Cablegate: First Meeting with New Israeli Ambassador to Unesco


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1. (SBU) Summary: Covering a wide range of subjects, Israel's new
ambassador to UNESCO and the OECD, Nimrod BARKAN, said that his main
goal at UNESCO is to integrate Israel into the organization by
sharing its technical expertise, and keep it from being seen as a
one issue country in connection with Holocaust remembrance. End

2. (SBU) Israel's newly appointed ambassador to UNESCO and to the
OECD, Nimrod BARKAN, met with Ambassador Killion on Tuesday, 23
February, to discuss a wide variety of issues in advance of the
Executive Board session to be held in early April. Israeli
delegation staffer, Michal Pelosof and US Mission staffer, David
Ostroff also attended the meeting.

3. (SBU) Barkan began by going over his notes from his first
meeting with Director-General Bokova, who he said was too focused on
Holocaust-related issues. Barkan said that one of his main goals at
UNESCO will be to shift Israel's image from that of champion of
Holocaust remembrance events to a more "normal" member state which
participates in UNESCO programs by supplying technical expertise.

4. (SBU) At the same time, Barkan understands that the political
realities at UNESCO will mirror what is going on in other
international organizations, and that certain member states will
continue to use UNESCO as a platform for anti-Israeli actions as
long as possible. He seemed resigned to this fact, but hopes that
by integrating Israel into UNESCO's staff of experts in the areas of
education and science, there may be a long-term change of
perceptions by both the UNESCO Secretariat and Member States.

5. (SBU) Barkan said that in his meeting with Bokova, when the
issues of Mughrabi Gate and the other recurrent problems that
concern Israel, Palestine and Jordan came up, she seemed to be a bit
blank on the subject. Barkan insisted to us that there is "no new
news" on Mughrabi Gate, with the Jordanians refusing all dialogue,
and that Jerusalem understands that it is a "heavy duty" political
issue that must be handled carefully. Barkan raised his concerns
about having an experienced "facilitator" to assist in any
negotiations during the upcoming Executive Board. Philippe
Kridelka, according to Barkan, had contacted Anthony Krause, the
former Matsuura cabinet executive officer, who had assisted in the
negotiations in Seville during the World Heritage Committee meeting
in 2009. Krause told Kridelka that he would not be able to come - a
surprising response to a direct call from the D-G's Chief of Staff.
(Note: Previously, in addition to Louise Rasmussen, who is now in
Ramallah, Mounir Bouchenaki, and the former Canadian Ambassador to
UNESCO, Gilbert Lauren had previously assisted with the
negotiations, along with former Deputy Director-General Barbosa and
former U.S. Ambassador Louise Oliver. End note.) Ambassador
Killion told Barkan that he had heard that Japanese Ambassador to
UNESCO, Tadamichi Yamamoto, was potentially ready to assist, if

6. (SBU) The Ambassador asked about today's news reports regarding
Israel's decision to add the Cave of the Patriarchs, also known as
Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron to a list of Israeli national heritage
sites, as well as Rachel's Tomb, a shrine just inside Bethlehem.
Both sites are claimed by Palestine as part of their territory.
Barkan said that it is a domestic issue that doesn't concern UNESCO.
It is highly probable that this issue will be raised in some form
before the Executive Board despite Israel's response that it is not
a UNESCO concern.

7. (SBU) Barkan told Killion that he is working with the Foreign
Ministry to finalize plans to fund a P-4 position in UNESCO's
education sector to cover Holocaust Remembrance education. Israel,
not wanting to fill the job with a Jewish Israeli, has identified a
young French citizen who is not Jewish, who has been working with
the Shoah Foundation in Paris, and who would be interested in
filling the slot which would be covered by a three-year contract.
The education sector has been unable to properly take care of the
Holocaust education subject due to a lack of personnel as well as a
lack of funding.

8. (SBU) Barkan also expressed concern about future funding of the
annual Holocaust Remembrance ceremony, which he would like to see
funded through UNESCO's regular budget to a greater degree, though
he doubts that UNESCO will be forthcoming. With a person in place
to concentrate on the subject, Barkan hopes that the problems in
financing the program will be less onerous. We also raised the need
to push other member states to donate more extra budgetary funds to
the Holocaust remembrance project, as only six have given money to
the account, despite it being passed unanimously during the 34th
General Conference.

9. (SBU) Regarding Barkan's desire to promote Israeli technical
assistance at UNESCO, he said that he is proposing an exhibit next
September in Fontenoy, highlighting Israeli development projects
around the world, concentrating of the fight against
desertification, techniques of farming with low water use, as well

as teacher training programs in Africa. Barkan also spoke of trying
to get an Israeli into the education sector to work on ICT capacity
building and teacher training. There are currently three Israelis
employed in the Secretariat. He added, however, that he doubts
Bokova will lift a finger to bring more Israelis into the
Secretariat at this time, despite some highly qualified individuals
having applied for open jobs.

10. (SBU) Barkan mentioned that Israel hosts an annual conference
for women leaders. Given UNESCO's interest in promoting greater
empowerment for women, Barkan has invited Bokova to attend the 2011
conference. Ambassador Killion suggested that the Israelis also
invite Ambassador Melanne Verveer, which Barkan enthusiastically
agreed with. Barkan said that getting Bokova to Israel on something
other than a Holocaust-related event would be a major plus. He
called it a "cop-out" for Bokova to accept only Holocaust-related
issues in connection with Israel, and again stressed his desire to
bring Israel into UNESCO as a more "normal" player with other things
to offer the organization. He also mentioned that a recent poll
showed that 42 percent of Europeans believe that the Israelis
continue to use the Holocaust for political purposes.

11. (SBU) In a quick mention of preparations for the Executive
Board, Barkan said that the Egyptian chair of the NGO
(Non-Governmental Organizations) Committee had proposed that Member
States nominate experts to discuss the theme Egypt had selected for
the meeting on "Violence in Nowadays Society Among Youth and Against
Women". Barkan said that he was trying to get Israel to convince an
Arab woman who is active in Israel regarding violence against women
to participate, but wasn't sure if she would agree, nor if the
Egyptians would select who Member States proposed to speak.

12: (SBU) Barkan also mentioned a disturbing report from Barcelona
that the UNESCO Club of Catalonia is organizing a "Bertrand Russell
Tribunal" to try Israel in a mock-trial on war crimes. According to
Barkan's sources in the Israeli Foreign Ministry, an invitation was
sent by the club to UNESCO's Ramallah office to attend.

13. (SBU) Finally, Barkan asked if we had been contacted by the
Simon Wiesenthal Center about complaints regarding the construction
of their new museum on land that contains an Arab cemetery. Ostroff
mentioned that Mr. Shimon Samuels, head of the Wiesenthal Center in
Paris had asked if we had heard of it, which we hadn't at that time.
Barkan made it clear that despite an Israeli Supreme Court decision
giving the Center a green light to build, he feels strongly that any
action to do so would be foolish.

14. (SBU) Comment: Barkan will be dividing his time between UNESCO
and OECD, and will undoubtedly get more staff to beef up his
one-person team in Paris. He seemed a bit unsure of Bokova's
position in regards to Israel, worried that she may be obliged to
count votes in connection with future decisions and looking down the
road to her possible re-election. End comment. KILLION

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