Jewish Congressional members show support for Israel
By Randall P. Lieberman
The three local Jewish Congressional representatives have been very public in their support of Israel this past week.
On Wednesday, Oct. 21, UNESCO — the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization — passed a resolution blaming Israel for the recent violence in Israel and for violating the "status quo" of Jerusalem's Temple Mount.
The "status quo" at the Temple Mount — in place since Israel captured the site in the 1967 Six-Day War — bans Jews from worship there, but allows them to visit. Jews may pray at the adjacent Western Wall.
The Western Wall is at the base of Jerusalem's most sensitive holy site. The hilltop compound is revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, the site of the two Biblical Jewish temples. Today, it's home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third-holiest shrine and a key symbol for the Palestinians.
In recent weeks, violence has increased as reports circulated among Palestinians that Israel was set to allow Jewish worship on the mount and to remove its mosques — charges that Israeli leaders strongly deny.
In response to the resolution, all 19 Jewish U.S. Representatives (18 Democrats and one Republican) — including our three locals — issued a joint, bipartisan statement commending the U.S. Administration for opposing this resolution.
Excerpts of the statement read: "The resolution adopted by the UNESCO Executive Board condemning Israel for the recent surge in violence can serve no purpose other than to escalate tensions, exacerbate religious conflict and further incite violence. This resolution, submitted by the six Arab member countries of UNESCO (Algeria, Egypt, Kuwait, Morocco, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates) on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, is offensive and incendiary.
"Furthermore, the continued false allegations against Israel as having violated the status quo at the Temple Mount, which is under the custodianship of Jordan and the Wakf Muslim religious trust, and blaming Israel for the surge in violent attacks, must be condemned. Such accusations have been perpetrated by the Palestinian leadership to incite continued violence, and the resulting attacks targeting Israeli civilians in recent weeks are an outrage.
"There is zero justification for such acts of terrorism, and the world cannot remain silent and certainly must not take actions that could add to the false and inflammatory incitement of violence."
"As Jewish Members of the United States House of Representatives, we believe strongly in respecting the religious history and protecting the religious freedoms of Muslims, Jews and Christians. That means respecting the claims of both Jews and Muslims to holy sites which have significance for both religions.
"Designating Rachel's Tomb (in Bethlehem) and the Tomb of the Patriarchs (in Hebron) as exclusively Muslim sites is dismissive of other religious traditions, and the continued refusal to show any respect or recognition for the legitimacy of Jewish existence in the ancient Jewish homeland once again demonstrates a central obstacle to peace between Israelis and Palestinians."
The three local Jewish Congressional representatives all emailed statements written particularly for the Jewish Journal in reaction to this UNESCO resolution and the Jewish Congressional response.
U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel (D-West Palm Beach) stated: "By approving this resolution, the UNESCO Executive Board has undermined its mandate of fostering peaceful collaboration among nations and become a tool for rejection of Jewish historical claims to the Jewish homeland.
"History reminds us that Israel has always protected the religious freedom of Muslims and others on the Temple Mount. False accusations to the contrary only drive the wedge between Israelis and Palestinians even deeper, making peace more elusive."
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Weston) stated: "The UNESCO resolution offered earlier this week was both unacceptable and inflammatory. I commend the Obama Administration for vigorously opposing it and working with our allies to remove some of the more incendiary language before it was introduced.
"The nations who introduced this resolution were only doing so to add further fuel to the flames of violence against Israeli citizens. What we need is definitive action; President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority's leadership must take meaningful steps to promote calm and civility.
"I was proud to stand with all the Jewish Members of the House in condemning the resolution."
U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Boca Raton) stated: "I joined with all my Jewish colleagues in the House to condemn the outrageously offensive resolution put forward at the UNESCO Executive Board meeting earlier this week.
"This biased resolution claimed the Western Wall as part of Al-Aqsa Mosque; accused Israel of abuses at the Temple Mount; placed blame on Israel for the recent attacks on innocent Israeli citizens; and claimed the holy sites of Rachel's Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs as exclusively Muslim.
"These inflammatory and false accusations only risk stoking tensions on the ground and further internationalizing the political conflict by turning it into a religious one.
"I am pleased that the United States rejected this biased resolution, and we must make clear to President Abbas and all Palestinian officials that we will not condone the dangerous incitement of violence."
National Jewish organizations and leaders also criticized the UNESCO resolution.
World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder said: "The UNESCO Executive has given in to false claims and to radical, one-sided Palestinian demands. This will do nothing to calm the tensions in Jerusalem and the Holy Land."
However, Lauder praised UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova of Bulgaria for taking "a courageous stand by opposing this resolution" and thanked her for helping to remove a critical reference in it which would have declared the Western Wall, the holiest Jewish place of prayer, a Muslim site integral to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
Lauder also praised the six countries that voted against the resolution — the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States — for taking a "principled stand." The resolution was adopted by a vote of 26 in favor, six against and 25 abstentions.
StandWithUs — the international nonprofit Israel education organization — stated: "Despite worldwide condemnation, historical rights and all reason, UNESCO passed a resolution listing the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem as Muslim sites. These sites are part and parcel of the Jewish tradition and history, and present a direct connection between the Jewish People and their ancient homeland.
"By adopting this resolution, UNESCO is taking sides in the delicate status quo of religious sites in the region, a move which undoubtedly will only serve to distance any possibility of peace and exacerbate existing tensions on the ground.
"StandWithUs calls upon UNESCO and the international community to return to their intended purposes, such as promoting peace and collaboration, rather than enabling outrageous provocations by the Palestinians and their accomplices."