Israeli officials have reacted with anger to UNESCO’s decision to endow an academic chair at the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG). This, claim the Israelis, is an “endorsement of terrorism”.
“The chair,” said one Israeli official, “is seen as a stamp of approval from the international body, implying recognition of the university’s importance as an academic institution.” The Israelis regard the IUG as a “terrorist organisation” as many of those who resist Israel’s occupation of Palestine are graduates.
The Israeli ambassador to UNESCO has held intense discussions with the organisation and announced that he is going to submit a formal letter of protest.
Israel attacked and bombed the IUG during the war against the Gaza Strip in 2008/2009, destroying the science building “because it produces rockets and bombs”. International weapons experts denied these allegations after specific tests conducted after the war.
Dr Kamaleen Shaat, the head of the board of trustees of the IUG, also denied any relationship with Palestinian fighters and the Israeli claim that there is a chemical engineering department in the university. Israeli officials insist on the veracity of their claims and accuse UNESCO Secretary General Irina Bokova of conducting a PR campaign to get re-elected in 2013.
Israeli disputes with UNESCO began when the organisation accepted Palestine as a full member several months ago. The United States stopped its financial support for the UN body directly after it took that decision. A senior Israeli official said that Bokova is trying to persuade US President Barak Obama to resume its support.
UNESCO inaugurated the Chair in Astronomy, Astrophysics and Space Sciences at the Islamic University of Gaza in association with Al-Aqsa and Al-Azhar Universities in the besieged Gaza Strip last week. The IUG was rated number one among the Palestinian universities and 14th in the Arab world in the Ranking of World Universities in 2010.