Issue 323: UNESCO Summons Israeli Ambassador Over Haaretz Cartoon

In a formal letter of protest handed in Paris to Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO last Wednesday, the agency complained about a cartoon published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, saying it constituted “incitement” and “endangers the lives of unarmed diplomats.”

The November 4 cartoon depicted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak sending an air force squadron to attack Iran, with Netanyahu ordering, “And on your way back, you’re gonna hit the UNESCO office in Ramallah!”

Eric Falt, UNESCO’s assistant director, summoned Ambassador Nimrod Barkan to make the protest.


The sharp measure by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which willingly gave up $80 million of U.S. dues in order to admit “Palestine” as a full member, was a bizarre move on several levels.


First, the UN’s culture commissars in Paris clearly didn’t understand the cartoon. Haaretz was inciting to the bombing of UNESCO as much as it was inciting to the bombing of Iran—which is to say, not at all.


Haaretz happens to be a far-left newspaper that is a harsh critic of Netanyahu’s Likud-led government. Indeed, its editorials have often argued against a military option on Iran. The cartoon was mocking what it perceives as the government’s macho approach toward Iran’s nuclear weapons program as well as toward the UN, an organization whose decisions Haaretz cites uncritically. In other words, the cartoon meant the opposite of what the UN thought it did.


Second, even if the newspaper was criticizing UNESCO, that’s no reason to protest to the Israeli government. It’s ironic that UNESCO, an agency whose mandate includes press freedom, would object to legitimate commentary—especially when it appears in a country whose laws protect freedom of speech.


Third, what is most shocking is UNESCO’s display of inconsistency, double standards and upside-down logic.

If the agency truly believes in protesting offensive cartoons, should it not do so with governments that actually do control their media, and when there truly are poisonous cartoons?


For example, last year UN Watch took the floor of the UN Human Rights Council to raise the issue of anti-Semitic and racist caricatures that regularly appear in the state-controlled press of Jordan, Syria, Qatar, Oman and elsewhere. Our testimony described several cartoons that we showed were reminiscent of the Nazi era.


Has the UNESCO chief or her spokesman ever said anything about those

 Did the UN ever protest to Qatar over this cartoon in its Al-Watan newspaper, from September 30, 2011?

cartoons, some of which also attack the UN?

Many in the Arab press depict the UN as being controlled by evil Jewish forces. Yet we are not aware of any UN agency having ever been concerned about the safety of its staff based on what they show.

Finally, in many similar instances in the past, UN officials used a traditional and effective way to respond to news stories with which they did not agree or wished to clarify: they submitted a letter to the editor. For example, Edward Mortimer, Director of Communications for Kofi Annan, published several such letters to the New York Times.
Would today’s UN officials think of complaining about a Times critique by formally protesting to President Obama? No, they wouldn’t. So why is Israel being treated differently?





This Week: UN Watch at Cambridge University and London School of Economics

UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer will be lecturing tomorrow evening, Tuesday, Nov. 15, at the London School of Economics (click for info), and on Thursday, Nov. 17, at Cambridge University’s Law Society (click for info).


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