A prominent American Jewish organization on Wednesday charged that the Qatari frontrunner in the race to head the United Nations’ cultural organization UNESCO has sponsored “projects and programs with blatant anti-Semitic content.”
At its meeting in Paris this week, UNESCO’s 58 member states have been voting on a replacement for the body’s outgoing head Irina Bokova.
As of Tuesday, Qatari diplomat and former culture minister Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari had emerged as the leading contender, while France’s Audrey Azoulay, a former culture minister like al-Kawari, was in second place among the six candidates still in the running.
In a Wednesday statement, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said al-Kawari “is unqualified to lead an institution whose mission is to strengthen ties between nations, promote dialog and understanding among diverse cultures and religions and protect the heritage of all peoples throughout the world.”
It charged that “Al-Kawari has a history of doing just the opposite, endorsing, encouraging, sponsoring and supporting projects and programs with blatant anti-Semitic content.”
It also noted that al-Kawari is “an official of a country that regularly aligns itself in the UN with international efforts singling out Israel and questioning foundational principles of the Jewish faith.
“Sadly, the group of countries that Qatar and Mr. Al-Kawari join in these efforts have, in recent years, hijacked the UNESCO agenda to introduce and adopt abhorrent resolutions denying the Jewish and Christian religious connections to holy sites in Israel and pushing baseless claims of Israeli acts to destroy Muslim holy sites under its protection.”
After’s al-Kawari’s showing in the first round of voting Monday, Israel’s envoy to the organization, Carmel Shama-Hacohen bemoaned the results, saying it was “bad news for the organization and unfortunately also for Israel.”
However, he also stressed that “anything can happen” and that the first round doesn’t necessarily indicate who will win. He pointed out that current head Irina Bokova only won seven votes in the first round of voting, but went on to be elected.
In its statement, the Conference of Presidents said “the Executive Board has an opportunity to repair the credibility of UNESCO by electing an individual to be Director General who will place the ideals and values of the institution at the forefront of his or her agenda. Thus far in the selection process, the Executive Board appears to be squandering the chance to put those ideals and values ahead of base political considerations.”
It added: “In the next round of voting, we hope to see the Executive Board cast votes responsibly with an eye to the future viability of this critically important international body by electing a Director General who has demonstrated real commitment and the ability to lead UNESCO in fulfilling its vital mission.”
Raphael Ahren and Alexander Fulbright contributed to this report.