PARIS (Dec. 2)
Israel was chosen Wednesday to head the United Nations Economic, Social and Cultural Organization’s 24-member European Group of Nations at UNESCO’s 24th biennial session, which opened here last month.
Yossef Amihud, Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO, was elected by acclamation to serve as chairman of the group for one year, starting Jan. 1. It was the latest and most impressive gain by Israel in the traditionally anti-Israel world body.
UNESCO is divided into five groups of member states. The European Group consists of the 12 members of the European Economic Community, the four Scandinavian countries, plus Switzerland, Turkey, Malta, Cyprus and Israel. The United States and Canada have observer status.
The other groups are Asia-Pacific, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Africa and the Arab states.
The group chairmen serve as liaisons between the director general, the highest executive of UNESCO, and the 158 member states comprising the organization.
This is the first time Israel was elected to head a UNESCO group. Diplomatic sources said, however, that there was no connection between the election of Israel and the recent change at the top of UNESCO.
Federico Mayor Zaragoza of Spain was elected director general of UNESCO in October, succeeding Amadou-Mahtar M’Bow of Senegal, whose 13-year administration was marked by anti-Israel and anti-Western bias.
According to the observers, the selection of Israel was probably due to greater cohesion within the European Group itself, greater western solidarity with Israel and the personality of Ambassador Amihud.
Nevertheless, Israel has been making steady gains since the turnover. On Nov. 20, it was elected to the key 25-member Committee for Headquarters Affairs, which oversees UNESCO’s budgetary and administrative activities. At the same time, Amihud was elected to the committee for sports and physical education.
Israel also managed to have toned down two Arab-sponsored resolutions on Jerusalem and the state of education in the administered territories. Both had been adopted by various subcommittees, but were deferred at the request of the Western European delegations.
Israel was also voted last month to head another United Nations agency. The Geneva-based Intergovernmental Committee for Migration elected Pinchas Eliav, Israel’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, as its president for one year. It was the first time an Israeli was appointed to preside over an international organization.