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Wiesel: No to Egyptian at UNESCO

‘Burn these books,’ candidate once said of Hebrew works

Sara Ivry
June 10, 2009

Farouk Hosny, Egypt’s minister of culture, is heading to France as part of a campaign to salvage his controversial bid to be the next head of UNESCO, the Paris-based cultural arm of the United Nations. Late last month he “solemnly” apologized in Le Monde for a statement he made a year ago, when he objected to putting Hebrew volumes in the new library in Alexandria: “Burn these books; if there are any there, I will myself burn them in front of you.”

The incendiary comment got renewed attention in mid-May when Elie Wiesel, Claude Lanzmann, and Bernard Henri-Levi recounted Hosny’s record of offensive comments in a letter opposing his candidacy. (“Israel has never contributed to civilization in any era, for it has only ever appropriated the contributions of others,” Hosny pronounced in 2001.) He’s the “opposite of a man of peace, dialogue, and culture,” they wrote. “Mr. Farouk Hosny is a dangerous man, an inciter of hearts and minds.”

Israel dropped its opposition to Hosny before his public mea culpa but after a closed meeting between Benjamin Netanyahu and Hosni Mubarak, the BBC has reported. UNESCO’s next director-general will be selected in October.

Sara Ivry is the host of Vox Tablet, Tablet Magazine’s weekly podcast. Follow her on Twitter@saraivry.