Qatari Candidate Tainted by Antisemitism Leading in Election Race for Next UNESCO Chief
Hamad Bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari, the Qatari candidate for the next director-general of UNESCO — the UN’s educational, scientific and cultural organization — has emerged as the leading contender for the post following Monday’s first round of voting by the agency’s Executive Board.
Al-Kawari received 19 out of 58 votes, while his nearest rival, French nominee Audrey Azoulay, received 13. Egyptian candidate Moushira Khattab, who is supported by Qatar’s bitter rivals in the Arab Gulf states, received 11 votes. Chinese candidate Qian Ting, who was regarded as a strong prospect for the post earlier this year, received just five.
Jewish advocacy groups and the Israeli delegation to UNESCO have expressed deep concern regarding a possible Al-Kawari victory. Research by the Simon Wiesenthal Center into Al-Kawari’s term as Qatar’s culture minister revealed a consistent pattern of enabling and encouraging the distribution of antisemitic literature, while Qatar more broadly has been in the forefront of a series of UNESCO resolutions denying Jewish links to holy sites in Israel and the West Bank, including the Western Wall in Jerusalem and Rachel’s Tomb in Hebron.
A statement issued by the Anti-Defamation League after Monday’s initial ballot again highlighted Al-Kawari’s antisemitic associations, which include “a foreword he wrote in a book that includes charges of Jewish domination of the media, as well as his endorsement of Culture Ministry-organized book fairs that included antisemitic speakers and texts, such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”
“It is important that UNESCO be led by a Director General who best exemplifies and champions the values and ideals of this institution and works for peace, respect and fundamental freedoms,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt declared.
On Tuesday, Al-Kawari’s Arab opponents — led by Saudi Arabia, the leading state in the coalition that has isolated Qatar over its alignment with the Iranian regime and its support for Islamist organizations — stressed that his quest to become UNESCO’s next chief was far from over. Voting continues throughout the week until one candidate receives a majority of the 58 votes available.
Quoting reports in the French press, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya noted critically, “Qatar’s candidacy, which has been promoted with the help of lobby groups such as Portland and ESL & Network, is also seen as controversial in light of the current crisis in the Gulf, which has seen Doha’s neighbors accuse it of sponsoring terrorism.”