Israel bolts UNESCO as Danon decries body as ‘tool of Israel’s enemies’

Israel decided in 2017 to leave UNESCO along with the U.S., accusing the U.N. body of anti-Israel bias. The decision takes effect today. 

By David Jablinowitz, World Israel News

Israel’s decision to leave the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has taken effect with the beginning of 2019.

Marking the occasion, Israel’s Ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon declared that “UNESCO is a body that continues to rewrite history, among other things, by attempts to erase the Jewish connection to Jerusalem. Israel will not be a member of an organization dedicated to acting against it and which has a tool manipulated by Israel’s enemies.”

While UNESCO has declared several Israeli locations as world heritage sites, Danon was referring to a move in 2016 when the Palestinian Authority and Arab states pushed forward resolutions which ignored Jewish ties to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, describing the holiest sites to Judaism solely by their Muslim names of al-Haram al-Sharif and the Buraq Plaza.

The organization also rejected Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem.

In 2017, UNESCO declared Hebron an endangered Palestinian world heritage site, even though that city, home to the Cave of the Patriarchs, is considered one of the holiest to Judaism. At the time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhau condemned the move, calling it “yet another delusional decision by UNESCO.”

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In 2011, the organization became the first U.N. organ to recognize Palestine as a member state. After that decision, the U.S. and Israel stopped paying dues to UNESCO. Both countries lost voting rights in 2013 over their failure to pay but maintained all other participation rights.

In October 2017, Washington and Jerusalem both announced that they would leave the organization, with Israel announcing its pullout soon after the U.S. did.  They went ahead with implementation of their decisions despite efforts by the agency’s new director-general, Audrey Azoulay, to get both countries to reconsider. The efforts included mediating compromises putting off or softening anti-Israel resolutions.

Azoulay, who has Jewish and Moroccan heritage, has presided over the launch of a Holocaust education website and the U.N.’s first educational guidelines on fighting anti-Semitism — initiatives that might be seen as responding to U.S. and Israeli concerns. Since then, all 12 texts on the Middle East passed at UNESCO were seen as having been consensual among Israel and Arab member states.

In April 2018, Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO said the mood was “like a wedding” after member nations agreed to a rare compromise resolution on “Occupied Palestine,” and UNESCO diplomats spoke of a possible breakthrough on countering Israeli-Arab tensions. However, the document was still quite critical of Israel.

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Danon praises Haley’s ‘uncompromising fight for truth’

The cooperation between Israel and the U.S. at the U.N. has been very close during the term of President Donald Trump, with his appointment of Nikki Haley as the U.S. ambassador. Haley stepped down December 31, prompting Ambassador Danon to issue a farewell statement on Tuesday, praising Haley as someone “who will always be a true friend to the State of Israel.

“Nikki, your uncompromising fight for the truth and against lies and terrorism will be remembered in the history books. I wish you and your family success on your journey,” said Danon on Twitter.