The U.N. cultural agency on Friday declared the old city of Chevron as a Palestinian world heritage site, a decision that outraged Israeli officials who say the move negated the deep Jewish ties to the Jewish town and the Me’aras Hamachpelah.
The move was the latest chapter in Israel’s contentious relationship with UNESCO, an agency it accuses of being an anti-Israeli tool that makes decisions out of political considerations.
While the Palestinians welcomed the action, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it “another delusional decision by UNESCO.”
The 12-3 vote, with six abstentions, came on a secret ballot at an annual UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting in Krakow, Poland. The proposal came from the Palestinian side. Israel contended that its historic links to Chevron were ignored and its ambassador to UNESCO left the session.
UNESCO spokeswoman Lucia Iglesias confirmed that Chevron’s old city was put on the agency’s World Heritage list and on the list of sites in danger. She would not elaborate, saying the exact wording would be decided later.
The decision obliges the World Heritage committee to review its status annually.
Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said UNESCO’s “automatic Arab majority succeeded in passing the proposed resolution that attempts to appropriate the national symbols of the Jewish people.”
She added: “This is a badge of shame for UNESCO, who time after time chooses to stand on the side of lies.”
Netanyahu expressed outrage that UNESCO determined the Me’aras Hamachpelah in Chevron “is a Palestinian site, meaning not Jewish, and that the site is in danger.”
“Not a Jewish site?!” he asked sarcastically. “Who is buried there? Avraham, Yitzchok, Yaakov, Sarah, Rivkah and Leah — our patriarchs and matriarchs!”
Netanyahu pointed to extremists blowing up religious sites in the Middle East and said, “It is only in those places where Israel is, such as Chevron, that freedom of religion for all is ensured.”
Many viewed Friday’s UNESCO decision as the latest example of an ingrained anti-Israel bias at the U.N. and its institutions, where Israel and its allies are outnumbered by Arab countries and their supporters.
Although their rocky relationship goes back decades, recent resolutions by UNESCO also drew outrage in Israel for diminishing the deep Jewish ties to Yerushalayim.
In September, Israel suspended cooperation with UNESCO after it adopted a resolution that Israel says denies the deep historic Jewish connection to mekomos hakedoshim in Yerushalayim.
Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads Israel’s national UNESCO committee, said after Friday’s vote that “Israel will not resume its cooperation with UNESCO so long as it remains a political tool, rather than professional organization.”
In a statement, Netanyahu said he would cut another $1 million from the membership money Israel sends to the U.N. and use it to establish a “Museum of the Heritage of the Jewish People in Kiryat Arba and Chevron” and for other heritage projects related to Chevron.
Yitzhak Reiter of the independent Yerushalayim Institute for Policy Research said UNESCO’s decision would allow the Palestinians to “score points” in negotiations over the future of Yehuda and Shomron territory, since they could claim that UNESCO has sided with them.