JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's prime minister offered on Friday to personally host a lecture on Jewish history for local U.N. staff following outrage over a resolution adopted by the U.N. cultural agency that put the Western Wall in Jerusalem — Judaism's holiest site — in quotation marks and described other Jewish sites as "so-called."
Benjamin Netanyahu said he was "shocked to hear that UNESCO adopted a decision denying any Jewish connection to the Temple Mount, our holiest site."
The Israeli leader expressed disbelief that "anyone, let alone an organization tasked with preserving history, could deny this link which spans thousands of years."
The resolution was sponsored by several Arab countries and adopted by UNESCO's 58-nation executive board last month. Israelis and many Jews and others around the world were appalled by the language.
The resolution was seen as a disavowal by UNESCO of ancient Jewish ties to the holy sites in Jerusalem and elsewhere. It referred to the sites by their Arabic or English names or, in the case of the Western Wall, used quotation marks around the name.
Many people viewed it as the latest example of an ingrained anti-Israel bias at the United Nations, where Israel and its allies are far outnumbered by Arab countries and their supporters. It was also the latest chapter in Israel's rocky relations with UNESCO, which it accuses of making decisions out of political considerations.
The wall, in Jerusalem's Old City, is all that remains of the compound where the biblical Jewish temples stood. King Solomon's temple was destroyed by Babylonians and centuries later the second temple, built on the same site, was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. The site is the holiest in Judaism.
The site is also sacred to Muslims, who refer to the compound as the Haram as-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, marking the place where they believe the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. It is the third-holiest site in Islam, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, and a flashpoint for Palestinian protests.
Netanyahu said he will "personally" host the lecture at his office.
"The seminar will be given by a leading scholar of Jewish history and will be free to all U.N. staff and diplomats, including of countries which voted for this outrageous decision," he said.
Israel captured east Jerusalem, with its holy sites from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war. Palestinians claim the territory as part of their future state. The fate of Jerusalem has been at the heart of rounds of peace talks.
"The Jewish people's connection to the Temple Mount goes back thousands of years. Denying that isn't only ahistorical. It actually makes peace harder to achieve," Netanyahu's spokesman David Keyes said, adding that the UNESCO text was "an outrageous distortion of basic fact."
He expressed hope many diplomats would attend the lecture because "everyone should hear the truth."