Wikileaks: Israel wanted to overcome diplomatic isolation at UNESCO

A Wikileaks gem that I came across after the final dump of all the cables this summer is all the more shiny in light of today’s vote to make Palestine a member state at UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

A cable dated 24 February 2010, marked unclassified but “sensitive,” summarizes a 21 February 2010 discussion between US Deputy Secretary Jacob J. Lew and Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. During the meeting, according to the cable, Ayalon asked for US “assistance in placing an Israeli candidate as Assistant Director General for International Cooperation at UNESCO.”

The cable reads (scroll down to item 16):

Ayalon said that Israel was working hard to overcome its diplomatic isolation. He flagged Israel’s having recently joined JUSCANZ [a consultative body to the UN Human Rights Council] in Geneva and its hope to join JUSCANZ and WEAG in New York so that it could present candidates for UN positions. Israel wanted to submit a candidate to be Assistant Delegate General for International Cooperation and Communication at UNESCO, and asked for U.S. intervention with new UNESCO Director General Bokova, who “owes you guys her life.”

Whatever efforts the US may have made on Israel’s behalf, they were ultimately unsuccessful, as no Israeli diplomats were appointed in July 2010 by UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova to any of the several assistant director-general positions at UNESCO.

US pressure seems to not work all of the time

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon’s assertion that the former Bulgarian foreign minister owes the Americans “her life” may refer to Bokova’s narrow win of the UNESCO directorship vote. Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosny was considered the favorite in the election.

The New York Times reported in 2009:

A race that began with nine candidates, with Mr. Hosny in the lead, was affected by charges against him that he was in favor of burning books by Israelis and keeping restrictions on Egypt’s carefully edited press — incompatible with a United Nations agency that is supposed to defend press freedom.

An alliance of Unesco board members opposed to Mr. Hosny finally coalesced around Ms. Bokova, a former Bulgarian Foreign Minister and currently Bulgaria’s ambassador to France and Unesco, which is headquartered in Paris.

If Israel intended to overcome diplomatic isolation at UNESCO, its plan isn’t going so well.

Mondoweiss summarizes today’s vote from a roundup of different sources. Before today’s vote, there were 193 member states to UNESCO; of them, there were 107 votes in favor of admitting Palestine to the UN body, 52 abstentions and only 14 votes “no” (Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Palau, Panama, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Sweden, United States of America, Vanuatu).

As a result of the vote in overwhelming favor to admit Palestine to UNESCO, the United States has decided to collectively punish education, science and culture worldwide by withholding a $60 million payment to the body later this month.

The Israeli daily Haaretz reports:

The US Congress is also currently considering new legislation that would impose additional restrictions on American funding of the United Nations, threaten cutting aid to the Palestinian Authority, and slashing military assistance to key foreign countries in retaliation to their support for the Palestinian bid for full UN membership.

Of course, the full impact of today’s vote and the US’ predictably insane reaction remain to be seen. But it’s hard to imagine that the US or Israel can do anything to spin this in their favor.

Indeed, as this short video of today’s vote illustrates, there was resounding applause for certain countries voting in favor of admitting Palestine, a stone-cold silence for the US when it voted “no,” and only laughter when Israel voted “no.”

The US is heading down a shameful path it has gone down once before. Like it was the last to defend apartheid South Africa, so it is with apartheid Israel. But even the biggest bully on the block can’t always get things to swing in Israel’s favor.

( / 31.10.2011)

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