Netanyahu rejects invitation to UNESCO anti-Semitism conference

President Donald Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Sept. 26, 2018. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Sept. 26, 2018. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

(JTA) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected an invitation to participate in a United Nations conference on Anti-Semitism.

The conference was held on Wednesday at the United Nations headquarters in New York under the auspices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

“While I commend all efforts to combat anti-Semitism, I have decided not to participate in this week’s UNESCO conference on anti-Semitism due to the organization’s persistent and egregious bias against Israel,” Netanyahu said in a statement issued on Wednesday. “Since 2009, UNESCO has passed 71 resolutions condemning Israel and only 2 resolutions condemning all other countries combined. This is simply outrageous.”

Israel announced in late December 2017 that it would withdraw from UNESCO, several weeks after the United States announced its decision to withdraw, citing “continuing anti-Israel bias.”  The U.S. decision also came days after the General Assembly on Thursday passed a resolution rejecting any recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in the wake of the pronouncement by U.S. President Donald Trump two weeks earlier. In recent years, UNESCO has passed resolutions rejected Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, and placed the Cave of the Patriarchs and the Old City of Hebron in the State of Palestine on the list of world heritage sites in danger.

The withdrawal from UNESCO by Israel and the U.S. will become official at the end of this year.

“The mark of anti-Semitism was once singling out the Jewish people for slander and condemnation. The mark of anti-Semitism today is singling out the Jewish state for slander and condemnation,” Netanyahu also said in his statement.

“If UNESCO wants to remove this mark of shame, it must do more than host a conference on anti-Semitism. It must stop practicing anti-Semitism. And it must stop the absurdity of passing resolutions which deny the connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel, between the Jewish people and our eternal capital Jerusalem,” he also said.

United Nations General Secretary Antonio Guterres called on member states to recognize anti-Semitism as a problem to be addressed internationally, during remarks to the conference on Wednesday.

“Jewish boys should not be afraid to wear yarmulkes in the streets of our cities. Jewish youth should not have to travel to school under the protection of armed military or police. Jewish cemeteries should not be desecrated,” he said. “Anti-Semitism has survived across the millennium but should have no place in the 21st century.”

He added: “The origins of the United Nations itself are rooted in the need to learn the lessons of the Holocaust. Being true to our Charter means combatting anti-Semitism and hatred with all our energy and will.”

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