U.S. Criticizes UNESCO for Postponing Exhibition

"UNESCO's decision is wrong," says Ambassador Power after UN body cancels Jewish exhibition because of Arab pressure.

Elad Benari ,

Ambassador Samantha Power
Ambassador Samantha Power

The United States over the weekend criticized UNESCO, the UN's cultural body, for postponing a Jewish-themed exhibition following pressure from Arab member states, Reuters reports.

The exhibit, entitled "People, Book, Land -- The 3,500 Year Relationship of the Jewish People to the Holy Land," was postponed because of concerns that some aspects "might be perceived by member states as endangering the peace process" between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Responding to the decision, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power urged UNESCO to rethink the decision on the exhibition, which UNESCO was organizing in cooperation with the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

"UNESCO's decision is wrong and should be reversed," she said in a statement. "The United States has engaged at senior levels to urge UNESCO to allow this exhibit to proceed as soon as possible."

Power added, "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.”

UNESCO said its secretariat received a letter from 22 states - the Arab Group - expressing their concern that "the planned exhibition could impact negatively on the peace process and current negotiations underway in the Middle East."

"In this context, regrettably, UNESCO had to postpone the inauguration of the exhibition," UNESCO said, according to Reuters.

The Israeli UN mission did not have an immediate reaction, but the Wiesenthal Center said on its website that it would hold a news conference in Paris on Monday to "show the media the exhibition UNESCO didn't want the world to see."

The latest move is certainly not the first time that UNESCO has reached anti-Israel decisions. In a controversial decision, UNESCO accepted the PA as a member in October of 2011, after 107 members voted in favor of the motion. Only 14 nations voted against the PA, including the United States, Canada, Germany and Israel.

The move prompted the United States to cut off funding to the organization, due to a longstanding law that prohibits U.S. support for any United Nations-affiliated body that accepts Palestinian Authority membership. Israel cut off its funding to the body as well.

In November, both the U.S. and Israel lost their voting rights at UNESCO because of their suspension of funding to the organization.