UNESCO has canceled an Israel-themed event planned with the Simon Wiesenthal Center for years, in response to Arab pressure.
The event was an exhibit, titled “The People, The Book, the Land: The 3,500-year relationship between the Jewish people and the land of Israel,” which was set to open in Paris Tuesday and run for 10 days.
The exhibit was co-sponsored by governments in Israel, Canada and Montenegro, and was instigated in 2011. The project saw years of setbacks however, as higher ups at UNESCO, a wing of the United Nations, demanded a multitude of changes over the course of planning.
Now, just days before it was set to launch, the program has been thrown out altogether.
“[The] subject of this exhibition is highly political though the appearance of the title seems to be trivial. Most serious is the defense of this theme which is one of the reasons used by the opponents of peace within Israel,” said Abdulla al Neaimi, president of UNESCO’s Arab group, in a letter to UNESCO President Irina Bokova, who made the final decision to cancel the event.
“The publicity that will accompany… the exhibit can only cause damage to the peace negotiations presently occurring, and the constant effort of Secretary of State John Kerry, and the neutrality and objectivity of UNESCO.”
“For all these reasons, for the major worry not to damage UNESCO in its… mission of support for peace, the Arab group within UNESCO is asking you to make the decision to cancel this exhibition.”
In turn, Bokova reportedly told the Simon Wiesenthal Center: “We have a responsibility in ensuring that current efforts in this regard are not endangered.”
The SWC is expected to hold a press conference on Monday to address the issue, but Center head Marvin Hier has already called the move an “absolute outrage.”
World Jewish Congress leader Ronald Lauder added: “This cancellation of a long-planned exhibit is an outrageous political manipulation of a cultural event.”
Israel has tangled with UNESCO in the past. Last year, both the Jewish state and the US removed funding from the body after it voted to admit Palestine as a member. The designation is typically relegated to applicants that have been internationally recognized with statehood, which Palestine has yet to receive.