Israel has suspended its collaboration with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The action comes in the wake of UNESCO's draft resolution denying any Jewish link to the Temple Mount and Western Wall in Jerusalem.
Condemnation for the "delusional," "ignorant" and "disgraceful" decision has been heard from across Israel's political spectrum. US lawmakers also lambasted the decision and urged UNESCO "not to rewrite Jerusalem's history."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke Friday with future UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Netanyahu's message expressed hope that Guterres' term in office would see the international body treat Israel with more fairness.
Guterres will officially assume office on the first of January, when Ban Ki-moon's second term as U.N. chief comes to an end.
Netanyahu condemned UNESCO's decision, telling Guterres the resolution "underscores the absurdity of the one-sided, biased approach the U.N. has to the only democracy in a turbulent, volatile sphere, where millions of people are slaughtered and uprooted."
This was Netanyahu and Guterres first conversation since the latter was elected as Ban's replacement, two weeks ago. The Prime Minister invited Guterres to visit Israel.
Announcing the suspension of ties, Israel's Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who also serves as president of Israel's National Commission for UNESCO, cited the UN body's capitulation to what has been dubbed by Israel as "diplomatic terrorism" by Palestinian leaders.
"UNESCO's resolution denies history and encourages terrorism. Those who reward jihad supporters on the same week when two Jews are murdered in Jerusalem, could, heaven forbid, be next," Bennett wrote to the organization's member states.
"The Western world should stand against UNESCO and against rewarding terrorism. Just like you oppose Islamic terrorism in Aleppo and Tadmor, you must unite against diplomatic terror in Jerusalem. The next terrorist will be bolstered by this resolution. Severing Jerusalem from Israel will prompt a domino [effect] that will ultimately harm the Western world as a whole," Bennett warned.
The committee will meet next week to decide on further steps, he said.
Israel's Science, Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis said UNESCO's resolution "is proof that Israel is under an organized, timed attack by the UN. We must use every diplomatic measure at our disposal to refute this campaign of lies and ridiculous decisions that are completely detached from reality. Jerusalem is, and has been, our capital for 3,000 years."
UNESCO chief Irina Bokova herself expressed dismay with the draft resolution, saying that "different peoples worship the same places, sometimes under different names. The recognition, use of, and respect for these names is paramount."
Bokova condemned the resolution, saying that "when [political] divisions carry over into UNESCO, an organization dedicated to dialogue and peace, they prevent us from carrying out our mission. The heritage of Jerusalem is indivisible, and each of its communities has a right to the explicit recognition of their history and relationship with the city."
Bokova noted that the "cultural and spiritual traditions" of all faiths in Jerusalem "build on texts and references, known by all, that are an intrinsic part of the identities and history of people.
"To deny, conceal or erase any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site, and runs counter to the reasons that justified its inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage list," she said. "When these divisions carry over into UNESCO, an organization dedicated to dialogue and peace, they prevent us from carrying out our mission."
Bokova has no official control over resolutions, which are sponsored and voted on by member states.
The Palestinian Authority rushed to censure Bokova over her "support of Israel."
Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad Malki accused UNESCO's chief of "overstepping her authority" by speaking out against the resolution, saying her statement "undermines" UNESCO's authority and was "completely unacceptable."
Hamas denounced Bokova's position as well, rebuking her for "giving into Israeli pressure."
After the PA and Hamas denounced Bokova, the current Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, joined her in condemning the resolutions failure to acknowledge any Jewish ties to the Temple Mount.
Meanwhile, an international online petition has been set up urging UNESCO to repeal the draft resolution. So far, over 63,000 people have signed the petition.
The International Legal Forum, headed by attorney Yifat Sega, which promotes the petition, called on UNESCO to "recognize the deep historic, cultural and religious connection between the Jewish people and holy sites in the land of Israel."
"The recent UNESCO draft resolution ... followed a long line of insulting resolutions which completely ignore and disregard the Temple Mount as also being an ancestral holy site for the Jewish people/religion for over 3,000 years.
The spat is the latest in Israel's rocky relations with UNESCO, which it accuses of making decisions out of political considerations," the petition said.
Regardless objections by Bokova, Moon, US lawmakers and in spite of the online petition, UNESCO's Executive Board is scheduled to ratify the draft resolution, approved in a vote of 24 in favor, six against, and 26 abstentions, next week.