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U.S. chides UNESCO for putting Jewish exhibit on hold

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power speaks in Washington, September 6, 2013. REUTERS/Larry Downing (UNITED STATES - Tags: P
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power speaks in Washington, September 6, 2013. REUTERS/Larry Downing (UNITED STATES - Tags: P

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States on Friday criticized UNESCO, the U.N.'s cultural arm, for postponing an exhibition about Jews and the Holy Land due to complaints from Arab member states.

The U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, based in Paris, issued a statement saying it would hold off on the exhibition, which was to be called "People, Book, Land -- The 3,500 Year Relationship of the Jewish People to the Holy Land," because of concerns that some aspects "might be perceived by member states as endangering the peace process."

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, urged UNESCO to rethink the decision on the exhibition, which UNESCO was organizing in cooperation with the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

"UNESCO's decision is wrong and should be reversed," she said in a statement. "The United States has engaged at senior levels to urge UNESCO to allow this exhibit to proceed as soon as possible."

"UNESCO is supposed to be fostering discussion and interaction between civil society and member states, and organizations such as the Wiesenthal Center have a right to be heard and to contribute to UNESCO's mission," Power said.

UNESCO said its secretariat received a letter from 22 states -- the Arab Group -- expressing their concern that "the planned exhibition could impact negatively on the peace process and current negotiations underway in the Middle East."

"In this context, regrettably, UNESCO had to postpone the inauguration of the exhibition," UNESCO said.

Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on a "two-state solution" in which Jewish and Palestinian states would exist peacefully side-by-side broke down in 2010 in a dispute over Israeli settlement construction. Peace talks have shown little sign of progress since their revival last year.

The Israeli U.N. mission did not have an immediate reaction.

The Wiesenthal Center said on its website that it would hold a news conference in Paris on Monday to "show the media the exhibition UNESCO didn't want the world to see."

The U.S. position within UNESCO has been weakened since it lost the right to vote last year.

The U.N. organization suspended the voting rights of the United States and Israel in November, two years after both countries stopped paying dues to UNESCO to protest its granting full membership to the Palestinians.

The White House has urged U.S. Congress to resume paying dues in order to regain its vote.

(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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