The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director General Irina Bokova cancelled an important exhibit on the connection between the Jewish people and Israel due to Arab pressure.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) had been working with UNESCO since 2011 on the exhibit, titled “The People, the Book, the Land — 3,500 years of ties between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel.” The invitations had been sent out and the exhibition material was already in place. The display was co-sponsored by Israel, Canada and Montenegro.
The exhibit was scheduled to open in Paris today but was canceled last week.
Bokova told SWC that the decision arose out of UNESCO’s support for peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
“Having in mind the delicate phase that the peace negotiations are entering, I have no choice but to take seriously the concerns raised in the letter of the chairperson of the Arab Group,” she wrote to Rabbi Marvin Hier, SWC dean and founder.
Arab members of UNESCO claimed that the exhibit would impair the peace process.
Abdulla al Neaimi, president of the Arab group within UNESCO, expressed “deep worry and great disapproval” over the program, which demonstrates the age-old connection between Israel and the Jewish people.
“The subject of this exhibition is highly political though the appearance of the title seems to be trivial. Most serious is the defense of this theme, which is one of the reasons used by the opponents of peace within Israel,” he wrote in a letter to Bokova.
“The publicity that will accompany…the exhibit can only cause damage to the peace negotiations presently occurring, and the constant effort of [U.S.] Secretary of State John Kerry, and the neutrality and objectivity of UNESCO.”
“For all these reasons, for the major worry not to damage UNESCO in its…mission of support for peace, the Arab group within UNESCO is asking you to make the decision to cancel this exhibition,” the letter said.
Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs said on Friday that there “is no appropriate rationale to delay the exhibition and [we are] deeply disappointed by the decision made to postpone it. Our ambassador to UNESCO has written to the secretary-general of that organization urging her to take all necessary action for this exhibition to go ahead as long planned.”
“UNESCO’s decision is wrong and should be reversed,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said in a statement.
“UNESCO is supposed to be fostering discussion and interaction between civil society and member states, and organizations such as the Wiesenthal Center have a right to be heard and to contribute to UNESCO’s mission,” Power added.
“The Arabs don’t want the world to know that the Jews have a 3,500-year relationship to the Land of Israel,” Rabbi Hier told Algemeiner.com.
He said his organization had worked in intimate cooperation with the UN body on the project after the Palestinian Authority was unilaterally accepted as a UNESCO member state (in 2011).
“UNESCO is not supposed to deny one nation the right to their history,” Hier stated. “The Arab world doesn’t know that Isaiah didn’t live in Portugal, Jeremiah didn’t roam France and Ezekiel wasn’t from Germany.”
NGO UN Watch also condemned the last-minute suspension of the exhibit. Director Hillel Neuer said in a statement that Bokova justified her cancellation of the Jewish exhibit “by invoking UNESCO’s alleged concern not to endanger the fragile Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.”
“Sadly, Bokova’s decision to sacrifice education, science and culture to backroom political pressure is routine at UNESCO when it comes to Israel,” Neuer said.
“Since 2009, UN Watch has counted no less than 46 UNESCO resolutions against Israel, one on Syria, and zero on Iran, North Korea, Sudan or any other country in the world,” he noted.
“This is absolutely preposterous,” Heir said in remarks reported by the Jerusalem Post. “The educational and cultural headquarters of the United Nations (is saying) to the world, ‘Every people’s history is welcome to be told in these corridors, except for one people, the Jewish people.’”
According to UNESCO’s mission statement, “Peace must be established on the basis of humanity’s moral and intellectual solidarity.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also accused UNESCO of bowing to Arab pressure.
“Negotiations [with the Palestinian Authority] based on fact, on the truth will never be hurt,” he said. “It strengthens the refusal of the PA to make actual progress in the negotiations.”
Author: Shoshana Kesner, contributor, United with Israel
Date: Jan. 21, 2014