UNESCO Director-General reaffirms historic bonds between Jerusalem and the Jewish people at ECI conference in European Parliament

ECI Annual Policy Conference Brussels 2017Brussels, April 4th, 2017 – UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova has firmly rebuffed any attempts to deny Jewish history connected to Jerusalem. In a unique statement at the ECI policy conference in the European Parliament on Thursday she said that “in the Torah, Jerusalem is the capital of King David, where Solomon built the Temple and placed the Ark of the Covenant.”
Distinguishing between her role as the highest official of UNESCO and the resolutions passed by member states of the same organisation, she stated – “to deny, conceal or erase any of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site, and runs counter to the reasons that justifies its inscription in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The protection of the heritage of Jerusalem is part of a broader vision for peace and the fight against all forms of denial of Jewish history, delegitimisation of Israel and antisemitism”, she said. UNESCO is the United Nations specialized agency for education, science and culture.

The personal remarks from Irina Bokova were conveyed by UNESCO Director Genc Seiti and were warmly received by the conference, which included Israeli Ambassador to the European Union, Aharon Leshno-Yaar.

Given the official EU policy of supporting a re-dividing of Jerusalem and the creation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as capital, the conference was unique in that it clearly contradicted EU policy and ambitions.

In his keynote speech Dr Dore Gold from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs presented two competing schools of thought that the EU will have to choose between.

“One school of thought teaches that Islam is superior to any other religion while the other school of thought wants to protect all religions. Only Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem can preserve all the holy sites while radical Islam will seek to destroy them”, he said. He illustrated his point by recent examples, such as the blowing up of ancient Buddha statues in Afghanistan by the Taliban in 2001 as well as the occupation and desecration of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in 2002 by Palestinian militants who were later given free exile in Europe and Gaza. “Which side will Europe chose – that side which protects holy sites or the one which seek to destroy them?” he asked.

The Vice-President of the European Parliament MEP Ryszard Czarnecki gave the Israeli government credit for protecting all the holy sites after recapturing Jerusalem in 1967. In a written statement, he acknowledged that the Jewish people have had a long history in his native Poland but pointed out that no other city can illustrate Jewish identity and aspirations more than Jerusalem.

ECI Founding Director Tomas Sandell added that Jerusalem is not only of legal, political and strategic significance but symbolises the very values that our Western civilisation are built on. To abandon Jerusalem is to dismantle these very values, he said.

Co-Host MEP Bas Belder shared about the importance of Jerusalem for him personally as a reformed Christian and both MEP Hannu Takkula and MEP Péter Niedermüller acknowledged that the members of the European Parliament need more information in order to understand the historic and legal realities in Jerusalem.

The conference concluded with the presentation of an open letter in support of a united Jerusalem. In his remarks ECI Legal Counsel Andrew Tucker explained why Jerusalem needs to remain the un-divided capital of the State of Israel, adding that even a majority of Palestinians living in East Jerusalem prefer to live in the state of Israel rather than in a Palestinian state.

The letter was officially received by Raul Fuentes Milani, Head of the Middle East Unit from the European External Action Service. He pointed out that he supports the principles of an open Jerusalem and a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict.

The Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, while not being able to participate in person, had sent a recorded video message to the conference illustrating the diversity in the Holy City by noting that “in one square kilometre we have more churches, mosques, and synagogues than anywhere else in the world.”

The conference was organised with the support and active participation of MEPs from the four largest party groups in the European Parliament: European Peoples’ Party (EPP), European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) and Socialists and Democrats (S&D).

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