V(otum) S(olvit) L(ibens) M(erito)

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Culture wars – An Anti-Semite for UNESCO?

Farouk Hosni

Egypt’s Culture Minister Farouk Hosni is a leading candidate to take over UNESCO in the fall. An alliance of intellectuals and Jewish groups from France, Germany and Israel are up in arms over the possibility due to remarks made by him perceived to be anti-Israeli.

It’ll soon be time for a new boss at UNESCO, the world’s pre-eminent cultural preservation organization. But German cultural and Jewish groups are worried about the candidate currently favored to win the top spot: Egyptian Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni.

In a statement released on Monday, the German Culture Council — an umbrella organization of cultural organizations in Germany — expressed concern over Hosni’s candidacy due to his history of anti-Semitic statements.

“Choosing Farouk Hosni as the new director of UNESCO would be a mistake,” said Olaf Zimmermann, head of the Culture Council. UNESCO is on the verge of putting into practice the Convention on Cultural Diversity. A responsibility like that shouldn’t be trusted to someone who hasn’t fully internalized the ideals of UNESCO.”

Hosni, an artist by trade, has been Egypt’s Culture Minister since 1987. He is known for being a liberal voice in Egyptian politics, opposing the veil for Egyptian women for example. But he has also made anti-Israeli statements in the past. Last year, he said he would “burn Israeli books in Egyptian libraries.”

Charlotte Knobloch, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said in an interview on German radio that due to his “clearly anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli statements” Hosni should be “disqualified” for the position.

With the decision coming up in October, Hosni’s candidacy has become a hot issue in France, Germany and Israel. Last Friday, three Jewish intellectuals — including Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel — wrote an open letter questioning Hosni’s suitability for the position. “We must, without delay, appeal to everyone’s conscience to keep UNESCO from falling into the hands of a man who, when he hears the word ‘culture,’ responds with a book burning,” the letter read.

According to Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, the issue got more complicated after news leaked that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had agreed to support Hosni’s candidacy in a secret deal with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

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