Israel drops objection to next UNESCO boss


WASHINGTON (JTA) — Israel dropped its opposition to the candidacy of the Egyptian culture minister to head UNESCO.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to end the campaign to keep Farouk Hosni from assuming leadership of the Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization during his recent meeting in Egypt with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Ha’aretz reported Wednesday.

Hosni, who is expected to win election as director-general this weekend, meantime apologized in an interview with Le Monde for past statements, including a call to burn Israeli books.

"Nothing is more distant to me than racism, the negation of others or the desire to hurt Jewish culture or any other culture," he said.

Hosni’s partisans portrayed him as committed to outreach to Jews and Israelis — but also subject to the vicious anti-Israelism that permeates Egypt’s intellectual classes. The implication was that his fiery attacks on Israel were a sop to an establishment that is implacably hostile to Israel. Hosni was buffeted by attacks, for instance, after arranging concerts by an Israeli-Palestinian orchestra led by Daniel Barenboim, the famed Israeli conductor.

The most notable objection to his candidacy was a letter signed by three Jewish intellectuals: Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust memoirist and Nobel peace laureate; Bernard-Henri Levi, the French philosopher; and Claude Lanzmann, the director of the seminal Holocaust documentary “Shoah.”

Israel sees UNESCO as one of the few U.N. bodies that deals fairly with the Middle East. UNESCO set aside money in the 1990s to preserve Tel Aviv’s Bauhaus architecture, and more recently refrained from describing Israeli archaeological digs in Jerusalem as necessarily damaging to Palestinian interests.

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