A day after the US and Israel announced they were withdrawing from the Unesco alleging anti-Israel bias in the organisation, it elected Audrey Azoulay, a French-Jewish woman of Moroccan descent, as its next Director-General.
In the final round of voting by Unesco’s Executive Board on Friday at its headquarters in Paris, Azoulay defeated Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari of Qatar, winning 30 votes to his 28.
She will succeed Irina Bokova, a Bulgarian who ran unsuccessfully for Secretary-General of the UN last year.
In her vision statement or manifesto while campaigning for the post, Azoulay wrote, “Unesco must assert itself with ambition as the conscience of the United Nations.”
Through “the defence of humanist values” the Unesco can bring new life to the UN’s “universalist project of peace and democracy,” she said.
Unesco is the science, education and culture arm of the UN family.
Azoulay has had a long career in arts and culture administration before becoming Culture Minister last year and leaving the job after the national elections last May.
She has been the deputy Director-General of the French National Centre of Cinematography and a legal expert on culture and communication for the European Commission.
When she takes over the helm of Unesco she must grapple with the fallout of the US leaving the organisation.
US membership in the Unesco will formally end in 2018 but already in 2013 Washington had lost its voting rights because Congress stopped paying the dues to the organisation starting in 2011 because it had admitted Palestine as a full member.
The US contribution was 22 per cent of Unesco’s budget and the organisation had to cut its programmes with US arrears in excess of 600 million.
The breaking point for the US came in July, when Unesco called the Old City of Hebron and a sanctuary considered holy by both Jews and Muslims in the West Bank a part of Palestinian territory while designating them World Heritage Site.
The area is under Israeli control and Israel claims the area. Palestinians call Hebron Al-Khalil and the sanctuary is called the Tomb of the Patriarchs by Jews and Ibrahim Mosque by Muslims.
The campaign for Unesco’s top job started with 10 candidates and the list was whittled down to three this week.
Egyptian Moushira Khattab was the third candidate in Thursday’s fourth round ballot where Azoulay and Al-Kawari led and moved on to the final round.