The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on Tuesday adopted a controversial resolution challenging Jewish ties to Jerusalem holy sites, on the heels of a surprise announcement by Mexico that it would seek a re-vote in order to change its position.
The resolution, put forth by a number of Arab states, condemned Israel on several issues related to Jerusalem and its holy sites and appeared to deny Jewish ties to the Temple Mount holy site by using only its Muslim names (Al-Aqsa Mosque and Haram al-Sharif) while failing to mention its Hebrew or English names (Har HaBayit or Temple Mount).
The flashpoint complex is considered Judaism's holiest site, once the site of the first and second Temples, and is the third holiest to the Muslim faith.
"It was adopted," a UNESCO spokesman said of the resolution which led Israel last week to suspend its cooperation with the Paris-based agency.
Mexico had been one of 24 member states that voted in favor of the contentious resolution but announced its intentio to trigger a UNESCO bylaw and force a re-vote with the intention of changing its position from support to abstention.
Mexico backed down, however, under pressure by other Western countries who voted against the resolution due to the precedent it would set regarding a future vote on Crimea, Ha'aretz cites a senior Israeli official as saying.
Instead, Mexico issued a statement during a meeting of UNESCO's executive committee announcing that it had changed its position over concerns that the resolution was offensive and biased against the Jewish people and their connection to Jerusalem. Brazil supported Mexico's reservations, saying it, too, would find it difficult to support the resolution in its current form during future votes.
The Executive Board adopted the resolution during a blanket vote validating all resolutions passed during this year's general conference.
Mexico's original vote infuriated the country's Jewish community, forcing the government to re-examine its position.
Mexico's Secretariat of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that the country's changed position "reiterates the recognition that the Government of Mexico gives the undeniable link of the Jewish people to the cultural heritage of East Jerusalem."
The statement continued that Mexico's abstention "reflects the deep appreciation [the governmet] has for the Jewish community and in particular for their significant contributions to the welfare and economic, social, and cultural development of Mexico."
The initial vote in support of the resolution reportedly came as a result of conflicting directives between President Ennrique Pena Nieto and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Nieto had apparently promised Israeli officials and his country's Jewish community that Mexico would not support the resolution. But at the time of the vote, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs directed UNESCO Ambassador Andreas Roemer to vote in favor.
Roemer, a Mexican Jew, was reportedly opposed to Mexico's support for the resolution and tried unsuccessfully to change his country's decision, a senior Israeli official said according to Ha'aretz. He walked out of the vote in an apparent protest of the decision, leaving a deputy representative to deliver the vote in his place.
Roemer was removed from his position overnight Tuesday, the Mexican Foreign Ministry said, after he leaked the official government correspondence ordering him to vote in support of the resolution. Mexico's Foreign Affairs Ministry announced it would open an internal probe "to ascertain and determine the responsibilities of the officials involved in this issue."
Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO, Carmel Shama-HaCohen, said Tuesday that Roemer had been a "true friend of Israel."
"We will not give up and fight to the end against all odds," Shama-Hacohen said. "I spoke to the Mexican envoy who touched my heart and informed me in our last conversation that his dismissal is inevitable, but at least we can smile because we succeeded in changing Mexico's position in the future.
"His dismissal is not good news for us, as he is a true friend of Israel, but a change in the historical voting pattern of Mexico is a moral and diplomatic achievement for Israel and a continued trend of erosion for support of the resolution."
Director of UN Watch, Hillel Neuer echoed Shama-Hacohen's sentiment, saying that the voting patterns on the resolution, together with Mexico's shock move, signaled a slight shift in traditional voting patterns at the international forum.
"India, with a population of 200 million Muslims, for the first time abstained on a vote dealing substantively with Israel," he told i24news, adding that it would remain to be seen how India would vote in some 20 resolutions on Israel to be presented during the next UN General Assembly.
UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova also publicly distanced herself from the vote, saying that "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."
"When these divisions carry over into UNESCO, an organization dedicated to dialogue and peace, they prevent us from carrying out our mission," she said.
Israel suspended cooperation with UNESCO on Friday following the vote, with Education Minister Naftali Bennett accusing the body of ignoring "thousands of years of Jewish ties to Jerusalem" and aiding "Islamist terror."
Bennett on Tuesday said that he would consider renewing ties with the world cultural body if the resolution was voided during the re-vote.
"We will follow the developments today, and if the shameful decision by UNESCO is indeed canceled, we will consider resuming the professional ties, events and projects which were suspended," he said in a statement.
UNESCO passed a similar resolution in April referring to the Temple Mount solely as Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Western Wall as the Al-Buraq Plaza drawing harsh condemnations from Israel.
(Staff with agencies)