UNESCO to go ahead with disputed Jewish exhibition

PARIS Mon Jan 27, 2014 2:41pm EST

PARIS (Reuters) - A United Nations exhibition about Jews and the Holy Land, postponed after Arab countries warned it could harm Middle East peace efforts, will go ahead in June, organizers confirmed on Monday.

The exhibition was due to open last week at the Paris headquarters of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural organisation (UNESCO) but was held up after 22 Arab member countries said could have a negative impact on peace talks.

The postponement of the exhibition entitled "People, Book, Land, The 3,500 Year Relationship of the Jewish People to the Holy Land" prompted criticism from Israel, the United States, Canada and Jewish groups around the world.

"The date has been set for June, 11," a UNESCO spokeswoman said without elaborating. The exhibition was co-sponsored by Israel, Canada and Montenegro.

The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, co-organizer of the exhibition, said in a statement the exhibition had nothing to do with recent efforts by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts to revive the Middle East peace process.

Kerry has been on a diplomatic blitz in recent weeks to persuade Israel and the Palestinians, who resumed statehood talks in July after a three-year deadlock, to agree on an outline proposal addressing the core issues of their conflict.

"While the Arab League was trying to kill this exhibition and all the attention was focused on Paris, the U.N. headquarters in New York is hosting an exhibit entitled 'Palestine' based entirely on the Arab narrative, which was not criticized as an interference in Secretary Kerry's mission," Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Center, said in the statement.

Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on a "two-state solution" in which Jewish and Palestinian states would exist peacefully side-by-side broke down in 2010 in a dispute over Israeli settlement construction.

(Reporting by Maya Nikolaeva and Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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