A demonstration of moral courage occurred two weeks ago in a most unlikely place: the UNESCO Executive Board meeting in Paris. During a contentious vote on the “Occupied Palestine” resolution, Mexico’s Ambassador to UNESCO walked out. Andrés Roemer reportedly decided he could not support a resolution that attempts to expunge thousands of years of Jerusalem’s Jewish identity.
His audacity cost him his job—but it also focused attention on this resolution. Mexico decided to change its stance to abstention and intended to call for a re-vote to formally withdraw support. Brazil also indicated it had serious reservations and UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova and Chairman of the Board Michael Worbs voiced concerns, raising hopes that another vote would allow countries to reconsider their support, or that final passage would be delayed. Italy’s Prime Minister subsequently criticized the text and added his country would encourage other European colleagues to oppose such measures in the future.
Last Wednesday morning that opportunity could have arisen. But then “western countries” lobbied against the second vote on the grounds other resolutions passed by consensus might be re-opened, and the resolution passed. While the identity of these western countries is not yet known, we do know that at the very least the United States did not actively lobby for the re-vote. In other words, when given an unprecedented opportunity to rally support for Israel at UNESCO as nations that have voted reflexively in support of the Palestinians shifted their positions, America chose to look the other way.
The Obama administration has attempted to explain that America was powerless to prevent the resolution’s passage because our laws have prohibited funding to UNESCO after it accepted “Palestine” as a member in 2011, and that the solution is to restore funding. But other UN entities have not followed UNESCO’s lead because they disagree on the Palestinian issue, but rather because they fear the loss of the US taxpayer dollars that pay their salaries—leverage America can and should exploit. Additionally, support for the Palestinians no longer seems to be an article of faith for a number of countries such as Mexico and Brazil, not to mention our NATO ally Italy, and they now might be inclined to join with the US in supporting Israel.
But this is not an opportunity the Obama administration appears interested in seizing. The President’s Jerusalem policy was made clear a few weeks ago when the White House issued a “corrected” version of Mr. Obama’s remarks at Simon Peres’ funeral on Mount Herzl, site of Israel’s national cemetery and Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, the correction being to cross out “Israel” after “Jerusalem” in the header identifying the location of the ceremony. It was of paramount importance to make the point that the American President does not consider Mount Herzl—and so Jerusalem—sovereign Israeli territory.
This rather clumsy attempt to erase Israel seems a tactic better suited to the Islamic Republic of Iran than the United States of America, and it is evidence that the Obama administration is not done with the Jewish state. And as it has been so often over its millennia of history, Jerusalem is going to be ground zero.
Unfortunately for Mr. Obama, he may well have selected a rare issue on which there is robust, bipartisan consensus in Congress. I was pleased to send a letter with Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and thirty nine of our House and Senate colleagues from both sides of the aisle last week to members of UNESCO’s Executive Board urging them to oppose the “Occupied Palestine” resolution on the grounds that it was an unconscionable attempt to re-write Jerusalem’s history.
UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee will meet this week to consider yet another resolution that again denies the historical connection of the Jewish people to holy sites in Jerusalem, so Rep. Ros-Lehtinen and I are sending another bipartisan, bicameral letter urging opposition to this biased resolution as well. Numerous recent archeological excavations have provided scientific proof reaffirming Jewish and Christian ties to Jerusalem. Furthermore, Israel actually protects the rights of religious minorities to freely observe their faiths in Jerusalem.
Congress has clearly demonstrated our commitment to the US-Israel alliance. We must also remain vigilant in our upcoming lame-duck legislative session to guard against Obama administration attempts to restore UNESCO funding or take other action to undermine Israel. America should be rallying our friends and allies to oppose these insidious UNESCO resolutions that attempt to undermine the historic connection of the Israeli people with all of their country, including their capital, Jerusalem.
And if President Obama continues to prioritize his political legacy over the national security interests of the United States—which would be a secure and sovereign Israel—Congress at least should have the courage to lead this charge.
Ted Cruz is United States Senator (R-TX).