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13 October 2017, 09:41 | Erica Roy
US Jewish Groups Express Alarm as Antisemitism-Tainted Qatari Candidate Closes in on UNESCO Chief Post
UNESCO has been critical of Tel Aviv in the past, and its decision to nominate the West Bank city of Hebron as a Palestinian world heritage site angered Israel, which wanted its long Jewish history to be recognised.
UNESCO's executive board has chosen France's Audrey Azoulay as the Paris-based United Nations agency's new chief, rejecting a candidate from Qatar who was seen as the front-runner a day earlier.
Arab states had been lobbying hard to get an Arab candidate elected as UNESCO's director-general.
The board has held secret ballot votes every day this week, whittling down the seven candidate to Azoulay and former Qatari culture minister Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari.
Qatar's Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari and France's Audrey Azoulay both received 18 votes each in the third round on Wednesday to replace UNESCO's director-general Irina Bokova by the start of 2018.
The election of UNESCO's new chief has been narrowed down to two candidates, one from Qatar and the other from France.
To win the post of the UNESCO director general, a candidate should get an absolute majority of 30 votes of the 58-member board in any of the four rounds of the vote that kicked off on Monday and will run until October 12.
China's Tang Qian and Lebanon's Vera El Khoury each announced their withdrawal ahead of the vote Thursday.
UNESCO's general assembly will have to sign off on the board's pick. Arab intellectuals urged French President Emmanuel Macron to withdraw his support for her.
French media reported that Qatar recently invited several members of the UNESCO executive board on an all-expenses-paid trip to Doha. In addition, the vote came as Egypt and three other Arab nations continued a months-long boycott of Qatar over allegations that the government funds extremists and has overly warm ties to Iran.
Egypt's foreign ministry has demanded an inquiry into alleged "violations" during the UNESCO voting.
While the Trump administration had been preparing for a likely withdrawal from UNESCO for months, the timing of the State Department's statement Thursday was unexpected.
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