PARIS – France has stepped up a campaign to promote the candidacy of a former culture minister who may become the first Jewish head of UNESCO, an organization that only last month voted to disavow Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem.Audrey Azoulay is one of nine candidates running for director-general of the organization, which could make her the second woman and second French citizen to win that post.
President Emmanuel Macron met with Azoulay this past week to strategize for the October race, when UNESCO’s 58-member executive board chooses the organization’s next leader for a four-year term.Former president François Hollande had tapped Azoulay for the position in March. Macron has added backing to her candidacy since his election last month.The daughter of a senior adviser to Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, Azoulay, 44, served as culture minister from 2016, until Macron’s government took office last month.Diplomatic sources told The Jerusalem Post that following Macron’s meeting with Azoulay on Tuesday, Foreign Ministry officials have been instructed to make every possible effort to promote Azoulay’s candidacy and to prepare a campaign on her behalf.France is the only European country to have put forward a candidate in March, joining nominees from China, Azerbaijan, Vietnam, Guatemala and four Arab countries – Egypt, Qatar, Iraq and Lebanon.Her candidacy has upset a number of Arab and European diplomats, who thought France would leave the field open for an Arab candidate and avoid nominating any of its own citizens for the job.In addition to her father’s post, Azoulay herself has a strong political voice as a part of the French cultural milieu. Several family members hold senior positions in the media and culture arenas.Much like Macron and many others members of the French elite, Azoulay is a graduate of the prestigious postgraduate institutions National Administration School (ENA) and of the Paris Sciences Po.Hollande took her on as culture and communication adviser at the Élysée in 2014, named her culture minister in 2016 and personally propelled her forward as a UNESCO candidate.Azoulay may be able to count in part on a divided Arab vote behind nominees from the four Middle Eastern countries seeking the post.But Arab countries have also been pushing for UNESCO to choose a first Arab leader.Azoulay also has some enemies at home.Right-wing Sen. Joëlle Garriaud- Maylam, the Senate’s representative on the French UNESCO Commission, recently spoke out against her, calling her candidacy “an insult to the Arab states, who have never obtained such a post at UNESCO and an insult vis-à-vis the moral commitments to hand them [the Arab states] this position.”Azoulay recently pointed to her “attachment to both sides of the Mediterranean” as a qualification to play a leading UNESCO role.Her family lineage and her father’s standing at the Moroccan royal court also play an important role in her campaign.André Azoulay’s notoriety strengthens his daughter’s credibility as an international actor. Unlike her parents she holds only French citizenship, but no one can deny her strong connection to North Africa’s culture and society.French diplomats are divided over Azoulay. Some feel her campaign push comes too late. “We cannot arrive like that seven months before the vote and hope to get the post,” a French official told the Post.And what about the Israeli angle? Azoulay has never been member of the Socialist party and expresses herself rarely on diplomatic issues, yet associates say that she espouses traditional French left-wing positions.That being said, as culture minister, Azoulay promoted a bilateral cultural project with Israel, which the two countries plan to launch next year.Israeli diplomats have avoided commenting on the only Jewish candidate for UNESCO’s top job.Azoulay is also the only candidate with a track record of working with Israel, and for Israel to say anything on her behalf could do her campaign more harm than good.
PM Netanyahu reacting to UNESCO resolution (credit: REUTERS)