UN slams Israel’s aggressive and illegal activities in Jerusalem

Ed Sykes

As a British parliamentary select committee seeks to crack down on criticism of Israel’s leading political ideology, the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has slammed the aggressive and illegal activities that the most extreme forms of this ideology have encouraged.

Clamping down on political critiques

On 16 October, the Conservative-dominated Home Affairs Select Committee released a new report which suggested that saying the word ‘Zionist’ in “an accusatory or abusive context” ought to be seen as “inflammatory and potentially anti-Semitic”.

It also insisted that people on the far right were responsible for “the majority of anti-Semitic abuse and crime”, and that there was no evidence that the Labour Party had any more of a problem with antisemitic attitudes than any other party. But that didn’t stop the report from focusing disproportionately on the party led by longtime human rights advocate Jeremy Corbyn. Nor did it prevent it from dedicating only three paragraphs (of 70 pages) to antisemitism allegations made against the ruling Conservative Party.

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The Jewish Socialists’ Group (JSG) slammed the report as “a shoddy piece of politically motivated work” which “contorted the serious issue of antisemitism and turned it into an instrument to attack Jeremy Corbyn and the Party members who elected him”.

UNESCO stands up to the Israeli government

The UNESCO Constitution, signed in 1945, said:

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[World War Two had been] made possible by the denial of the democratic principles of the dignity, equality and mutual respect of men, and by the propagation, in their place, through ignorance and prejudice, of the doctrine of the inequality of men…

It also insisted that “the education of humanity for justice and liberty and peace are indispensable to the dignity of man”.

According to these principles, the organisation adopted a resolution on 14 October which condemned the “escalating Israeli aggressions and illegal measures” against the religious trust responsible for controlling and managing Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem and “against the freedom of worship and Muslims’ access to their holy site al-Aqsa Mosque”. It also asked Israel, as the occupying force in East Jerusalem, to cease these activities.

Tensions surrounding al-Aqsa

Israeli-Palestinian tensions go back to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. The fighting between 1948 and 1949 saw entire Palestinian communities uprooted and expelled. Around 700,000 refugees were created, and their descendants now number about seven million. This situation led to a series of wars. And in one conflict in 1967, Israel occupied East Jerusalem. It still does today.

This occupation has been a source of great tension, mainly because of the religious significance of East Jerusalem. The recent UNESCO resolution, for example, affirmed “the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions” (i.e. Islam, Judaism and Christianity).

In fact, one of the sparks for a Palestinian uprising in 2000 was prime ministerial candidate Ariel Sharon’s provocative and ill-timed visit to East Jerusalem shortly after the failure of peace talks.

Israel’s aggressive and illegal activities

Controversial actions today, as criticised by UNESCO, include:

  1. Israeli forces controlling the al-Aqsa Mosque’s perimeter and making frequent incursions into it.
  2. Groups with government funding or support calling for the mosque’s destruction and replacement with a Jewish temple.
  3. Local development and archaeological projects threatening the mosque’s foundation.
  4. Continued restriction of Palestinian and Muslim access to the holy site.
  5. Excavations and demolitions of ancient structures around East Jerusalem.
  6. A surge in private settlement activity in East Jerusalem, with new data showing that the number of Jewish settlers around the al-Aqsa Mosque has increased by 70% since 2009, while 55 Palestinian families have faced evicted in the last two years alone.

We could define Zionism most simply as Jewish nationalism. And the actions criticised by UNESCO are essentially a result of this ideology’s dominance in modern-day Israel. If the world’s governments restrict freedom to call Zionism out for what it is, as the Home Affairs Select Committee seems to want, these actions will only continue to foster tension and conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

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Featured image via Gal Asuach, IDF Spokesperson’s Unit/Wikimedia Commons

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