Jews worship at the Kotel (Western Wall)
Jews worship at the Kotel (Western Wall)Reuters

Diaspora Jewish groups have reacted with outrage to an Arab initiative in UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization) to claim the Kotel (Western Wall) as a Muslim site.

Israeli officials have already expressed their anger at the provocative proposal to "Islamize" yet another Jewish heritage site in Israel. The Israeli government is reportedly working hard behind the scenes to have the proposal shelved, while Israel's Ambassador to UNESCO blasted the "Palestinian culture of lies."

In the US - where lawmakers have already urged the Ambassador to the UN to block the move - the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today expressed alarm at the "cynical and incendiary" effort - spearheaded by PA leaders and six Arab members of the UNESCO Executive Board to pass a resolution, which would recognize the Kotel as part of the al-Aqsa Mosque, and a Muslim holy site.

ADL urged the 58 members of the executive board to reject what it called a "blatant attempt to hijack UNESCO and exacerbate religious conflict in Jerusalem" and to "exercise responsible leadership to promote calm and religious respect at this tumultuous time."

"It is a tragic irony that while the Israeli government actively recognizes Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem and across the country, and guarantees and protects freedom of worship, the Palestinians and their allies on the UNESCO executive are instead trying to diminish, deny or replace the undeniable Jewish connection to holy sites in Jerusalem," said ADL CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO.

"In the case of the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary, Israel is committed to the long-time ‘status quo’ arrangement whereby Muslim management and access is ensured to this shared holy site," he added, also using the Muslim name for the Temple Mount, which is the holiest site in Judaism. Despite its central significance, however, Jews are forbidden from praying there in a major concession to Muslim demands - and threats of violence.

"We call on the members of UNESCO’s Executive Board to exercise responsible leadership and reject this resolution, particularly at this time when Israeli civilians are being attacked on the streets by young Muslims who have been inspired and incited by blatant misinformation about Israeli policies towards holy sites," Greenblatt added, noting the role that incitement by the PA and others over the Temple Mount has played in stoking the current violence.

"The international community and UNESCO have a role in working to reduce tensions and promote true religious respect and understanding, and to affirm Israel’s very right to exist. This resolution will have the opposite effect.

"All religious groups must respect the sanctity each other’s historic sites."

In the UK, the Jewish Leadership Council condemned the proposal as yet another attempt to "delegitimize Israel."

"The motion submitted to UNESCO seeks to delegitimise Israel by denying one of the central pillars of its character, its religious connection to the land," JLC Chief Executive Simon Johnson said in a statement. "Those who have put forward the motion seek to be deliberately inflammatory at a time of considerable instability in the region.

"For the Western Wall to be named as part of the al-Aqsa Mosque as proposed in this motion, would be an affront to Jews everywhere, not just in Israel," he added.

"Coming five years after UNESCO passed a motion declaring the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb to be ‘Palestinian’, it is clear that the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and their supporters are using the world’s major cultural forum as a setting to delegitimise Israel rather than foster cooperation on cultural maintenance.

"The JLC has written to the Foreign Office and other high level officials to ensure they are aware of the Jewish community’s position. We call on all those nations sponsoring this proposal, and those encouraging them to do so, to change course and curtail the current wave of violence, not to push forward resolutions that will escalate an already volatile situation."

The Council of European Rabbis rejected the PA's UNESCO bid as simply "ridiculous," and called on "common sense" to prevail.

In a statement, CER President and Chief Rabbi of Moscow Pinchas Goldschmidt fired: "It is an historical fact that the Western Wall is a part of Herod’s Temple and so for it to be suggested that the Western Wall has overnight ceased to become of Jewish significance after millennia of Jewish observance is ridiculous and simply not plausible.

"Common sense must prevail so that Jews across the world are able to continue to visit our holiest site."

The Kotel - also known as the Western Wall or the Wailing Wall - is one of the retaining walls of the Temple Mount, and one of the few remains of the site of the ancient Jewish Temples still extant.

Although the Temple Mount is Judaism's holiest site, the Kotel has for centuries been used as a place of Jewish prayer. In recent years, however, Islamist groups backed by the Palestinian Authority and some Arab states have claimed the Wall as "Al-Buraq Wall," claiming it is the site where Mohammed tethered his mythical winging horse when Islamic legend says he ascended to heaven.