Drained of cash and riven by rivalries, UNESCO seeks leader to revive fortunes

 Reuters International

The logo of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is seen in front of its headquarters in Paris, France, October 4, 2017. Picture taken October 4, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer


By John Irish

PARIS (Reuters) – When Israel’s envoy told UNESCO delegates last July that fixing the plumbing in his toilet was more important than their latest ruling, it highlighted how fractious geopolitics are paralysing the workings of the agency.

Whoever wins the race to replace Irina Bokova as head of the U.N.’s cultural and education body next week will have to try to restore the relevance of an agency born from the ashes of World War Two but increasingly hobbled by regional rivalries and a lack of money.

Its triumphs include designating world heritage sites such as the Galapagos Islands and the historic tombs of Timbuktu — re-built by UNESCO after Islamist militants destroyed them.

But in a sign of how toxic relations have become, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly last month that UNESCO was promoting “fake history”.

Like Israel’s plain-speaking envoy Carmel Shama Hacohen, Netanyahu was referring to UNESCO’s designation of Hebron and the two adjoined shrines at its heart – the Jewish Tomb of the Patriarchs and the Muslim Ibrahimi Mosque – as a “Palestinian World Heritage Site in Danger.”

Jews believe the Cave of the Patriarchs is where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their wives, are buried. Muslims, who, like Christians, also revere Abraham, built the Ibrahimi mosque, also known as the Sanctuary of Abraham, in the 14th century.

Israeli-Palestinian hostilities, though, are only part of a minefield of contentious issues on which the U.N. body has to hand down rulings.

Japan, for example, threatened to withhold its 2016 dues after UNESCO included documents submitted by China on the 1937 Nanjing Massacre in its “Memory of the World” programme.

The Paris-based organization, which also promotes global education and supports press freedom, convenes its executive council on Oct. 9 to begin voting on seven candidates.

Azerbaijan, China, Egypt, France, Lebanon, Qatar and Vietnam have put forward candidates. There is no clear frontrunner.

READ MORE HERE:   https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/drained-of-cash-and-riven-by-rivalries–unesco-seeks-leader-to-revive-fortunes/43577446
(Reporting by John Irish; editing by Richard Lough and Richard Balmforth)

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