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UNESCO ‘axes’ Jewish exhibit in Paris on Arab protests


Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2014-01-18

A Jewish NGO has decried a last-minute decision by the UN’s culture agency to postpone an exhibition about Jews’ relationship with the Holy Land over concerns the event could undermine current peace initiatives in the Middle East.

“To say the exhibit could endanger the peace process is simply a pretext, it is nonsense,” Dr. Shimon Samuels, the director of international relations for the Simon Wiesenthal Center that has co-organised the show, told FRANCE 24 on Saturday.

“It is totally clean of anything that could offend any [UNESCO] member state,” Samuels added. “Unfortunately UNESCO has shot itself in the foot. This is discrimination and in fact censorship.”

The UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris was scheduled to host the exhibit “People, Book, Land – The 3,500 Year Relationship of the Jewish People to the Holy Land,” starting on Tuesday.

The international culture and education group indefinitely deferred the exhibition after receiving a letter from 22 Arab member states opposed to the show’s opening, according to a statement on the UNESCO’s website.

“A number of elements relating to [the exhibit] still remain to be agreed upon,” the statement said. “…The UNESCO Secretariat is obliged by the Organization’s rules and regulations to consider fully the concerns raised by its Member States or any Regional Group regarding planned exhibitions or manifestations.”

New row in Paris

The row over the exhibit was only the latest clash at the UNESCO, whose building in Paris has become a battleground for Israeli-Palestinian tensions. Israel and the United States cut funding to the group in 2011, after Palestine was recognised as a member.

Adel Ghoul, the secretary general of the Palestinian group Fatah in Paris, told FRANCE 24 on Saturday that he welcomed UNESCO’s decision.

“The Arab Group has finally done something positive. UNESCO should never have organised this exhibit in the first place,” Ghoul said, adding that the UN agency should instead devote a show to the suffering of Palestinian children.

Peace talks in the Middle East only resumed in July after a three-year deadlock. US Secretary of State John Kerry has been pushing hard to establish a framework peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians, but there is little sign of progress so far.

Not just delay

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, who worked with UNESCO-appointed experts for two years to create the exhibit, expressed little hope that the project would ever see the light of day – at least within the cultural agency’s building in Paris.

“We have consistently accepted changes, including to the exhibits name, and it has already been postponed three times. This time no alternative date has been given. It is in fact a cancellation,” Samuels lamented.

He said his group would not remove the show’s displays – which trace Jewish history and legacy from Abraham to modern times – from the exhibition hall where they’re supposed to be viewed by the public.

The UNESCO would have to answer to any possible vandalism to the exhibit, Samuels warned.

“Looking forward, we want to discuss how the exhibit can be saved. If it will not be at the UNESCO we will find an alternative - one that does not stifle cultural and educational initiatives,” he said.

Date created : 2014-01-18


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