Washington, June 29 – U.S. politicians from both parties have condemned a vote by UNESCO, the United Nations scientific and cultural agency, to declare the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem an “endangered world heritage site.”
The vote at a conference in St. Petersburg, Russia, came despite a ruling from the organization’s own experts that the traditional site of Jesus’ birth was in no danger. The three Churches which administer the ancient church also appealed to the Palestinians not to move forward with a vote.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement the vote showed “UNESCO cares more about engaging in anti-Israel politicized actions than promoting peace and stability through education, science, and culture, as it has been mandated.”
Palestine was voted into the organization as a “member state” last October, after which the United States stopped paying its dues. Ros-Lehtinen said the vote strengthened her determination to block efforts by the Obama administration to restore U.S. funding.
“Not one cent of U.S. taxpayer dollars must fund this anti-Israel, anti-peace body. U.S. law prohibiting funding to UNESCO and other bodies that admit ‘Palestine’ must stand — no waivers, no exceptions, no flexibility,” she said.”
Rep. Howard Berman of California, the ranking Democrat on the committee, also issued a statement blasting the move.
“This was just another attempt by the Palestinians to make an end run around direct peace negotiations with Israel,” he said. “The Palestinian strategy of pursuing unilateral UN actions is flawed and dangerous and only moves the parties further away from peace.”
The vote was 13-6 with two abstentions.
The U.S. ambassador to UNESCO, David Killion, said the United States was “profoundly disappointed” by the World Heritage committee's decision. "This body should not be politicized," he said.
The Anti-Defamation League called the vote politically perverted.
“With this vote, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee has forsaken its responsibility for protecting the world’s most important and sacred sites, and has proven to be another hackneyed, politicized body,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. “As a result, the United States, which is not a member of the World Heritage Committee, should re-evaluate the value of remaining a member of UNESCO.”