Farouk Hosni, the anti-Jewish advocate of book-burning and leading candidate for the director-generalship of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) turns out to have a surprising backer: French president Nicolas Sarkozy. Ballotting continues in Paris - the afternoon of Monday, September 21, was scheduled for the fourth round.

Sarkozy’s role in the UNESCO process was reported in the left-wing Paris daily Libération on September 17. The newspaper has developed a trail of evidence showing how France and Sarkozy adopted this posture. Sarkozy’s predecessor, Jacques Chirac, had promised his good friend, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, that he would support an Egyptian for the post, without any conditions. Sarkozy came to power in May 2007, and in December of that year visited Egypt , where he repeated the pledge. Then came Farouk Hosni’s book-burning threat last year in the Egyptian parliament.

Sarkozy apparently hinted to the Egyptians that this would bring trouble, but in his rush to play referee between Israel and Hamas during the recent Gaza intervention, found himself in an even worse situation. The Arab states, as a reprisal for the Gaza operation, threatened to stop all collaboration in France ’s grand scheme for a so-called Mediterranean Union as a transnational forum for countries on the sea’s northern and southern shores. The Mediterranean Union would have a shared presidency, comprising France and Egypt .

Hosni’s nomination was denounced months ago by the leading Jewish intellectuals Elie Wiesel, film-maker Claude Lanzmann, and philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy. In their criticism of Hosni, published in Le Monde, the trio quoted several declarations by Hosni that, in contrast to his other outrageous statements, have received little publicity outside France. These include the following description of Israel :

“Israeli culture is an inhuman culture; it is an aggressive, racist, pretentious culture, based on a simple principle: theft of the property of others.” He also decried “the infiltration of Jews in international media.”

Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister was reportedly unenthusiastic about Hosni, but the French government pressed on. According to Libération, while the Europeans could not decide on a common candidate, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu also decided he needed Mubarak too much to oppose Farouk Hosni. Austrian diplomat and European Union Foreign Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, considered the main but badly-lagging rival to Hosni, dropped out. U.S. president Barack Obama, Libération claimed, “amid his effort toward reconciliation with the Arabo-Muslim world, did not want to give the impression he would impede a candidacy supported by the Arab League, the African Union, and the Organization for the Islamic Conference.”

As if all this were not enough, Libération also noted that Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld, president of the Association of Sons and Daughters of Jews Deported in France , has come out in favor of Hosni. Klarsfeld argues that Hosni has opposed Holocaust denial and sincerely repented his past hate speech.

So Farouk Hosni remains the leading contestant. In the Saturday round he received 25 out of 57 votes, short of the majority he needs, but getting closer. After Monday’s round, a final vote may be held on Tuesday.

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