Israel's ambassador to UNESCO didn't know whether to laugh or cry when a senior official at the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization called him in for a tongue-lashing on Wednesday. The reason? A cartoon published in Haaretz.
The November 4 cartoon, a riff on the government's anger at UNESCO's decision to accept Palestine as a full member, showed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak sending an air force squadron to attack Iran, with Netanyahu ordering, "And on your way back, you're gonna hit the UNESCO office in Ramallah!"
When he met with Eric Falt, UNESCO's assistant director general for external relations and public information, Ambassador Nimrod Barkan was stunned to be handed a copy of this cartoon and an official letter of protest from UNESCO's director general, Irina Bokova. Falt told Barkan the cartoon constituted incitement.
"A cartoon like this endangers the lives of unarmed diplomats, and you have an obligation to protect them," Falt said, according to an Israeli source. "We understand that there is freedom of the press in Israel, but the government must prevent attacks on UNESCO."
Barkan pointed out that the government has no control over editorial cartoons printed in the papers. "Ask yourselves what you did to make a moderate paper with a deeply internationalist bent publish such a cartoon," he suggested. "Perhaps the problem is with you."
After Barkan reported the conversation to the Foreign Ministry, it cabled back: "What exactly does UNESCO want of us - to send our fine boys to protect UNESCO's staff, or to shut down the paper? It seems your work environment is getting more and more reminiscent of 'Animal Farm.'"