- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 15, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) promotes education, cultural values and heritage. Institutionally, UNESCO preserves and promotes the many cultures that make up the fabric of our planet and ideally should perform its role without the mar of cultural bias or ethnic partiality.

On Sept. 17, UNESCO’s Executive Board wisely selected Ambassador Irina Gueorguieva Bokova, a former Bulgarian foreign minister, as the recommended candidate to the post of director-general. Ms. Bokova’s nomination is to be submitted today to the approval of UNESCO’s General Conference, which consists of all 193 member states.

We applaud Ms. Bokova’s nomination, as she represents a commitment to excellence, fairness, mutual respect and the advancement of culture, science and education. Not only would she be the first woman to head UNESCO, she would bring a new emphasis to the organization by ensuring that UNESCO “does more in the fields of science, innovation and technology.” Accordingly, we call on the member states in UNESCO’s General Conference to fully ratify her nomination and, in so doing, reject Farouk Hosni and the hateful and divisive rhetoric he spews.

Ms. Bokova’s election also demonstrates to the world that xenophobia and racism have no place in the UNESCO director-general position. Ms. Bokova’s main rival was Mr. Hosni, the Egyptian minister of culture, who in May 2008 made a statement to the Egyptian Parliament that he would “burn Israeli books” if he found them in any libraries in Egypt.

The New York Times quotes Mr. Hosni as having said: “Let’s burn these books. If there are any, I will burn them myself before you.” Such respected organizations as the Anti-Defamation League and B’nai B’rith International issued public statements calling for members states of UNESCO to reject Mr. Hosni as “unfit for the position.”

In addition to the many voices in opposition to Mr. Hosni’s candidacy for the position of UNESCO’s director-general, The Washington Post on Sept. 14 reported that “Hosni has alienated many Egyptians by suffocating cultural and intellectual freedoms while giving a leg up to religious zealotry.” The Post further opposed Mr. Hosni’s bid by stating that he “disregarded individual freedom to ultimately strip Egypt of its robust culture. … In 2006, he ordered all copies of ‘The Da Vinci Code’ confiscated and banned from Egyptian screens.”

The Daily News has reported, “The United States Congress, the largest contributor to UNESCO, has also weighed in on the debate by asserting that it would find it difficult to approve budgets for UNESCO if the organization was headed by someone who has made statements, sometimes anti-Semitic, against Israel.”

Upon learning of Ms. Bokova’s nomination, Mr. Hosni reportedly stated, “The campaign against me in UNESCO was spearheaded in public by the United States, and several European states cooperated … There were those playing behind the scenes, and they were the Jewish organizations and lobby who lit a fire of lies against me.” His words speak for themselves - blaming the Jews rather than accepting responsibility for his own lack of tolerance and use of hate speech.

Therefore, for UNESCO to fail to ratify Ms. Bokova and select Mr. Hosni would dignify Mr. Hosni’s aforementioned hate-filled speech. That in turn would be directly counter to the important mission and purpose for which UNESCO was established. UNESCO deserves qualified leadership, the likes of which Ms. Bokova epitomizes.

Richard D. Heideman, a human rights and victims advocate, is senior counsel at Heideman Nudelman & Kalik PC, and a past president of B’nai B’rith International. Former New York Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, former chairman of the House International Relations Committee, is affiliated with Heideman Nudelman & Kalik.

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