claim the Temple Mount exclusively as its own, the house of God truly will become a den of robbers.

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