Mideast: Unesco boycott of show on Israel sparks controversy

At request of Arab countries. Criticism from Netanyahu, US

24 January, 11:00

    UNESCO headquarters in Paris UNESCO headquarters in Paris

    (by Aurora Bergamini) (ANSAmed) - PARIS - The decision of Unesco director general, Irina Bokova, to cancel at the last minute an exhibit on Israel in Paris has sparked a major controversy. The inauguration of "Les gens, le Livre, la Terre", 'an analysis on the relationship between the Jewish people and the holy Land which has been ongoing for the past 3,500 years', organized in cooperation with the Simon-Wiesenthal Centre, was scheduled to open last Monday at the Paris headquarters of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization but was postponed to June following a protest by 22 Unesco Arab country members. The reason for the postponement, according to Bokova, is the fear that the show could have 'a potential impact on the peace process and ongoing negotiations in the Middle East'.

    The incident comes at a time when relations between Unesco and Israel are particularly tense after Palestine was admitted as a member state of the UN organization in October 2011. As a sign of protest, Washington and Israel decided to cut funding.

    Unesco subsequently suspended the two States' right to vote.

    Israeli Premier Benyamin Netanyahu criticized the move saying that 'truth can never hurt' while the US State Department said it was deeply disappointed by the decision.

    The US ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Powers, said Bokova had made the wrong move which could be perceived as a boycott and thus considered a political stance. In a statement, the French association against anti-Semitism denounced Unesco's 'scandalous decision' and asked the organization 'not to give in to pressure exercised by the Group of Arab countries which are clearly allergic to the historic truth'.

    If Bokova will not change her mind, the National Bureau of Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism (BNVCA) will ask 'all Jewish communities, institutions and friends of Israel not to take part in the ceremony marking the anniversary of the liberation of Nazi camps organized by Unesco on January 27'.

    'The theme of the exhibit clearly shows that Jewish presence in the Holy Land was constant', explained Robert Wistrich, of the Jewish University in Jerusalem, who curated the show for the Simon Wiesenthal Centre. 'The annulment is a slap on the face, an insult to the Jewish people'.

    According to an Arab ambassador to Unesco interviewed by Le Monde, 'the exhibit denies the Arab presence: it is a revision of history'.

    Addressing the controversy, Bokova stressed in a letter Unesco's engagement 'in the fight against racism, anti-Semitism and all forms of negationism'.(ANSAmed).

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