New Unesco chief must ‘restore honour’, Israel says

Calls for French-Jewish director-general Audrey Azolay to 'depoliticise' international heritage agency


Unesco’s new Jewish director-general Audrey Azoulay must depoliticise the organisation in order to “restore its honour”, Israel’s ambassador has told the JC.

Carmel Shama-Hacohen, who has been the Israeli envoy since 2014, said the international heritage agency had become a symbol of extremism and needed to change.

The United States said it would quit the organisation at the end of next year because of its “continuing anti-Israel bias”.

It prompted Benjamin Netanyahu to say he had issued instructions to prepare for an Israeli exit from Unesco.

Mr Shama-Hacohen, who did not comment directly on the withdrawal plans, said the organisation had lost its focus.

“It needs to defend the values it was designed to defend. It needs to restore its honour,” he said.

“Today the organization is the exact opposite. It’s not defending consensual values like education, culture, science. Today, it’s politicised, a weapon countries use against their rivals. It’s in constant war and it has been abandoned by the US.

“Israel would like Unesco to be depoliticised, like the OECD – where countries continue working together even in rough times.”

Azoulay, a culture minister in former French President François Hollande’s government, was selected as Unesco’s new director-general ahead of eight other candidates on Friday.

After beating her Qatari opponent in the final vote she said her first goal was to restore Unesco’s credibility, but did not indicate how. She also criticized the US and Israel for pulling out of the organisation.

“In times of crisis, countries should strengthen their presence, reinforce the organisation and reform it. It’s not a time to leave,” she said.

Unesco has been grappling with a funding crisis since 2011, when the United States withdrew its funding in response to admitting Palestine as a member state.

Ms Azoulay’s Jewish heritage – her family originate from Morocco – could complicate her job further, Mr Shama-Hacohen said.

“Her mission is to defend Unesco’s interests. Because she’s Jewish some could suspect her of having a pro-Israeli bias,” he said.

“And remember that some Jews have defended the opposite positions so no one would accuse them of being pro-Israeli.

“I don’t envy her.”

Azoulay will official take on the job after Unesco’s General Assembly confirms her election next month.

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