Diplomacy

France’s Jewish Ex-Culture Minister to Head UNESCO, Agency Tainted by Anti-Israel Bias

Audrey Azoulay, France’s former culture minister, was confirmed as the new director-general of the United Nations cultural body UNESCO, making her the first Jewish head of the agency, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Azoulay was raised in Morocco and France and is the daughter of André Azoulay, an adviser to Morocco’s King Mohammed VI. She secured the nomination for head of UNESCO during a tight race in October, defeating Qatari diplomat Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari, known for his anti-Semitic record. The choice was confirmed Friday by the General Conference who voted 131-19 to appoint her.

The World Jewish Congress (WJC) congratulated Azoulay and expressed hope that she would use her position to end the “relentless bias and double standard against Israel” at UNESCO.

“We are hopeful that Ms. Azoulay will maximize her position to address the issues of concern for Israel and the Jewish world, and push for the reforms so deeply needed to return UNESCO to its core mandate of contributing to peace and security in the world by promoting collaboration among nations through education, science, culture and communication for the sake of justice, rule of law, and human rights and freedoms,” said Robert Singer, the WJC’s CEO.

Azoulay’s term comes at a contentious time for UNESCO, after the United States and Israel announced earlier this year that they would withdraw from the organization, citing concerns over anti-Israel bias and politicization at the institution.

In October 2016, Israel suspended ties with the organization following a resolution that criticized Israel’s actions in and around Jerusalem’s holiest site and denied Jewish ties to the region’s holy sites. In July, UNESCO declared the Old Town of Hebron and the Cave of the Patriarchs as a Palestinian World Heritage Site. In May 2017, UNESCO passed a series of resolutions that denied Israeli claims to Jerusalem as Israel celebrated its 69th Independence Day.

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, reacted to the U.S. decision by saying that UNESCO had become a forum for Israel-hatred and had betrayed its original mandate. It was now “paying the price” for the “shameful” decisions it has adopted against Israel, he said, citing “a new era” at UN-linked institutions in which “anti-Israel discrimination” has consequences.

It remains to be seen if Azoulay’s election will have a positive impact on the organization’s approach towards the Jewish state.

[ Photo: France24 / YouTube]