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Israel’s UN problems and the UNESCO fiasco: An interview with Ambassador Dore Gold

It would appear that the tide has turned, and Israel is doing well in UN forums and among member states, but is that really the case?

President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Dore Gold, speaks at a conference marking 24 years since the Oslo Accords, Sep. 13, 2017. (Photo: Hadas Parush/Flash90)

This January, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) adopted an Israeli resolution aimed at combating Holocaust denial. It was a big accomplishment, as it was only the second time in Israel’s modern history that a measure like this was introduced and passed at the UNGA by an Israeli delegation. 

In another positive development, in May of last year, the U.S. ambassador to the UN said Israel had diplomatic relations with every member state on the UN Security Council (UNSC).

Despite this, as well as Israel establishing full diplomatic relations with some Arab Gulf states under the historic Abraham Accords – the Jewish state still has not seen the kind of favor at the UN that Israeli leaders had hoped for. 

In November, the UNGA adopted three resolutions by recorded vote on the question of Palestine and the Middle East. One of those, titled “Jerusalem,” was opposed by the U.S. because the Temple Mount was only referred to by its Muslim name, “Haram al-Sharif.” The resolution did not take into account the history of the Temple Mount shared by Christians and Jews. The Israeli delegation said that by voting in favor, member states were contributing to a prolonged conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. 

Meanwhile, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) continues to foster anti-Israel bias. The Israeli government and the U.S. under former President Donald Trump officially quit supporting UNESCO on Jan. 1, 2019. 

Israeli officials have repeatedly taken issue with UN resolutions that distort facts and provide false narratives about the Jewish state’s historical connection to both the Temple Mount and Jerusalem. However, the Biden administration has been re-engaging with UNESCO, and could become a full-paying member, much to the chagrin of Israeli officials. 

In a recent interview with ALL ISRAEL NEWS, Dore Gold, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, spoke about these issues which he also covers in his short documentary, “Falsifying History: The UN’s Reinvention of Jerusalem’s Past.” Gold has been a diplomat for over 30 years, serving as Israel’s ambassador to the UN from 1997 to 1999. 

In his documentary, he said that UNESCO has been systematically denying the historic connection of the Jewish people to their Holy City. 

Below is the interview, lightly edited for clarity.

CARRIE HART: How are UNESCO’s false narratives being addressed by Israel, the U.S., and other countries?

AMBASSADOR GOLD: It’s the responsibility of every Israeli government to see to it that Israel is represented properly abroad. If you have the United Nations coming up with these resolutions, it’s up to the ambassador, it’s up to the foreign minister, it's up to the prime minister to negate that. That’s what I did when I was Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, and that’s what I did in the film that I released as well. I think it’s something we all have to do because this is a challenge to the foundations of our religious faith.

HART: You’ve talked about the surprising scale of disinformation and ignorance regarding this issue. Is it possible to reverse this trend through educating UN member states in a more effective way? And if so, how do you propose doing that?

GOLD: We had a resolution in the 1970’s called “Zionism is Racism.” I’ve never felt that anything done at the UN so threatened our security and identity. But by 1991, we basically reversed the resolution. In theory it can be done. That resolution began in the Human Rights Council and then moved over to the General Assembly. The majority was very thin. It wasn't strong. It wasn't a massive majority of 120 countries. So, I think there is something to work with. We have to focus our attention on this because the UNESCO “constitution” correctly pointed out that ignorance about different peoples in the world; and ignorance about our history, is one of the sources of conflict that exists. Therefore, to just let this move along by itself is a big mistake. I hope that the government of Israel, the government of the United States, and other friendly governments in the world take a stand against this.

HART: You mentioned ignorance, but also disinformation. Would you comment on that as well?

GOLD: The PLO, the Palestine Liberation Organization, has understood from its inception that war today is conducted using (besides military implements) distortion – a distortion of facts and history. They’ve been doing this for a long time. I think they learned this from the Russians, from the Chinese and from Third World countries that engage in this kind of activity. So, it’s up to us to stand firm and correct the stories that are being spread.

HART: Can you tell me what is in the UNESCO’s statute that proves they are violating their own charter through distortions about what is true and accurate regarding the holy city?

GOLD: What it says in the statute is the following: “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is the minds of men that defenses of peace must be constructed.” And then it continues: “That ignorance of each other's ways and lives has been a common cause throughout the history of mankind; Of that, suspicion, and mistrust between peoples of the world, through which their differences have too often broken into war.” That is the statute of UNESCO. And here you have this distortion of fundamental history of religion that simply pulls the Jewish People out of the equation when it comes to the Temple Mount. I think that we have a basis for turning to UNESCO’s own “constitution” and demand that UNESCO adhere to the principles upon which it was founded.

HART: Wasn't the Trump administration withholding finances at some point, wanting to see change?

GOLD: Well, what has happened is that the Biden administration has moved back into support of UNESCO, and I think that’s a mistake as long as UNESCO doesn’t change.

HART: What UN member states might be willing to withhold the funding of UNESCO programs until UNESCO complies with its own charter?

GOLD: There are many good states in the UN system, particularly in Africa and in Asia, that might be willing to reconsider their support for UNESCO, and their funding of UNESCO, but that would take a major initiative by the United States and its close allies. Right now, I don’t see that happening.

HART: Would you mention your strategy that was in the film clip?

GOLD: My strategy was to note what is the problem – the ignorance, the deception, the lies about basic history. The strategy I suggest is that countries unite and demand that UNESCO adhere to its own principles. This would mean not to support initiatives that say they deny any link between the Temple Mount and Judaism and Christianity. It should not happen. You can’t have such a blatant contravention of international principles and let things continue without any intervention; without any statement on the part of most of the countries of the world.

HART: When a country introduces information that is totally out of line – false information, disinformation – is there a kind of checks-and-balance system within the UN?

GOLD: What you have is that individual members of the UN can send a letter to the secretary general. It becomes a public document in the UN system so that every member of the United Nations receives it. And if something like that, which is highly embarrassing for the state that was associated with spreading these rumors, I think that might get them to reconsider the positions they’ve put forward.

HART: Do you see UNESCO’s continued attempt to undermine Israel’s legitimate rights and recognition of Jerusalem holy sites, as a form of diplomatic pressure on Israel? And if so, what leverage does Israel have to dissuade this kind of pressure?

GOLD: We have to tell the truth. We have to get out there and point out that this is happening. If we don’t, and we just let it slide, we will pay a price and future generations will pay a price.

HART: What more could Israel do to educate those countries that are believing in what UNESCO’s putting out there?

GOLD: When you are a UN member, you have a number of rights that you can exercise. For example, UNESCO is based in Paris as the UNESCO headquarters. A member state could display what it believes is the truth of the story of Jerusalem. This can be done on placards and on film. It can be done by going around the UN system, by just having advertising which puts forward our perspective on the question. But again, if we just sit back and we don’t do anything and we let the deceptive distortions of UNESCO take over, then we're doing two things. We’re hurting Israel and we are not advancing peace.

Carrie Hart is a news analyst reporting on political, diplomatic, military and social issues as they relate to Israel, the Middle East, and the international community.

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