UNESCO reprimands Israel over newspaper cartoon

November 11, 2011 - 8:10 AM

JERUSALEM (AP) — UNESCO has reprimanded Israel over a newspaper cartoon showing the Israeli prime minister telling pilots to bomb the U. N. agency's office after bombing Iran, a spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry said Friday.

The U.N.'s Paris-based cultural arm called in Israel's ambassador, Nimrod Barkan, on Wednesday and handed him a protest note saying the cartoon "endangers the lives of unarmed diplomats," according to the Israeli spokesman, Yigal Palmor.

The note came from the organization's director-general, Irina Bokova, he said. Officials at UNESCO in Paris were not immediately available for comment Friday.

The cartoon was published last week in the liberal daily Haaretz, known for its criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hardline government.

It depicts Netanyahu and his defense minister briefing pilots before a hypothetical attack on Iran, telling them to target UNESCO's office in the West Bank on their way back.

The cartoon was a jab at Netanyahu's policies and his displeasure over the U.N. culture agency's recent recognition of the Palestinians as a member state. The recognition led U.S., Canada and Israel to cut off funding to the agency.

The reprimand reflects an apparent misunderstanding of the cartoon — which was aimed at Netanyahu, not at UNESCO.

Palmor said the Israeli ambassador responded by telling UNESCO his country has a free press.

"We've heard of Islamists raging against supposedly disrespectful cartoons, but U.N. officials going down the same road — that's a whole new ballgame," Palmor said.

On Thursday, UNESCO said it would not undertake new projects this year as it decides how to respond to the funding cutoffs following the move to recognize the Palestinians last month.

The U.S. typically provides one-fifth of the agency's annual budget — some $80 million, three-quarters of which has not yet been handed over and which will now remain unpaid.

UNESCO protects heritage sites and works to improve literacy, access to schooling for girls and cultural understanding.

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Associated Press writer Sarah DiLorenzo contributed to this report from Paris.