Weeks after defeating Egypt's Culture Minister Farouk Hosni to become director-general of the UN's premier cultural body, UNESCO, Bulgarian diplomat Irina Bokova is to attend a UNESCO memorial ceremony for prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in Paris on November 4.
Also attending will be UNESCO's outgoing director-general Koichiro Matsuura, who formally steps down in mid-November.
The ceremony will be held in the presence of Ron Huldai, the mayor of Tel Aviv, whose city was designated a UNESCO "World Heritage Site" six years ago for its thousands of "White City" Bauhaus-inspired Modernist buildings.
The Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has sent invitations to the ceremony to all its 193 member-states, and anticipates a healthy turnout of representatives from around the world. Among those slated to attend, it is understood, is UNESCO's assistant director-general for external relations, Ahmed Sayyad, who comes from Yemen and has visited Israel in the past.
Sources close to UNESCO, where Israel has been a member since 1949, say the ceremony marks an opportunity to highlight constructive relations following the controversy surrounding the election for the director-general. Hosni, in defeat, had complained about "a group of the world's Jews who had a major influence in the elections."
The Sofia-born Bokova, who moves to UNESCO from a post as Bulgaria's ambassador to France, narrowly defeated Hosni for the UNESCO leadership on September 22 after five rounds of voting. She has said her priorities in the job will be to focus on education, Africa and gender equality. Another priority, though, will be to heal UNESCO's ties with some Arab and African nations who had backed Hosni and were angered by his defeat.
Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat received UNESCO's Felix Houphouet-Boigny Peace Prize in 1993, and at the prize ceremony the following July Rabin warned that "a century of hatred does not dissolve suddenly with a handshake in Washington."
Peace, he said then, "will be built slowly, day by day, through modest deeds, and countless spontaneous details. It will be built, step by step, by people."
After Rabin was assassinated, UNESCO dedicated a "Square of Tolerance" in his name at its Paris headquarters. This is where the November 4 ceremony will be held.
The square, which was a gift from Israel designed by Israeli artist Dani Karavan, had been under construction at the time of the assassination. It features an olive tree standing before a stone wall bearing lines from the UNESCO Constitution, in 10 languages, featuring the phrase: "Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed."
Peres spoke at the formal inauguration ceremony of the square in May 1996, declaring that "the man has died, but not the path of peace." Leah Rabin also attended the inauguration.
(This report updates and corrects an earlier version.)