Israel was quick to congratulate Bulgarian diplomat Irina Bokova on her election Tuesday as the next director-general of the UN's main cultural body.
While Israel remained officially neutral on the campaign for the new head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, a senior Israeli official said in the wake of the vote that government officials were pleased that the frontrunner in the race, Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni, was defeated.
Hosni, a painter, has been culture minister of Egypt for 22 years, during which time he has initiated numerous attacks on Israel, calling its culture "racist" and "inhumane" in 2001 and vowing to burn Israeli books in 2007. He has since apologized for the book-burning remark, which was made in the Egyptian parliament after he was accused by legislators of being soft on Israel.
Hosni has also drawn criticism for censoring movies and books under Hosni Mubarak's authoritarian government.
"It's gratifying that the Egyptian representative's problematic record was not ignored by the electors," said a senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity because Israel agreed not to publicly oppose Hosni's nomination.
"Hosni apologized for the things he said, but it appears it still left a bad taste when it came to selecting the head of the largest and most prestigious international cultural organization," he said.
Israeli officialdom did not trust Hosni's apologies, he added.
"It's no secret that most of the Egyptian elite has adopted virulent anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism as part of their cultural identity, and they are not ashamed of it until they compete for international jobs," he said. "The good news is that Hosni only got 27 votes. But the bad news is that he got 27 votes."
Hosni was defeated 27 to 31 by Bokova, who currently is Bulgaria's ambassador to France and Monaco and its representative to UNESCO, in a secret ballot by the organization's 58-member executive board.
Tuesday's vote was the fifth round in the fiercely contested race, which saw a pool of nine candidates slowly shrink to two over three rounds of voting last week. In the fourth round, on Monday, Hosni and Bokova tied 29 to 29.
Both candidates were considered important "firsts," with Bokova hoping to become the first woman director-general of UNESCO and the first to hail from Eastern Europe, while Hosni would have been the first to come from the Arab world and was considered by his supporters as a potential cultural bridge between the West and the Muslim world.
The winner must be confirmed at the UNESCO general conference on October 15 and will replace current director-general Koichiro Matsuura of Japan on November 15.
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