Saying the Jewish people has no connection to Jerusalem is like saying the “sun creates darkness,” Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the weekend.
Netanyahu spoke to Renzi to thank him for a letter he wrote saying that Italy’s abstention in the recent UNESCO vote on a resolution expunging any Jewish connection to the Temple Mount was a mistake that would not be repeated.
According to a statement put out by the Prime Minister’s Office, Renzi said that Italy will try toinfluence other European countries to vote against these types of anti-Israel resolutions in the future.
Italy was one of six EU countries that abstained on the resolution, while another five – Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Estonia and Lithuania – voted against.
Netanyahu told Renzi there are “limits even to the theater of the absurd,” and that countries that respect themselves and the truth should not support it.
“This is not a question of politics, but of historical facts,” he said.
The Prime Minister’s Office said that Netanyahu appreciated the leadership Italy was demonstrating, as part of the positive process of changing the pattern of automatic votes against Israel in international forums. The change in the voting patterns in UN institutions will take a number of years and will include disappointments, the statement said, but these changes have begun.
Renzi told an Italian Radio station last week that resolutions like the UNESCO ones are “incomprehensible, unacceptable and wrong.”
Ultimately, however, if Israel plans to defeat similar resolutions in the future, it will need more countries like Italy to not only abstain, but rather vote against. Mexico, for instance, made headlines last week when it withdrew its support from the Jerusalem text, but made clear it would abstain in the future, rather than vote against.
While such abstentions help Israel secure a moral victory, they ultimately do not help it defeat these resolutions. A similar type of anti-Israel resolution – this one to reaffirm the placement of Jerusalem’s Old City on a list of World Heritage Sites in danger – will come before UNESCO’s 21-member World Heritage Committee when it meets from Monday to Wednesday this week.
The vote is routine, but the text – much like the one that was approved Tuesday by UNESCO’s 58-member Executive Board – refers to the Temple Mount only by its Arabic name, al-Haram al-Sharif. The committee is made up of the following states: Angola, Azerbaijan, Burkina Faso, Croatia, Cuba, Finland, Indonesia, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Tunisia, Turkey, Tanzania, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.
Since 2015, the Palestinian Authority has pushed to change the language UNESCO uses to speaks of Jerusalem and the holy sites, so that they are referred to almost exclusively by their Arabic names. As part of that drive, the PA, or members of the UN’s Arab group, submits Jerusalem resolutions to UNESCO at every possible opportunity.
The UNESCO vote was on Netanyahu’s mind when he celebrated his 67th birthday on Friday by visiting the Tel Gezer archeological site with his wife and two sons.
After receiving an explanation of the findings at the site, Netanyahu said, “For UNESCO’s information, we are standing at Solomon’s Gate in the city of Gezer, and it is written in the Bible that King Solomon built the walls of Jerusalem and Gezer, and other cities in Israel. But certainly that was Zionist propaganda.
“We are here today, thousands of years later, and we will remain here,” he said. “They will not erase our history. We were here, and will remain here.”