France's former culture minister Audrey Azoulay narrowly beat Qatar's frontrunner Hamad bin Abdoulaziz Al-Kawari to become UNESCO's first-ever Jewish director general. Her election came a day after the United States and Israel pulled out of the UN culture and education body, alleging anti-Israel bias. Azoulay grew up in Morocco and has family in Israel, writes The Israel Times.
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley drew a hard line in announcing the US withdrawal from UNESCO 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. Haley also criticized the organization for 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. The US currently is in arrears to the organization of about $500 million.
UNESCO's outgoing director genera, Irina Bokova,commented to Foreign Policy in advance of Azoulay's election.
“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.”
Rejecting the claim that UNESCO is anti-Israel, Bokova acknowledged that the US departure, with Israel, is "a blow to the organization. It will certainly take its toll."