Jewish group slams 'outrageous' UNESCO show postponement

Founder and dean of the Los Angeles-based center, said UNESCO was guilty of censorship by postponing the exhibit

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The Simon Wiesenthal Center condemned as “outrageous” Friday a decision by the U.N. cultural agency to postpone an exhibition about the Jewish people and Israel after 22 Arab countries protested.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Los Angeles-based center, said UNESCO was guilty of censorship by postponing the exhibit, entitled “The 3,500 Year Relationship of the Jewish People to the Holy Land.”

The show was due to open Tuesday at UNESCO's Paris headquarters, but the U.N. agency said it received a letter from 22 Arab states “expressing their concern that the planned exhibition could impact negatively on the peace process and current negotiations under way in the Middle East.”

Hier called the decision “outrageous,” saying “they vetted every line in UNESCO, including academic staff in UNESCO. They know very well it doesn't interfere with the peace process, doesn't even talk about it.”

“The last role that UNESCO should ever assume for itself is to be a place of censorship. As a result of this postponement of this exhibit, they have become censors, rather than an institution that invites new ideas.”

Rabbi Hier told AFP he suggested the idea for the exhibition two years ago, when he was in Paris when Palestine was admitted as a UNESCO member.

He said UNESCO's director general Irina Bokova came to Los Angeles and signed an agreement on the exhibition, to be funded by the Wiesenthal Center, which was subsequently put together in consultation with experts from the two bodies.

The show had been installed at UNESCO's Paris headquarters and invitations sent out to the opening next week, when the U.N. agency “unilaterally” announced its postponement.

The decision came as UNESCO's relations with Israel were at a low, after Palestine was made a member of the agency in October 2011.

In response, Israel and its staunch ally the United States cut funding to UNESCO, sparking a major financial crisis at the agency and putting hundreds of jobs at risk.

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