Daily Israel Report

UNESCO Delays Jewish Exhibit Until June

UNESCO says it is delaying for five months the exhibit it postponed last week after objections from Arab countries.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 1/22/2014, 3:16 AM

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova
UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova
Reuters

UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency said Tuesday it is delaying for five months an exhibit on Jewish connections to the Holy Land, which it postponed last week after objections from Arab countries, reports The Associated Press (AP).

The exhibition, which is called "People, Book, Land — The 3,500 Year Relationship of the Jewish People to the Holy Land," was scheduled to open Monday at UNESCO's headquarters in Paris.

UNESCO abruptly announced it was delaying the exhibit after 22 Arab member states said in a letter that it could “disrupt” the Israeli-Palestinian Authority peace negotiations.

The UN agency also said it needed extra time to revise "unresolved issues relating to potentially contestable textual and visual historical points" that member states could perceive as "endangering the peace process," according to AP.

UNESCO says the exhibit is now scheduled to open in June, pending final discussions with the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a U.S. Jewish group that co-organized the exhibit.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, the dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said he held "a constructive, blunt" 45-minute discussion with UNESCO's director general earlier in the week and confirmed that negotiations were underway to hold the exhibit.

As of late Tuesday, he said no deal had been reached.

Rabbi Hier said the center opposed any changes in the text on the more than two dozen panels in the exhibit, but there were still discussions going on about some of the photos.

U.S., Israeli and Canadian officials had all been active in efforts to save the exhibit, he added.

"It simply cannot be that in a place of culture like UNESCO that one people's history shall be banned, the Jewish people. That is unacceptable," he said.

The exhibit is to show roughly 30 illustrated panels showing the long history of the Jewish people in the Holy Land, from the days of the biblical patriarch Abraham to modern Israel as a high-tech powerhouse.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday had harsh words over UNESCO’s decision to postpone the exhibit.

The exhibit “won’t endanger negotiations. Negotiations that are based on the facts, on truth, cannot be endangered,” Netanyahu declared.

However, he warned, other UN behavior does hurt the chances for peace. “What does undermine talks is some states’ automatically summoning Israeli ambassadors over trivial matters, while serious violations by the Palestinian Authority get no response,” he charged.

“The biased approach to Israel does not advance peace – it delays peace,” continued Netanyahu. “It strengthens the PA’s refusal to move forward in negotiations.”

The United States also criticized UNESCO, with its ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power saying the decision was “wrong and should be reversed."

"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,” said Power.

Postponing the Jewish-themed exhibit was not the first anti-Israel decision made by UNESCO. 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.