New York, NY, June 29, 2012 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today expressed deep disappointment that the UNESCO World Heritage Committee ignored expert advice and its own established procedures and bowed to a politicized Palestinian bid to put Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity on the list of endangered World Heritage Sites. In light of this and other highly politicized moves by the body, the League said the United States should reconsider its participation in UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
"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.
"We do not dispute that the Church of the Nativity is a treasured and sacred site that could qualify for special status," said Mr. Foxman. "We dispute the process, which supported the Palestinian's cynical strategy to circumvent World Heritage procedures and facetiously claim the site to be endangered. In bowing to this perverted Palestinian bid, the committee ignored the recommendations of their own advisory council's investigation and the entreaties of the church's own religious leadership who must live with the practical implications of this decision."
ADL expressed appreciation to the six countries that voted against the measure in keeping with established procedures and norms. Thirteen countries voted in support of the designation, and two abstained. The League thanked the United States for their important efforts to try to prevent this unfortunate outcome.
The Palestinian Authority applied for expedited World Heritage status for the church – one of the most sacred sites for Christians – claiming it was endangered. This procedure is generally used for sites deemed to be in dire physical danger of destruction.
The PA's claim that the site was imperiled was disputed by the World Heritage Committee's own advisory body, the International Council on Monuments and Sites, which said the church does not require emergency care.
Moreover, in a letter leaked to the media, the three guardians of the Church, Theophilus III, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Custos of the Holy Land, and Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, Patriarch of the Armenian Church – who over centuries have worked out a fragile status quo in managing the church - wrote to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas opposing the authority's bid for emergency UNESCO status.
In the past, ADL has been critical of UNESCO's decisions regarding extending full membership to the Palestinians and its decisions on holy sites in Israel.