Editorial: Wrong man for UNESCO

Posted: 9/11/2009 2:06:00 AM
Author: Editorial
Source: This editorial originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post online on Sept. 11, 2009.

Wrong man for UNESCO

Could UNESCO - the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, dedicated to encouraging "peace and security by encouraging collaboration among nations" - soon be headed by a man who boasted that he would publicly burn all the Israeli books he could get his hands on?

Egypt's culture minister of 22 years, Farouk Hosny, is the frontrunner among nine candidates in the race for UNESCO director-general.

Representatives from the 58 nations which comprise UNESCO's executive council will vote next week for a successor to Japan's Koichiro Matsuura, who has held the post since 1999.

In May 2008 Hosny vowed before Egypt's parliament to "burn Israeli books myself, if I find any in Egyptian libraries." With his reputation now under fire, Hosny has attempted to backtrack, implying he was paying lip service to the visceral anti-Israel sentiments permeating his country's political/intellectual establishment.

But that was no isolated outburst. Most recently Hosny accused America's UNESCO Ambassador, David Killion, of antagonism because "Killion is Jewish." (To the best of our knowledge, incidentally, he isn't.) Hosny has previously painted Israel as "inhuman," and "an aggressive, racist, and arrogant culture, based on robbing other people's rights and the denial of such rights." He has declared that Israel is "aided" in its dark machinations by "the infiltration of Jews into the international media" and by "their ability to spread lies."

HOSNY'S PROSPECTS appear to outshine even those of EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner of Austria. The new catch-phrase among UNESCO members is the need to build bridges to Islam.

It's an admirable goal, but a little UN sensitivity and bridge-building to Judaism, and to the Jewish state, wouldn't go amiss either. The UN's warped traditions have made the organization's forums exceedingly inhospitable to Israel. UNESCO, specifically, for example, has been quick to condemn any Israeli archeological dig in Jerusalem over the years, yet has pointedly avoided so much as a murmur of disapproval over the Wakf's systematic wanton destruction of antiquities on the Temple Mount.

Between 1984 and 2003, indeed, UNESCO's politicization, intrigue and corruption resulted in an American walkout. Since America's return and under Matsuura, there have been improvements.

In 2003, UNESCO designated Tel Aviv, the first Zionist urban creation, an International Heritage site as its architecture renders it an unparalleled giant outdoor Bauhaus museum. In 2007, furthermore, it honored Hebrew's prime reviver, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, by adding his name to the organization's list of venerables who exerted greatest influence on world culture. The decision came in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of Ben-Yehuda's birth.

These may have been small moves, but they constituted rays of hope. Should Hosny take over from Matsuura, there is every reason to fear that even these faint rays would be extinguished.

The government understood this and initially expressed unambiguous opposition to Hosny's candidacy. But perceived pragmatism seems to have overshadowed principle. After Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak last May, the protests died down. Word was that Netanyahu had opted, as a personal gesture to Mubarak, to drop objection to Hosny. For Mubarak, Hosny's candidacy had become a matter of national prestige, and Netanyahu apparently chose not to push the issue in the hope of winning greater cooperation from Cairo on halting gun-running from Sinai to Gaza, on Iran and on Gilad Schalit.

It was left to Nobel peace laureate Elie Wiesel, philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy and Shoa producer Claude Lanzmann to uphold Jewish and Israeli honor and warn that Hosny "is the opposite of a man of peace, dialogue and culture," that he "is a dangerous man, an inciter of hearts and minds." The Simon Wiesenthal Center dubbed him "a major threat to the very values of UNESCO."

IT'S A shame the Jewish state couldn't do what Diaspora Jews did.

Israel relentlessly protests unbridled Judeophobic indoctrination in the Arab world. Egypt is a major culprit. Vicious articles and Der Sturmer-style cartoons are a grim feature of its government-controlled press. That Israel should silently acquiesce to the UNESCO candidacy of Egypt's cultural czar, who impedes any normalization with Israel, severely undermines Israel's heartfelt remonstrations about the indifference to anti-Semitism often shown by other countries. If we sell out for ostensible short-term advantage, how can we denounce the cynicism of others?