Reports: Iran Envoy May Be Tapped to Head UN Cultural Body

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JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty

The United Nations body in charge of education, culture, and science may soon be headed by Iran — a sign of not only the UN’s cultural relativism, as well as its antipathy toward Israel, but also Russia’s increasing influence at the UN as the U.S. draws back.

Multiple media outlets in the Middle East have reported that Ahmad Jalali, the Iranian envoy to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), is a shoo-in to be the next Chairman of UNESCO’s Executive Board. The Algemeiner reported that he is the only candidate for the role.

Iran is not known for its accomplishments in education, culture or science in recent decades, and is one of the world’s most repressive Islamist dictatorships.

The appointment, likely to be opposed by the U.S. and Israel, will be seen as the latest sign of anti-Israel bias at UNESCO — something to which U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley has sought to call attention.

While Haley’s efforts have been focused on the Human Rights Council — which she has accused of being obsessed with Israel while ignoring flagrant human rights abuses in places such as Venezuela, UNESCO has also been accused of anti-Israel bias.

In May, UNESCO voted to declare Jerusalem “occupied” by Israel and called Israeli rule “null and void.” The U.S. voted against the move and condemned the resolution.

On Sunday, the Jerusalem Post reported that Israel has barred a UNESCO mission from entering Hebron as the body considers putting Hebron’s Old City on the list of World Heritage in Danger.

Last month the Israeli ambassador to UNESCO warned of the possibility of greater leadership from Islamic countries at UNESCO.

“Under certain circumstances, an Islamic troika could be created, which would be liable to push the organization to new depths of anti-Israel politicization,” Carmel Shama-Hacohen said, according to the Times of Israel.

But the move also represents an increased Russian presence at the UN in general. The U.S.’s role in the organization has been diminishing since it suspended funding to the organization in 2011 after UNESCO extended membership to the Palestinian Authority. The Obama administration sought unsuccessfully to lobby Congress to change the decision. This has allowed Russia to step into the void and push its favored candidate.

Russia took on a major role last week when Secretary-General António Guterres announced that Russian diplomat Vladimir Voronkov would lead the newly created counter-terrorism body at the UN — giving Russia a much-sought undersecretary-general position.

This will allow Russia to consolidate its presence at the UN headquarters in New York, and provide a foothold from which to expand its influence.

CBS News reported that the Russian appointment came after Russia agreed to forego its regional turn to select the secretary-general — allowing the Portuguese Guterres to take the post — in exchange for a Russian appointment to lead the body.

Adam Shaw is a politics reporter for Breitbart News based in New York. Follow Adam on Twitter: @AdamShawNY

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