THE BLOG

An Open Reply to Bernard-Henri Lévy

01/22/2014 04:26 pm ET | Updated Mar 24, 2014

Your blog in yesterday's World Post about the exhibition co-organized by UNESCO and the Simon Wiesenthal Center raises a number of points that require clarification.

You speak of a "misunderstanding," and there is, indeed, a misunderstanding, which was cleared up quickly by UNESCO, even before the publication of your article. I deeply regret that you did not have all relevant pieces of information at your disposal, and I wish to respond to you now in the spirit of respect that I have always felt towards you as an intellectual, as a man of the letters and culture, to dispel this misunderstanding. If I insist on this point, it is because of the high esteem that I hold for your commitment to the truth and the defense of human values -- a commitment that we share.

This exhibition has not been cancelled. It has been postponed -- this was a difficult decision to make -- and it will be inaugurated in the month of June of this year. The postponement reflects a number of points that remain to be finalized, and we are working actively to do so with the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Therefore, to draw a conclusion from this situation about any possible UNESCO bias would represent a dangerous shortcut that would ignore the reality of UNESCO's work and the depth of its commitment to the fight against racism, anti-Semitism and all forms of negationism. It goes without saying that such a shortcut should not be taken.

Throughout the four years of my first term as Director-General, I never missed an opportunity to engage in the struggle against anti-Semitism, against negationism and for tolerance and respect of others. The withdrawal of funding by the United States and Israel in 2011 could have led to the suspension of many UNESCO programs, including those relating to Holocaust education. I expressed publicly, and loudly, my deep regret at the decision of these two Member States, while taking every action to quickly ensure not only the continuation but the strengthening of UNESCO's work in this area. If I did so, it is because of my fundamental belief in the values carried forward by this ambitious program that relate to the universal history of humanity. If I continue to do so, it is because I see the fight against intolerance as a daily struggle that can never been suspended. These are my personal convictions, and they guide me in leading UNESCO, as a house of thought and action.

UNESCO is a leading actor in the fight against all forms of intolerance and discrimination. This is why we have organized regular conferences and regional consultations with our Member States on the theme of "Why teach about the Holocaust and genocide?" This is why we provide guidance to Ministries of Education in Africa, in Latin America and elsewhere, on how to introduce these subjects into school curricula, and we review school manuals and programs to strengthen the quality of teaching regarding the history of the Holocaust. In the United States of America, we have just created a UNESCO Chair on the prevention of genocides at Rutgers University. The Pages of Testimony Collection of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Archives of the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen, Germany have both been inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register, because of their world significance and outstanding universal value. Every year, UNESCO organizes major events to commemorate the International Holocaust Remembrance Day - to which, once again, you are most cordially invited, on 27 January, at UNESCO.

It is precisely in this spirit that, on 1 February, 2011, I co-led with the Mayor of Paris, Mr Bertrand Delanoë, a historic visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, in the presence of 150 eminent personalities from around the world, including the Arab-Muslim world.

In all this, let me add that UNESCO's cooperation with leading Jewish organizations is well-known and easily verifiable. In November 2012, for instance, a successful International Symposium was held under the auspices of UNESCO on the "Permanence of Yiddish." This was an initiative of B'nai B'rith Representation, also an official partner of UNESCO in associate status, and with the participation of the Paris Yiddish Center -- Medem Library.

For all these reasons, I deeply regret that you did not have all such elements of information at hand, to form a clear understanding of the situation. Let me finish by reiterating that the decision to postpone the inauguration of the exhibition was difficult -- but, in no way, may it be seen as reflecting a partisan position of UNESCO.

In this spirit, please accept the assurances of my highest consideration.