France’s Audrey Azoulay, chosen Friday to lead UNESCO, said following her election she believed member states must “get involved” in the organization and “not leave it,” a day after the US and Israel announced their plans to withdraw.
Stressing that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization was going through difficult times, Azoulay said, “In a time of crisis, we need to be more involved than ever, seek to strengthen it, and not leave it.”
Azoulay reiterated that the “first thing she would endeavor” if confirmed by the General Conference in November, would be to “restore the credibility” of the organization and the confidence of member states.
Azoulay was named to head the UN’s embattled cultural agency on Friday, beating her Qatari rival after a politically charged contest clouded by Gulf tensions and accusations of anti-Israel bias.
Azoulay, 49, came from behind after six rounds of voting to defeat Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari, also a former culture minister, after he failed to pick up support from other Gulf states which are part of a Saudi-led coalition blockading Qatar. The vote was 30 to 28.
The campaign to succeed UNESCO’s outgoing chief Irina Bokova was overshadowed by Washington’s announcement Thursday that it planned to withdraw from the Paris-based body after years of tensions over decisions seen as critical of Israel.
Israel itself announced shortly afterwards that it would follow suit.
Azoulay, who is Jewish of Moroccan origin, will face the difficult task of trying to persuade the United States and Israel to remain as members, as well as tackling the allegations of anti-Israel bias.
French President Emmanuel Macron hailed her victory on Twitter, saying: “France will continue to fight for science, education and culture in the world.”