Thousands of Christians from around the world visited Jerusalem last week, tracing the footsteps of Jesus through the cobbled winding streets of the Old City as they do every Sukkot, one of the three Jewish festivals when Jews made the pilgrimage to the Temple centuries ago. But a UNESCO resolution negates these events ever happening.
It is hardly shocking that Iran, along with several Arab countries, voted in favor of the draft resolution by the U.N cultural body two week ago, a move widely viewed as denying the historic and religious ties between Jews and Jerusalem.
But among all the many absurdities of the resolution, I was stunned by the fact that Latin American powerhouses Brazil and Mexico, along with Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, embraced it. The latest figures from the Pew Research Center show that in these countries and the rest of Latin America, the vast majority of the populations identify as Christians (69 percent of the total population is Catholic, while 19 percent is Protestant).
Surely these countries understand that by diminishing Jewish history, UNESCO de facto negated Christian ties to the holy city as well. If there was no Jewish Temple, as UNESCO insinuates, then Jesus could never have set foot there as detailed in Christian scriptures.
Pastor Mario Bramnick, president of the Hispanic Israel Leadership Coalition, said his organization “condemns UNESCO’s decision which denies the historical Jewish and Christian connection to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.”
Bramnick told Fuente Latina, a U.S. nonprofit working with Hispanic media covering Israel and the Mideast, that “Jerusalem and the Temple Mount were originally under Jewish control with later Christian influence.” The actions attributed to him in Jerusalem took place “during the time of the Second Temple.”
In case you missed it, a week after approving the resolution denying the Temple Mount’s foundation in Judaism and Israeli history, UNESCO greenlighted another one on Oct. 19 under the heading of “Occupied Palestine.” It names holy sites, including the location where the Jewish Temples stood in biblical times, by their Islamic names only, and puts the Jewish names for them in quotation marks, thereby questioning their authenticity. And this is the international body created by the United Nations in part to advance understanding between cultures!
The UNESCO affair is not the first time that Palestinians and others have exploited the United Nations to taint Israel’s image, of course. But this time, the moves hit Jews and Christians around the world on a deeper level — Jerusalem and its holy sites are at the heart of these two faiths.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dubbed the first resolution “absurd” after it was announced. He later tweeted: “What’s next? A UNESCO decision denying the connection between peanut butter and jelly? Batman and Robin? Rock and roll?”
Similar, if more restrained, reactions came from many communities around the world.
But the resolution was mostly met with apathy in Latin America. Brazil, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua all historically have had good relations with Israel. And yet, in 2010, Nicaragua suspended ties with the Jewish state.
Although governments in those countries seem to be passively accepting UNESCO’s actions, both Christians and Jews in the Spanish-speaking world are expressing their outrage over the vote and demanding answers from their representatives.
Thousands of Hispanic Christians and Jews from around the world signed several petitions to reverse UNESCO’s decision. A Spanish language social media movement, #SomosIsrael (“We are Israel”), initiated by Hispanic Christians, took to Twitter the night the resolution was signed and became a top trending topic in several Latin American countries, generating more than 5 million impressions in one day. Days later, still continued strong.
The united voices show support for Israel and outrage for the rewriting of history with a clear demand for action, specifically that these Latin American countries reconsider their position.
Mexico has since changed its stance, withdrawing support for the UNESCO resolution and changing its vote to an abstention. Brazil expressed reservations about the language of the resolution, but did not change its official position. Let’s see if the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua follow suit.
Leah Soibel is founder and CEO of Fuente Latina, a U.S. nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that removes geographic and linguistic barriers for global Spanish-language media covering stories about Israel and the Mideast. Its offices are in Jerusalem, Madrid and Miami.