UNESCO Bows to Arab Pressure, Postpones Israel Exhibit

YERUSHALAYIM -

Israel, the United States and Canada have called on UNESCO to rescind its sudden decision to postpone an exhibit on Jewish ties to the land of Israel following a protest from Arab states.

The exhibit, titled “People, Book, Land: The 3,500-Year Relationship of the Jewish People with the Holy Land,” drew a letter of objection from UNESCO’s 22 Arab member states which claimed that the exhibit could harm the peace process.

The U.N. agency said it needed more time to review historical claims in the exhibit that member states could consider “contestable.”

A round of condemnation of the UNESCO decision came from several quarters.

“UNESCO’s decision is wrong and should be reversed,” said U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power on Friday. “The United States has engaged at senior levels to urge UNESCO to allow this exhibit to proceed as soon as possible.”

“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.

Nevertheless, the U.S. had chosen not to join Canada, Israel and Montenegro in sponsoring the exhibit, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, which  mounted the project, said that the Arab League’s objection is not due to the peace process, but because “the Arabs don’t want the world to know that the Jews have a 3,500-year relationship to the Land of Israel.”

Rabbi Meyer H. May, Executive Director of the Wiesenthal Center, expressed his outrage in a phone interview with Hamodia on Sunday, saying that it was “not only an affront to the Center but an insult to the Jewish people” to cancel such an event which had been long planned just six days prior to opening.”

Rabbi May added that the Center had fully cooperated with UNESCO, agreeing to submit the materials for the exhibit to vetting by scholars endorsed by them, and that the decision to postpone it was “an effort to curry favor with the Arab League at the expense of the Jewish people.”

The World Jewish Congress also denounced the cancellation. In a statement, its president, Ronald Lauder, said: “This cancellation of a long-planned exhibit is an outrageous political manipulation of a cultural event.”

The exhibit was due to open at UNESCO’s Paris headquarters on Monday. No new date has been set for the exhibit.

Should UNESCO fail to open the exhibit as agreed upon, the Wiesenthal Center plans to hold press conferences in Paris and Los Angeles on Monday to show its panels to the public.