UNESCO looks to hold Land of Israel exhibit in June

Exhibit was postponed in response to a protest by Arab states who fear it could damage the peace process.

January 21, 2014 22:20
2 minute read.

UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova with Simon Wiesenthal Center Dean Rabbi Marvin Hier, next to a panel announcing the exhibit in 2012.. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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UNESCO said it was eyeing a June date for an exhibit on Jewish ties to the Land of Israel, after it suddenly canceled the scheduled Monday opening at its Paris headquarters.

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The cancellation was in response to a protest by Arab states, who fear it could damage the peace process.

The United States, Israel and Canada had publicly urged the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to open the exhibit as planned on January 20, or to schedule a new opening. The Simon Wiesenthal Center, who partnered with UNESCO to create the exhibit, made the same call in press conferences it held Monday in Paris and at its center in Los Angeles.

UNESCO, on its website and in letters to the Center, had always said the exhibit was postponed. The absence of an alternative date, however, gave the impression that the exhibit had been canceled.

On Tuesday, UNESCO posted a note on its website in which it reaffirmed that the exhibit had only been postponed, but not canceled.

“UNESCO is in discussions with the Simon Wiesenthal Center to finalize the last points and inaugurate the exhibition in the month of June,” it said.

The center’s dean and founder, Rabbi Marvin Hier, told The Jerusalem Post that on Monday afternoon Los Angeles time, he had spoken for 45 minutes with UNESCO’s director-general Irina Bokova about the issue. Representatives from the center had also met with UNESCO staff in Paris that same day, he said.

“We see it as a positive sign that they posted on their web site,” Hier said.

But in light of the events of the last week, Hier said, he wanted confirmation of a new date in writing before he could believe that the matter had been resolved.

His center, Hier said, had worked with UNESCO for close to two years on the exhibit, originally titled “People, Book, Land: The 3,500- year relationship of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel.”

The center commissioned Hebrew University Prof. Robert Wistrich to author the content.

All elements of the exhibit were approved and vetted by UNESCO, Hier said.

At the last moment, the center agreed to replace the phrase “Land of Israel” with “Holy Land,” he said.

Last Monday, UNESCO sent out invitations to the exhibit, which was already mounted in its Paris headquarters.

On Tuesday, UNESCO received a letter from the 22 states in its Arab Group, that said they feared such an exhibit would be detrimental to the peace process. Hours after holding a planning session with the center on Tuesday, UNESCO decided to postpone the exhibit.

Hier had charged that the issue was not peace, but that the exhibit showed that Jews had ancient biblical and historical ties to the Land of Israel.

Israel, the US and Canada, he said, played key roles in swaying UNESCO to consider June as a possible new exhibit date. He particularly thanked US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power for her strong statement of support.

“She has indicated that she wants to bring the exhibit to New York,” he said.

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