Jamaica’s shameful stance on Israeli-Hamas vote
On October 26, 2016, in a secret vote, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee approved a resolution on the status of conservation of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls, home to Muslim, Christian and Jewish holy sites, and agreed to retain the city on the list of endangered world heritage sites.
The resolution also criticised Israel for its continuous refusal to grant access to the WHC’s experts to Jerusalem’s holy sites to determine their conservation status.
The resolution, which was strongly opposed by Israel, referred to the Jerusalem site only by its Arab name, al-Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) which includes the al-Aqsa mosque and the Golden Dome of the Rock. It is the third holiest site in Islam, after Mecca and Medina, both in Saudi Arabia.
The Old City lies at the centre of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is situated in East Jerusalem – the area of the holy city occupied by Israel since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Jews and Christians refer to the area as the Temple Mount, the site where the ancient temples were located. So too, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre or Church of the Resurrection.
The resolution was adopted by the WHC’s 21-member states by a vote of 10 in favour, two against, eight abstentions and one absent – Jamaica. A year earlier in 2015, a similar resolution was adopted by the WHC. Jamaica was present and voted, presumably in favour.
During his “historic” three-day visit to Israel in January 2017, the first such by a Jamaican prime minister, Andrew Holness was thanked by Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu for Jamaica’s refusal to participate in the 2016 UNESCO/WHC vote. “We appreciate the fact that you didn’t join the recent vote against Israel, the absurd vote in UNESCO,” Netanyahu told Holness. “I think this is the first visit ever by a prime minister of Jamaica to Israel, so it has a double significance for us,” Netanyahu said, as he cited a “natural affinity” between Israel and Jamaica and stressed that the visit was a “hallmark of cooperation.”
Holness, a “devout Christian”, prayed in front of the stones of the Western Wall and, as reported in the Jewish press, “did not hide his emotions about the sacred nature of where he was standing.” He spoke of Israel’s historic relationship with Jamaica when Jews came to Jamaica as refugees from Spain and Portugal centuries earlier. The Western Wall Foundation, made up mostly of ultra Orthodox Jews, has responsibility for the administration of the Western Wall and operates under the auspices of the Israeli PM. It reported on its website that Holness “noted his awareness of the deep and ancient connection between the Jewish nation and the Western Wall and Temple Mount, while reminding those present that Jamaica voted against the UNESCO resolution denying Jewish connection to this site.”
On 21 December, 2017, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution ES-10/19 declaring the status of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital “null and void”. This after American President Donald Trump had said that he would recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move his country’s embassy there. The resolution was adopted by a vote of 128 in favour, nine against, 35 abstentions and 21 absentees. Jamaica abstained.
On October 7, 2023, a few hours after Hamas launched its deadly assault on Israel, Holness was among the first world leaders to respond. He tweeted, “The Government of Jamaica condemns in strongest terms the attack by the Hamas group on Israel, resulting in the deaths, injury and abduction of Israeli civilians. We convey our sympathies to the Government and people of Israel and to the families of all those affected. Jamaica firmly believes that the use of violence and terror has no place in international relations and should never be used against innocent civilians. We call for a cessation of hostilities, a return to peace within internationally agreed guidelines and the pursuit of diplomatic solutions.”
On October 27, 2023, almost seven years to the day after that secret UNESCO vote from which Jamaica absented itself, the United Nations General Assembly, in a recorded vote, adopted a resolution calling for an “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce” between Israeli forces and Hamas militants in Gaza. It also demanded “continuous, sufficient and unhindered” provision of life-saving supplies and services for civilians trapped inside the enclave, as Israel expanded ground operations and intensified its bombing campaign.
The resolution was adopted with 120 votes in favour, 14 against, 45 abstentions. Jamaica was marked as absent.
At first the foreign ministry said Jamaica’s “absence” from the vote was due to the fact that “close consultations did not conclude in time for the close of vote.” It later said, “a technical cross in communication led to Jamaica’s representative not voting.” Actually, Ambassador Bryan Wallace was present in the General Assembly hall at the time the vote was taken but did not vote.
It wasn’t the Ambassador’s “absence” from the vote that was embarrassing and shameful as some have posited; it was his presence. But by being present, sitting on his hands in the hallowed hall of the UN General Assembly while a vote calling for a humanitarian truce in the Israel-Hamas war was being taken, goes far beyond ignominy and discomfiture. It demonstrates complicity in, connivance with and condonation of the “unfolding abhorent genocide” against a long-suffering people by a settler, colonialist, apartheid State, aided and abetted by European ethno-nationalists.
All that we have hoped for and achieved in foreign policy, from the time of Norman Washington Manley, has been sacrificed by vainglorious flim flam men who, in pursuit of a sinister agenda, travelled to Jerusalem in January 2017 to agree a “blurry pact”, as a Jamaican newspaper called it, and to wail at the Western Wall.
Accompanying the prime minister on his fateful visit to Israel – a visit which took place two months after the UNESCO/WHC vote and less than a year of his coming to office – was a bunch of diplomatic neophytes; men not just untrained and unpractised in the noble art of diplomacy but men who, as non-politicians, were totally bereft of political skills. All would go on to occupy important posts in the administration. Not a single professional and experienced foreign service officer was included in the delegation.
A soul that has been sold cannot be searched.
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Ambassador Emeritus Audley Rodriques served, among other duties, as Jamaica’s senior envoy to Venezuela and Kuwait.