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Israeli attempt to delay UNESCO motion ‘foiled by Arab nations’

Jerusalem reportedly tries to enlist friendly nations to postpone ratification of anti-Israel resolution, but is outmaneuvered

UNESCO headquarters in Paris, October 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
UNESCO headquarters in Paris, October 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

An Israeli effort to delay the ratification of a UNESCO resolution ignoring Jewish ties to Jerusalem was thwarted by Arab nations in the UN’s cultural agency, Channel 10 News reported Monday.

The motion, which passed last week in Paris the committee stage, is waiting for validation by UNESCO’s Executive Board on Tuesday.

Israel’s ambassador to the agency, Carmel Shama HaCohen, attempted to lobby for a delay of the decision, after convincing two friendly countries with representation on the board to request a stay in light of the controversy it has caused, Channel 10 reported.

Board chairman Michael Worbs of Germany, who has himself expressed opposition to the document’s wording, would then have rescheduled the ratification for a later date, allowing for renewed debate and possible changes in the wording of the resolution.

Israel's Ambassador to UNESCO Carmel Shama Hacohen. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Israel’s Ambassador to UNESCO Carmel Shama Hacohen. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

But having caught wind of the maneuver, a group of Arab nations which backed the motion reportedly put heavy pressure on Worbs, who then announced he would suspend himself from chairing the meeting.

Worbs will be replaced by Swedish ambassador Annika Markovic, who is not expected to support a postponement.

The divisive resolution has been criticized not only by Israel but by UNESCO’s top leadership, including Worbs and Director-General Irina Bokova.

Michael Worbs, the chairman of UNESCO Executive Board (screen capture: YouTube)
Michael Worbs, the chairman of UNESCO Executive Board (screen capture: YouTube)

In an interview to Israeli television on Friday, Worbs apologized for the resolution and said “We need more time and dialogue between the members of the board to reach a consensus.”

Bokova also expressed her dismay, saying efforts to deny history and the city’s complex multi-faith character harm UNESCO. She told MK Tzipi Livni that her organization would battle the delegitimization of Israel, as well as continue to promote Jewish heritage around the world.

Mexico’s ambassador to UNESCO Andres Roemer walked out of the vote in Paris in what appears to have been a personal protest against his country’s decision to vote in favor of the text. The ambassador, who is Jewish, then apparently contemplated resigning his post, but was urged not to by HaCohen, who wrote him a personal letter praising him as a friend of the Jewish state.

The chief of the UN's education and culture agency, Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, gestures during an interview with The Associated Press at the Global Forum for Youth, Peace and Security, in Madaba, Jordan, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. (AP/Raad Adayleh)
The chief of the UN’s education and culture agency, Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, gestures during an interview with The Associated Press at the Global Forum for Youth, Peace and Security, in Madaba, Jordan, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. (AP/Raad Adayleh)

Twenty-four countries voted in favor of the resolution. Six nations (including the US, Germany and Britain) voted against and another 26 abstained.

The Israeli leadership reacted furiously to the resolution, with some accusing UNESCO of anti-Semitism. Lawmakers from both the right and left of the political spectrum said the decision was ill-befitting of the cultural body.

Israel informed Bokova on Friday that it was suspending its cooperation with UNESCO over the vote, with Education Minister Naftali Bennett calling the motion a denial of history that “gives a boost to terrorism.”

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