Unesco: a vessel for erasing Jewish history
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The German strategist Klaus von Clausewitz described diplomacy as "war by other reasons". Today, the battle for heritage in the international arena and, particularly, the identity theft of the Jewish narrative is no less lethal in intent.
In October 2011, the automatic majority of the Arab bloc and its supporters brought the Palestinian Authority into the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) as a full member-state - so far the only UN agency to have granted it that status.
United States Congressional legislation required Washington to immediately cut off all funding to any UN body that pre-empted Middle East negotiations by granting the prize of membership without prior recognition of Israel's sovereign existence. In this case, Unesco now lost 22 per cent of its budget, $80 million annually.
A few days later, Simon Wiesenthal Centre leaders met at Unesco headquarters in Paris to protest against this damage to the peace process.
At that meeting, the Centre's Founder, Rabbi Marvin Hier proposed to its Director General, Irina Bokova , the launching at Unesco of an exhibition on "The 3,500 Year Relationship of the jewish People with the Land of Israel". This would follow Vatican and Saudi exhibitions respectively on Christianity and Islam.
Mrs Bokova announced that she would be including Los Angeles in a US speaking tour in March 2012 and wished to visit the Centre's Museum of Tolerance which was launched by her predecessor, Federico Mayer in 1993. At the Museum, she signed the opening panel together with Rabbi Hier.
Over the next two years, the texts and visuals were vetted by seven Unesco selected experts. Our author, Hebrew University historian Robert Wistrich, came to Paris to debate all requested changes, conditioned by a red line forbidding any revision that could impugn the Jewish narrative. Otherwise, every word or phrase that might offend any member state was removed and, after further delays, the opening date was fixed for 20 January 2014.
Unesco 's precipitate yielding to an Arab Group demand for cancellation, in a letter of that same date, which claimed that the exhibition would damage current peace negotiations has resulted in:-
- A world Jewish solidarity unprecedented since the 2001 Durban UN Conference on Racism which degenerated into an antisemitic hatefest.
- An outpouring of support from Christians and Muslims around the world.
- Indignation at the disrespect to our Patrons: Elie Wiesel, Lord Carey Archbishop of Canterbury emeritus, the Algerian novelist Boualem Sansal, Canadian former Justice Minister and antisemitism scholar Irwin Cotler and French Holocaust research activist Father Patrick Desbois.
Above all, the Arab Group's claim that an educational and cultural exhibition can threaten negotiations has been exposed as a pretext in line with Palestinian President Abbas's refusal to recognise Israel as the sovereign Jewish state.
Their letter is, in fact, a denial of the history, geography, archaeology, identity and very future of the Jewish people, casting it as a threat to Arab supercessionism.
In short, the validity of Palestinian demands the delegitimisation of Israel and the deconstruction of the Jewish people's authenticity.
The chosen arena is currently Unesco and its World Heritage Committee. It is there that such Jewish heritage sites as the Cave of the Patriarchs and the Tomb of Rachel are redesignated as mosques.
Apparently, the messages of support from French President Francois Hollande, Israeli President Shimon Peres, Montenegro Prime Minister Milos Djukanovic, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, US Congressmen Ed Royce and Eliot Engel and the US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power have resulted in Unesco proposing a new opening date: 11 June 2014.
At the time of writing, we are still awaiting a confirmation.
If Unesco thereby resists a campaign of revisionism and against freedom of expression and intercultural dialogue, it will redeem its own mission statement. The Wiesenthal Centre's exhibition is a litmus test.
This case should remind Jews, and indeed all other communities that, if you erase a people's heritage, you erase that people. As the late Simon Wiesenthal would often say: "What begins with the Jews, never ends with them".
Shimon Samuels is Director for International Relations of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre