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UNESCO Fiasco Explains Why ME Talks Fail

Did anyone really think a United Nations agency would sponsor a scholarly exhibition about the 3,500-year-old connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel? The world body’s constituent agencies have been cesspools of anti-Semitism for decades with many of them devoting a disproportionate amount of time, money and effort to attempts to delegitimize the Jewish state and to condemn its every action. Chief among the culprits has been UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization), which endorsed the infamous 1975 “Zionism is racism” resolution by the UN General Assembly on the anniversary of Kristallnacht and has since been a veritable playground for international Israel-bashers. The United States and Israel stopped paying dues to the agency in 2011 when it admitted “Palestine” as a full voting member although it is not a UN member state.

But, perhaps in an effort to win back American support, UNESCO agreed to host an exhibit on the Jews and their ancient homeland at its Paris headquarters. But all it took was a single letter of protest from the Arab members of the agency to get UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova to cancel the exhibit created by the Simon Wiesenthal Center on the grounds that it might harm the Middle East peace process. This is an outrageous insult to Jews everywhere since it treats the ties between the Jewish people and the land of Israel as a matter of debate rather than historical fact. As the author of the exhibit, historian Robert Wistrich has said, coming from an organization devoted to Holocaust commemoration, the decision once again illustrates that the UN “loves dead Jews” but regards the existence of live ones, especially in the state of Israel, as something it cannot stomach.

This is no surprise to anyone who follows the UN, but it is interesting to note that in explaining her decision to shelve the exhibit, Bokova used the same excuse cited by the U.S. State Department when it, too, chose not to co-sponsor the exhibit. Only Israel, Canada, and Montenegro were willing to put their names on the display. Though the U.S. has subsequently and rightly condemned Bokova’s decision, the Obama administration’s decision to keep its distance from the exhibit makes its rebuke to UNESCO an example of rank hypocrisy.

The UNESCO decision to avoid anything having to do with the history of the region might make sense if the world body refrained from endorsements of the Palestinian view of events. But this is the same United Nations that holds an annual International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People (expanded now to a “Year of Solidarity” in 2014), an event that is nothing less than an Israel-bashing festival, replete with pseudo-historical displays aimed at walking back the UN’s 1947 decision to create a Jewish state in the then-British Mandate for Palestine alongside an Arab one.

As Wistrich says in an interview with the Times of Israel, given UNESCO’s history of anti-Israel bias, he was skeptical from the start of the process of creating the exhibit. But he is especially angry about the State Department’s refusal to endorse the exhibit and not unreasonably believes it may have set the stage for Bokova’s decision to bail on the project:

The State Department had been repeatedly asked to cosponsor the exhibition, and “after sitting on the fence for a long time they declined, using a very similar argument to that used by the Arab delegates,” Wistrich said.

Earlier this month, Kelly Siekman, the State Department’s director of UNESCO affairs, wrote to the Wiesenthal Center: “At this sensitive juncture in the ongoing Middle East peace process, and after thoughtful consideration with review at the highest levels, we have made the decision that the United States will not be able to cosponsor the current exhibit during its display at UNESCO headquarters. As a rule, the United States does not cosponsor exhibits at UNESCO without oversight of content development from conception to final production.”

“That makes the U.S., passively at least, complicit in the UNESCO decision,” Wistrich charged. “Because in my view UNESCO would not have felt that it could, with impunity, act in this way if the U.S. had been a cosponsor.”

The reason that the exhibit was necessary in the first place was to correct the depiction of the state of Israel purveyed by the Palestinians and their international cheerleaders as a colonial error in which Jews were dumped on Arab territory in order to compensate for the Holocaust. If Jews are seen as having connections and a presence in historic Israel/Palestine millennia before 1948, it undermines the canard—a staple of Palestinian Authority propaganda and incitement—to delegitimize the notion that Jews have any right to sovereignty anywhere in the Middle East, making peace talks pointless.

That is exactly the sort of delusional perspective the State Department should be working hard to oppose. But the American decision to distance itself from the project sent an unmistakable message that the Obama administration views any talk about Jewish ties to the land as too controversial to warrant its involvement. So long as the Palestinians are enabled by both the UN and the U.S. to continue denying Jewish history, the peace process that both Bokova and the State Department claim to take so seriously  has no chance of success. 


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