(photo credit: HEBREW UNIVERSITY)
UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova pledged that her organization would redouble its efforts to combat anti-Semi - tism, in memory of the leading academic scholar in that field, Robert Wistrich, who died of a heart attack on Tuesday at age 70.
“Inspired by the resounding example set by Professor Wistrich, UNESCO will redouble all of its efforts in these directions, at a time when mutual understanding and respect have never been so important,” Bokova said.
She expressed her feelings about him in a condolence letter that she wrote to his family in Jerusalem via the Hebrew University, where he head - ed the Vidal Sasson International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization often comes under heavy criticism from Israel for its stance with regard to the Palestinian unilateral drive for statehood. Under Bokova UNESCO was the first UN body to recognize Pales - tine as a member state of its organization.
In Paris in 2014, she held the first UN exhibition on the relationship between the Jewish people and the Holy Land, sponsored by the Unit - ed States, Canada, Israel, and Montenegro. Authored by Wistrich, it was called “People, Book, Land – The 3,500 Year Relationship of the Jewish People to the Holy Land.”
The exhibition, at first due to open in January, was canceled after UNESCO’s 22 member Arab states objected to its original title, which referred to the Jewish people’s link to the biblical “Land of Israel.” UNESCO also insisted on the removal of a panel dedicated to the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab states in the 20th century. After a six-month delay negotiating the changes, the exhibition opened in June.
“UNESCO is proud to have been the first United Nations agency to organize an exhibition on the relationship between the Jewish people and the Holy Land, reaffirming the organization’s role as a universal platform for intellectual cooperate and intercultural dialogue,” Bokova wrote.
“Professor Wistrich was a man of absolute integrity, guided by a deep and abiding belief in the human rights and dignity of every woman and man.”
With his death, she added, “The word of academe has lost an outstanding scholar and historian: the world of Jewish students has lost a seminal thinker; and those involved in the study of, and struggle against, anti-Semitism have lost the world’s preeminent scholar of anti-Semitism and the power powerful advocate against it.”
Former Canadian justice minister Irwin Colter said, “The world of Jewish studies has lost a seminal thinker; and those involved in the study of and struggle against anti-Semitism have lost the world’s preeminent scholar of anti-Semitism and the most powerful advocate against it.”