Diplomacy & defense
“Thank you Andrés Roemer, the Mexican Dreyfus,” a Jewish-Mexican news website wrote to the Mexican UNESCO envoy who lost his post during the fight against the UN cultural body's controversial resolution minimizing the connection between the Jewish people and the Temple Mount.
Roemer's attempt to reverse the decision failed, but the Mexican Jewish community is grateful nonetheless.
“Even though the infamous resolution was adopted, Roemer had achieved a feat: having turned the world's eyes to what one man can do when he sticks to his principles,” read an editorial at Enlace Judio.
“It is a noble gesture, and noble gestures are unheard of in places like UNESCO.”
It was the Mexican Jewish community's strong reaction that forced the government to re-examine its position on the controversial paper. Mexico originally planned to call for a new vote, but was forced to back down under international pressure within the organization. Instead, the country issued a statement during a meeting of UNESCO's executive committee, expressing concern over the bias and offensivene language of the decision.
Also Brazil, whose large Jewish community protested vigorously in recent days, joined the criticism over the resolution's choice of words and noted that it would find it difficult to support during future votes.
Brazilian politician Floriano Pesaro, who is one of the most prominent voices of the Brazilian Jewish community, said over the weekend that he was repeatedly asked to justify the Brazilian vote in favor of the UNESCO resolution, but that he too finds it puzzling.
“It's absurd. No one in his normal state of mind can advocate this resolution,” he wrote in an open letter to Brazil's foreign minister. “Approving such a misplaced statement isn't consistent with Brazil's religious tolerance and knowledge of history.”
Brazil's vote in support of the controversial resolution was framed as an attempt to force progress in the stalled peace process. "The recognition of the historical ties between Christians, Jews and Muslims in the Old City of Jerusalem and Bethlehem and Hebron is a first step towards an open and constructive approach to this issue,” explained the government, but the Jewish community found little comfort in that.
“This resolution promotes an unacceptable historical revisionism, denying abundant facts and records of the Jewish character of such sites,” said Fernando Lottenberg, president of the Jewish Confederation of Brazil. “By voting in favor of this text, Brazil did not keep the balance that it had adopted towards the region.”
He also accused the government of being in “bad company” and positioning itself alongside dictatorships, “which have no commitment to democracy and human rights.”
Similar accusations were also made by activists who initiated an online petition demanding explanations from the Brazilian government, which gathered nearly 10,000 signatures in the last three days. “Brazil aligned itself with those who most strongly demonize Judaism,” reads the petition.
Activists also point out that Brazil has the largest number of Catholics in the world, who feel attacked by UNESCO's attempt to delete their 2,000-year-old history.
Also in South Africa, another country that voted “yes”, Jewish organizations joined forces with Christian groups in protest of the decision, but no one is expecting a real change of heart on the government's part.
“The controlling powers in the governmental structures in South Africa have been very opposed to Israel and very much alined with the Palestinian course for the better part of the last twenty years, but even more so in the last eight years,” Ben Swartz, National Chairman of the South African Zionist Federation, told i24news.
“They have become more radicalized in their public positions on anything Israeli, and have taken stands that have been way more radical than the moderate Arab and Muslim countries in the world,” he added, calling the South African support of the UNESCO resolution “infuriating, but not surprising.”
But those positions don't represent the attitudes of the South African population, the vast majority of which is Christian and stands strongly behind Israel, he stressed. In recent days activists have sent email blasts to churches across South Africa, calling on them to take actions in response to the UNESCO decision.
Hundreds of Jewish and Christians groups petitioned the South Africa Foreign Ministry regarding UNESCO, demanding to meet with officials and express their dissatisfaction with the decision – so far unsuccessfully.
“The South African foreign policy is largely being thrown in the face of a large portion of the South African population,” noted Swartz, “but the government either doesn't care or they don't understand.“
However, some in Israel see as a condolence prize the fact that countries that previously supported a similar UNESCO resolution in April, which was voted for by 33 countries – among them France, Spain, Slovenia and Sweden - have now chosen to abstain.
At the time, sharp criticism from the French Jewish community – which included strongly-worded statements from France's Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia and several Jewish groups - led the French Foreign Ministry to clarify that it did not mean to downplay the connection between Judaism and the holy city, and caused it to vote differently last week.
Yet, the French Jewish community is not fully appeased: “Once again our country has failed to find a clear voice to recognize the historical reality of the link between Judaism and Jerusalem,” accused the CRIF, the umbrella group of French Jewish institutions.
Although welcoming the change in France's vote, it urged the government to “urgently get away from this ambiguous position which makes the French Jewish community suffer’'.
Polina Garaev is i24news' correspondent in Germany