Federation defends holy sites in Israel

Federation defends holy sites in Israel

Cave of the Patriarchs
Cave of the Patriarchs

United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ said the United Nations is helping to “undermine Israel’s Jewish future” with a ruling that Israel has no right to add traditional Jewish sites to the country’s National Heritage list.

Israel suspended ties with the cultural body of the United Nations over its decision last month to classify the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb as Palestinian sites.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which is in charge of preserving historical sites, adopted several proposals by Arab states classifying Jewish and Muslim holy sites. It designated the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron as “an integral part of the occupied Palestinian Territories” and referred to it and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem as “Palestinian sites.”

A UJC MetroWest statement said with these moves, “UNESCO is aiding and abetting those who hope to obfuscate Israel’s Jewish past and undermine Israel’s Jewish future.”

“Israel’s Jewish legacy must be recognized, not swept away to conform with a pro-Palestinian political narrative,” according to the statement, issued by UJC MetroWest’s Community Relations Committee. “In attempting to sever the Jewish cultural, religious, and historical bond with the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb, UNESCO denies the history it is mandated to preserve, engages in a political maneuver designed to weaken a member UN nation, and undermines its own principles.”

In Israel, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon issued a rejection of UNESCO’s decisions and declared that Israel “has no intention of cooperating with the organization.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the decision in a statement, saying that “the attempt to detach the people of Israel from its heritage is absurd. If the places where the fathers and mothers of the Jewish nation are buried — Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Leah, and Rachel some 4,000 years ago — are not part of the Jewish heritage, then what is?”

“It is regrettable,” the Israeli leader added, “that the organization established to promote historical heritage sites worldwide is trying for political reasons to detach the ties between the Jewish people and their heritage.”

In February, Netanyahu included both sites on the country’s new national heritage list and allocated money to refurbish them. The decision was condemned throughout the international community; UNESCO asked Israel to remove the sites from the list.

With reporting by JTA

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