UNESCO, a new era?

It appears that UNESCO will no longer be able to do whatever it wants, like assigning the tomb of the Jewish Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in Hebron to Islamic heritage as it did this past July, or to declare Jerusalem, including the Western Wall, as entirely Arab and belonging to Islam as well.

Maybe it will start to act properly by abandoning it’s high-handed interests, like when it declared Asmara – the capital of Eritrea – as a World Heritage site or when it approved China’s request for the Hoh Xil nature reserve, located on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau (Achen Gangyap in Tibetan) to be named a world natural heritage site while ignoring the protests by Tibetans. Did they really think China would protect the vast area instead of simply occupying it?

Overall, however, it must stop its anti-Israel bias. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has gone too far by allowing itself to be influenced by its former anti-imperialist and third world tendencies, which led the United States to leave the organization in 1984 and the United Kingdom in 1985 (both later rejoined it in exchange for promises that were never fulfilled). Recently, it shocked the world with its unbelievable ignorance by seeking to negate any Jewish historical ties to Israel.

Praising the US’s decision to leave UNESCO, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said that it finally shows that “there is a price to pay for discrimination against Israel” and that perhaps it symbolizes the dawn of “a new era [in which taking] absurd and shameful resolutions against Israel have consequences”. Will this also occur at not only the EU, but also the UN? Maybe it represents a glimmer of light from afar.

At the forefront of this turn is the young and decisive face of the American-Indian Nikki Haley, the Trump administration’s representative to the UN, who from day one on the job warned the organization: we cannot continue this way, we will no longer be poisoned by prejudice, the continuous obsessive and phantasmagoric resolutions that strip the Jews of their historical affiliation to the land of Israel, for example that the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron is part of their heritage and doing the same with the city that for the Jews symbolizes life itself: Jerusalem.

A sign of friendship that is not only cultural, but also political in the face of Islamic extremism, terrorism, the Middle East’s morass, and now, on the horizon, the issue of the nuclear deal with Iran, which Trump intends to withdraw his country’s support for.

There is also the substantial cost that the entire world pays to finance UNESCO, the US owes it $500 million, and Rex Tillerson wants to impose a policy that “stops the bleeding”.

UNESCO has always been hostile towards the United States, repaying it with controversial, extremely weak and often biased decisions: alongside the Great Wall or the Incan ruins of Macho Picchu, indispensable, they design enclaves for either the world’s elite or very sophisticated travelers, both of whom want to see Asmara’s Art Deco buildings from the 1930s (the US State Department warns against visiting Eritrea, as does the Australian Foreign Ministry) and those who want to visit Dauria, a windy landscape that is shared by Mongolia and Russia…and so on, such as the inclusion of Yazd, a remote mountain city in the center of Iran with magnificent ancient ruins, is very difficult to reach for anyone who doesn’t want to be abducted in the Country of the Ayatollahs.

The State Department’s spokesperson announced, “This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects US concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias.” By closing the pen after the sheep’s escape, UNESCO has avoided voting by opting to reiterate its usual statements that nothing is Jewish, everything is Muslim, in Jerusalem, Hebron, Israel, etc. But by now it’s late.

The frontrunner for the organization’s next Director-General after Irina Bokova leaves was until Friday Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari, a Qatari diplomat with a long history of militant anti-Semitism. He leads with 20 of the thirty votes necessary to clinch the position; but, surprise, the winner has been Audrey Azoulay, French, who like al-Kawari is a former minister of culture, but, look at that, is a jewish young woman of maroccan origins.

The arab vote, divided due to the recent arab sanctions of Qatar, has left al Kawari in the cold, and so has done the new attitude of the States. The UN has been warned: the United State’s disinvestment from UNESCO, along with Israel who followed in its footsteps, may be extended to other agencies within the UN and a full delegitimization would be on its way.

Translation by Amy Rosenthal

This article originally appeared in slightly different form in Italian in Il Giornale (October 13, 2017)

About the Author
Fiamma Nirenstein is a journalist, author, former Deputy President of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, and member of the Italian delegation at the Council of Europe.
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