day after the United States and Israel pulled out of the U.N. culture and education body citing anti-Israel bias, UNESCO elected its first ever Jewish director general.
Audrey Azoulay, France’s former culture minister, eked out a win over Qatar’s candidate and frontrunner Hamad bin Abdoulaziz Al-Kawari. UNESCO’s executive body voted on Friday.
Azouley will take the helm of UNESCO as it battles cash shortages, geopolitical rivalries, and the loss of two member states. This week, as first reported by Foreign Policy, the United States said it would pull out of the organization, which it said has an “anti-Israel” bias. Israel soon followed.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley didn’t mince words when she outlined the U.S. withdrawal in a statement released on Thursday: “Its extreme politicization has become a chronic embarrassment,” she said, citing a “long line of foolish actions” including designating the Israeli-occupied ancient city of Hebron as a Palestinian world heritage site, and keeping Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad on a UNESCO human rights committee.
“U.S. taxpayers should no longer be on the hook to pay for policies that are hostile to our values and make a mockery of justice and common sense,” Haley said.
UNESCO’s outgoing director general, Irina Bokova, pushed back against charges the U.N. body had an anti-Israel bias and said her successor has their work cut out, in a telephone interview with FP just before Azoulay’s win.
“While I’m not entirely surprised by this move, I always thought something more was at stake,” Bokova said about the U.S. departure. She acknowledged that the U.S. departure, coupled with that of Israel, is “a blow to the organization. It will certainly take its toll.”
But she sharply disputed the charge UNESCO was anti-Israel.