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January 1, 2019 2:53 pm

Maybe UNESCO Will ‘Learn a Lesson’ From US and Israeli Withdrawals, Ex-Envoy Says

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

Interview

The UNESCO logo on display at the organization’s Paris headquarters. Photo: Reuters / Philippe Wojazer.

“Maybe they will learn a lesson,” a former Israeli ambassador to UNESCO told The Algemeiner on Tuesday as the Jewish state officially left the global cultural institution.

David Kornbluth — who served as Israel’s UNESCO envoy from 2005-2009 — said the country was pulling out of the body now largely because the US had scheduled to leave by the end of 2018.

“It’s completely in coordination with the United States,” he noted. “This is part of the reason also why it’s being done. Politically, it didn’t seem that we could stay in it if the United States is going, on our behalf as it were. Part of the reason they’re going is because of Israel.”

Israel and the US stayed in UNESCO for so long, he stated, “because they believed that once you leave these organizations, it’s much more difficult for Israel to get back in than the United States to get back in,” but the worsening situation had finally forced their hand.

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“It was bad then,” Kornbluth said of his tenure. “It’s really nasty being attacked all the time, but was more manageable. But things got worse and worse, it just goes on and on and on, and politically it becomes just a bit disgusting.”

Asked whether the withdrawals will force UNESCO to change its attitude toward Israel, Kornbluth responded, “Hard to tell. The Israel-bashing thing has been going on forever, but the United States is staunchly with Israel and it’s quite true for many many decades already that Israel relies on the United States in UNESCO for the air it breathes. So I can’t tell if it will have a positive effect. It will have some effect. Since the United States and Israel came out two years ago with the intention to withdraw, UNESCO has moderated itself a bit towards Israel, but not sufficiently.”

Describing his experiences at UNESCO, Kornbluth recalled, “It’s very very uncomfortable to be there as ambassador and you see all these people sort of enjoying their quasi-antisemitic discussions. It’s really unpleasant. And you have to fight it and you have to negotiate against it, and sometimes you’re more successful than others.”

“There’s something in standing and fighting diplomatically, always fighting your corner, and there are other parts of the United Nations that are bad also,” he continued. “But UNESCO has this, it’s kind of a brand, and it has this kind of public aura about it. It has a reputation and if it starts bashing Israel endlessly it’s not good. It’s not good for Israel. People listen to UNESCO. … In the third world, it’s quite powerful.”

Kornbluth slammed UNESCO for its focus on Israel, saying, “It’s very, very inappropriate when they come up with these sort of anti-Israel resolutions all the time. Denying the relationship with Jerusalem or Hebron or things like that. And they bash away at it. I mean it becomes part of what UNESCO believes or teaches. … They’re led by the Arab extremists who have nothing to do with wanting peace or wanting good relations with Israel at all.”

On the question of whether UNESCO’s legitimacy will be damaged by the absence of the US and Israel, Kornbluth surmised, “Yes, yes it will. Definitely.”

Referring to the cut of American funding to UNESCO, he said, “It’s had a huge effect on the budget. UNESCO lost 22 percent of its budget. It’s very uncomfortable for UNESCO itself to be without the United States. That’s not good for them. They know that. They didn’t want this.”

Regarding his own opinion of Israel’s move, Kornbluth revealed, “I’m kind of torn in two, personally. On the one hand, I’d like to fight inside the organization. On the other hand, I know it’s got a lot worse since my day. And I can see that it’s very important for Israel to stand with the United States. You can’t just let the United States always stand with Israel without reciprocating.”

Of UNESCO itself, he said, “Maybe they will learn a lesson. I can’t predict that.”

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