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October 15, 2017 10:08 am

‘Qatarstrophe’ Averted, World’s Democracies Should Remain in UNESCO, Jewish Human Rights Group Urges

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UNESCO Headquarters in Paris. Photo: File.

A leading Jewish human rights organization has expressed its relief at the defeat of Hamad Bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari – the Qatari candidate for the post of UNESCO Director General who was tainted by antisemitic links – urging at the same time that “now is not the time for democracies to abandon” the UN’s cultural, scientific and educational organization.

Dr. Shimon Samuels, international affairs director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said on Sunday that UNESCO had avoided a “Qatarstrophe” with the election of Al-Kawari’s rival, French nominee Audrey Azoualy, in the final round of balloting for the post on Friday. Azoulay, who hails from a Moroccan-Jewish family, won by 30 votes to Al-Kawari’s 28 in the poll of the UNESCO Executive Board’s 58 members.

International interest in the election was heightened by the announcement on Thursday that the US was leaving UNESCO over its longstanding anti-Israel bias. Israel confirmed just hours later that it was following suit, with Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, declaring that the agency’s “absurd and shameful resolutions against Israel have consequences.”

“Today is a new day at the UN, where there is price to pay for discrimination against Israel,” Danon said.

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Samuels noted that Al-Kawari’s defeat does not mean that the political battles involving Israel at UNESCO – which have centered on a succession of resolutions denying Jewish historical and religious links to holy sites including the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City – are over.

“Twenty eight states were still ready to cover-up a candidate personally indifferent and even endorsing antisemitism,” he said. “A vote for Qatar was, in reality, an acceptance of its ally Iran – the greatest public executioner, officially stoning women, financier of proxy terrorism, declaring its genocidal intent.”

Samuels stressed his hope that Azoulay’s tenure as Director General would “be suffused with the pristine values of UNESCO and, above all, the World Heritage Committee.”

“Now is not a time for democracies to abandon UNESCO,” he continued. “Their departure will leave a vacuum rapidly filled by the enemies of freedom. For the moment, UNESCO is saved from a ‘Qatarstrophe’ and that success must now be defended.”

The US and Israeli departures from UNESCO do not come into effect until November 2018, and Azoulay has made clear she will try and persuade both countries to reverse their decisions. “At this time of crisis, I think we need more than ever to work on the UNESCO organization, to support, strengthen the organization and to make changes- not to leave it,” she said on Friday, following her election victory.

The daughter of Andre Azoulay, a well-known Jewish advisor to Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, Audrey Azoulay is a protege of former French President Francois Hollande, who shepherded her appointment as France’s minister of culture and communication in February 2016. Her campaign for the UNESCO post was dogged by the insistence of Arab countries that the next Director General should come from an Arab state. But the subsequent bitter dispute between Qatar and an Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia and Egypt is likely to have boosted Azoulay’s prospects as the campaign came to a close. Qatar is accused by its Arab adversaries of supporting Islamist terror groups and aligning with the Iranian regime.

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