UNESCO: The Shame of a Disaster Foretold

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.
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Here is an open letter I have co-signed along with Elie Wiesel and Claude Lanzmann:

Who declared in April 2001: "Israel has never contributed to Civilization in any era, for it has only ever appropriated the contributions of others" -- and added almost two months later: "the Israeli culture is an inhumane culture; it is an aggressive, racist, pretentious culture based on one simple principle: steal what does not belong to in order to then claim its appropriation"?

Who explained in 1997, and has repeated it since in every way possible, that he was the "archenemy" of all attempts to normalize his country's relations with Israel?

Or who, as recently as 2008, responded to a deputy of the Egyptian parliament who was alarmed that Israeli books could be introduced into the Alexandria Library: "Burn these books; if there are any there, I will myself burn them in front of you"?

Who said in 2001 in the newspaper Ruz-al-Yusuf that Israel was "aided" in its dark intrigues by "the infiltration of Jews into the international media" and by their diabolical ability to "spread lies"?

To whom do we owe these insane declarations, this anthology of hate and error, and this frenzy of conspiracy theories?

To Farouk Hosny, the Egyptian Minister of Culture for the past fifteen years and undoubtedly the next Director General of UNESCO if nothing is done before the May 30 deadline for nominating candidates to stop his apparently unstoppable march to one of the most important posts of cultural responsibility on the planet.

Even worse: the words that we just cited are only a few -- and not even the most nauseating -- of the innumerable declarations of the same tenor that punctuate the career of Mr. Farouk Hosny over the past fifteen years and that, consequently, precede him as he aspires, even today, to a role on a worldwide scale.

The evidence is there: Mr. Farouk Hosny is not worthy of this role; Mr. Farouk Hosny is the opposite of a man of peace, dialogue, and culture; Mr. Farouk Hosny is a dangerous man, an inciter of hearts and minds. There is only little, very little time left to avoid committing the major mistake of elevating Mr. Farouk Hosny above others to this eminent post.

We thus call on the international community to spare itself the shame that would be the designation, already all but claimed by the candidate himself, of Mr. Farouk Hosny to the post of Director General of UNESCO.

We invite all countries dedicated to liberty and culture to take the initiatives necessary to avert this threat and avoid the disaster that would be his nomination.

We invite the Egyptian President himself, in remembrance of his compatriot Naguib Mahfouz, winner of the Nobel Prize in literature who must be spinning in his grave right now -- we invite him, for the honor of his country and as an heir of his great civilization, to become aware of the situation, and, with all urgency, to disown his minister and withdraw his candidacy.

UNESCO has certainly made other mistakes in the past -- but this particular abuse of authority would be so great, so abominable, so incomprehensible. It would be an obvious provocation so transparently contrary to the proclaimed ideals of the UN that UNESCO would not recover.

There is not a minute to lose in order to prevent the irreparable.

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.

Claude LanzmannBernard-Henri LévyElie Wiesel

Translated from the French by Sara Phenix.

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