Lauder and Netanyahu condemn UNESCO vote on Cave of Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb
World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have criticized a decision by the United Nations Economic, Social and Cultural Organization to define two historic Jewish shrines in the West Bank as “Palestinian” sites. Last week, the UNESCO Executive Board adopted proposals initiated by Arab member states to dub two Jewish historical sites “Palestinian.” In a 44-1 vote, with 12 abstentions, the board declared the Haram al-Ibrahimi/the Cave of the Patriarchs and Bilal bin Rabah Mosque/Rachel’s Tomb to be “an integral part of the occupied Palestinian territories” and asserted “that any unilateral by the Israeli authorities is to be considered a violation of international law.”
Netanyahu issued a statement condemning the vote by the UNESCO Executive Board as an “attempt to detach the people of Israel from its heritage”. He said: “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 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,” Netanyahu said in his statement. “The State of Israel in contrast to its neighbors will continue to preserve freedom of religion at these sites and preserve them for future generations,” he added.
WJC President Lauder wrote a letter to UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, protesting the board’s decision. “To deem these historic sites that have been an integral part of Jewish heritage in the land of Israel for thousands of years is not only a denial of factual history, but undermines the already fragile peace process by trying to prejudice the important and sensitive issues to be negotiated directly between the two parties, as designated by UN resolutions,” he stated, adding: “he importance and holiness of these two sites to the Jewish people indeed predate their importance to other religious groups, and to deny this is to deny history.”
One of the sites, in the West Bank city of Hebron, has been a flashpoint for decades. Jews call it the Cave of the Patriarchs (pictured above), where the Bible says the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were buried along with three of their wives. Muslims call it the Al-Ibrahimi Mosque, reflecting the fact that Abraham is considered the father of both Judaism and Islam. Earlier this year, Israel registered the Hebron shrine as well as a tomb near Jerusalem, believed to be the burial site of the Matriarch Rachel, as national heritage sites.
Letter of World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder to Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO
The Hon. Irina Bokova
Director-General of UNESCO
7, place de Fontenoy
Dear Director-General Bokova,
On behalf of the World Jewish Congress, we are writing to express our deep dismay at the reports that UNESCO has designated the Tomb of Rachel and the Tomb of the Patriarchs, two of the holiest sites in Israel, as Palestinian. For UNESCO to try and remove these two ancient Jewish sites from Israel is an outrage. The Bible is a universally accepted document, respected and held as an historic and authoritative source by all peoples. For thousands of years, the Biblical tradition has upheld that the Tomb of Rachel was acquired and built by Jacob the Patriarch of Israel, and has been among the most sacred sites of Judaism since.
The Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron has for an even longer period of time been a part of the heart and soul of Israel. One has to only reference the Biblical portion that was read just this past week in synagogues worldwide that describes the acquisition by Abraham the Patriarch of the Cave of the Machpelah and the surrounding area in Hebron, its purchase by Abraham from Efron the Hitite described in detail.
To deem these historic sites that have been an integral part of Jewish heritage in the land of Israel for thousands of years is not only a denial of factual history, but undermines the already fragile peace process by trying to prejudice the important and sensitive issues to be negotiated directly between the two parties, as designated by UN resolutions.
We deeply believe that falsifying and politicizing important historic heritage sites of the Jewish people in the land of Israel is a betrayal of the important role of UNESCO, which was established in order to preserve history and to guard and promote heritage sites around the world. The importance and holiness of these two sites to the Jewish people indeed predate their importance to other religious groups, and to deny this is to deny history.
We look forward to the favor of your prompt reply.
Ronald S. Lauder
President, World Jewish Congress