Israel suspends ties with UNESCO in spat over Jerusalem holy site

Jews call the holy site the Temple Mount, and Muslims know it as Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary.

Story highlights

  • Draft decision by UNESCO body refers to Jerusalem holy site only by Muslim name
  • Israeli leader says decision is like saying "Egypt has no connection to the Pyramids"

Jerusalem (CNN)Israel has suspended ties with UNESCO, the UN body in charge of preserving culture and history, after a draft decision that Israel says ignores Judaism's ties to the religion's holiest site.

The draft decision notes the importance of Jerusalem to all three monotheistic religions -- Christianity, Judaism and Islam -- but makes no mention of why the city is significant to Christians or Jews. A subsidiary body of UNESCO's Executive Board passed the resolution Thursday in Paris.
    It refers to Jerusalem's holiest site -- known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary -- only by its Muslim name.
    The draft decision, which largely criticizes Israel's actions in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, was proposed by a group of Arab countries and drew harsh rebukes from Israel and the United States.
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the move as absurd, saying: "To say that Israel has no connection to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall is like saying that China has no connection to the Great Wall of China or that Egypt has no connection to the Pyramids. By this absurd decision, UNESCO has lost what little legitimacy it has left."
    In a letter from Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett following the vote, Israel announced it will freeze all professional activities with UNESCO.
    US State Department spokesman Mark Toner also criticized the decision. "We are deeply concerned about these kinds of recurring, politicized resolutions that do nothing to advance constructive results on the ground. And we don't believe they should be adopted," Toner said.
    The United States stopped funding UNESCO in 2011 over the organization's acceptance of a Palestinian bid for full membership. Washington had contributed $80 million a year to the organization before then.
    In April, UNESCO passed a similar decision that Israel and other countries also harshly criticized.
    This we