UNESCO changes tune on Jewish Expo
The founder of Los Angeles’ Simon Wiesenthal Centre lashed out at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization about the cancellation of a Paris exhibit that deals with the historical Jewish ties to the Middle East.
Rabbi Marvin Hier (PICTURED above and below) called UNESCO’s decision to pull the exhibit, entitled “People, Book, Land –The 3,500-Year Relationship of the Jewish People with the Holy Land,”—“outrageous.”
“The exhibition arrived in Paris. It was actually mounted in the exhibition hall,” Hier said. “The invitations were sent out and at 9pm on 14 January here in Los Angeles, we were informed by UNESCO that due to a protest by the Arab group, which consists of 22 Arab nations, that said that our exhibit would interfere with Secretary (John) Kerry’s peace mission, therefore, they objected to it being exhibited and they wanted it removed.”
Hier said he told UNESCO’s director general that by delaying the exhibit, she’s taking sides.
US, Canada and Israel condemned action
“First of all, UNESCO is a place of ideas, of culture, of an exchange of ideas. If the only idea welcome in UNESCO is the Arab narrative of the history of the Middle East, then they might as well close the building,” Hier said.
The Obama administration, as well as the leaders of Israel and Canada, has also condemned UNESCO’s choice.
Hier said they are in talks to get the exhibit restored and believes it will be open before June.
Canadian daily newspaper NATIONALPOST.com said that the country had led a campaign to save the after “a coalition of Arab nations convinced UNESCO to abruptly quash an exhibition on Jewish history in the Middle East this month, it was Canadian diplomats who led the campaign to have the decision overturned, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre revealed this week,” said the Post.
Canadian diplomats were not happy
“Canadian diplomat and foreign ministry officials didn’t take this very well, https://www.sajr.co.za/images/default-source/People/single/rabbi-marvin-hier-home.jpg” />The exhibition, which was planned to open tomorrow (27 January), consists of 30 illustrated panels, the small exhibition was to showcase Middle Eastern Jewish history from biblical times to modern-day Israel. The exhibit’s creator, Hebrew University professor Robert Wistrichvery, told The Associated Press that it “clearly shows that the Jewish presence in the holy land has been continuous.”
Six days before its debut, however, UNESCO’s 22 Arab members urged the display be cancelled on the grounds that it would “harm the ongoing peace negotiations” and “the constant efforts of [US] Secretary of State John Kerry.”
“The very subject of the exhibition is eminently political, despite its seemingly harmless title,” wrote Abdulla Alnéaimi, delegate of the United Arab Emirates and president of the Arab Group, in a 14 January letter.
The Arab Group’s argument worked
Rabbi Hier bristled at the assertion, saying that the Arab states merely “did not want the world to know” about a Jewish connection to the holy land. “It’s not a political statement about individuals or political parties, it’s simply the collective narrative of the Jewish people, whether it’s religious, secular, left and right, this is our history,” he said.
Nevertheless, the Arab Group’s argument worked. Last week, UNESCO announced it was holding off indefinitely on “People, Book, Land” because it “might be perceived by member states as endangering the peace process.”
Canada is one of only three sponsors, along with Israel and the Eastern European nation of Montenegro, of the exhibition. “The Canadian flag is on the panels of the exhibit,” said Rabbi Hier.
Canadian diplomats wrote letter to UN
The exhibit’s honorary committee also includes Canadian Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, the former minister of justice who is popular in South Africa as a keynote speaker.
Last Friday, after the cancellation, the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs was quoted in the Times of Israel as saying there “is no appropriate rationale to delay the exhibition and [we are] deeply disappointed by the decision made to postpone it.”
“Our ambassador to UNESCO has written to the secretary-general of that organisation urging her to take all necessary action for this exhibition to go ahead as long planned,” the Department added.
“I’m sure [Canadian] Foreign Minister [John] Baird had a hand in this,” said Rabbi Hier, who specifically thanked the Canadian official in a recent news release.
Balderdash! Said US’ Samantha Power
Ultimately, however, it was likely the United States who had the better clout in having the exhibition reinstated. On 17 January US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power disavowed any assertion that the Paris show would compromise John Kerry’s peace-making efforts.
“UNESCO’s decision is wrong and should be reversed,” she said in a statement cited by Reuters. “The United States has engaged at senior levels to urge UNESCO to allow this exhibit to proceed as soon as possible.”
Four days later, the cultural agency reversed its decision, writing in a statement that “the exhibition has not been cancelled but postponed.”
“People, Book, Land” is now set for an 11 June opening.