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United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
12 February 2008
Official visit of the Director-General to Israel (4-7 February 2008)
The Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, paid his first official visit to Israel, from 4 to 7 February 2008.
The visit provided him with the opportunity to meet bilaterally with the highest authorities and representatives of the academic and scientific community in the country on progress of the cooperation between UNESCO and the State of Israel. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the enhancement of this cooperation was signed with Mrs Zipi Livni, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, on 6 February. Mr Matsuura was accompanied throughout his visit by Ambassador David Kornbluth, Permanent Delegate of Israel to UNESCO.
During his audience with the President of the State of Israel, Mr Shimon Peres, the Director-General expressed his satisfaction with the fruitful cooperation between UNESCO and Israel and expressed the hope that it could be further enhanced. "Israel represents today a main actor of international cooperation for UNESCO, thanks to the scientific excellence of the country, and the active role it plays in favour of developing countries in the domains of education, research and development. President Peres and the Director-General also agreed to jointly place the promotion of gender equality on the forefront of the international EFA agenda.
It was on the same day that Mr Matsuura signed the aforementioned MoU with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mrs Zipi Livni. This agreement, which places special emphasis on support to developing countries, in particular through capacity-building activities and policy development in Africa, foresees joint activities in the fields of research and higher education, science, technology and innovation, ICTs for education, the struggle against racism and all forms of discrimination, and the safeguarding of cultural heritage and promotion of cultural tourism. Furthermore, the MoU places special emphasis on curricula and teacher training activities on the Holocaust, with a view to enhancing international outreach of educational programmes on this topic.
"This landmark agreement is a starting point for a real and sustainable cooperation, integrating all of UNESCO's fields of competences, said Mr Matsuura during his bilateral meeting with Minister Livni. I am convinced it will be, at the regional and international levels, an important instrument of exchange of competences, sharing of knowledge and of best practices", he added.
During his meeting with Mrs Yuli Tamir, Minister of Education, discussions centred particularly on common projects in the areas of literacy and promotion of multilingualism. This meeting took place in the presence of the members of the National Commission for UNESCO and its Secretary-General, Mr Daniel Bar-Elli. The meeting with Mr Galeb Majadle, Minister of Science, Culture and Sports, provided the Director-General with the opportunity of underlining the pressing need to integrate the principles of cultural diversity into development policies. In this regard, he encouraged the Israeli authorities to ratify the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Underwater Cultural Heritage (2001), as well as the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003). Finally, Mr Matsuura met with Professor Shlomo Grossman, Chairman of the Planning and budgetary Committee of the Council for Higher Education, to discuss, among other things, the enhancement of the fellowship programme benefiting professionals, researchers and students from developing countries, and the reinforcement of the role played by UNESCO Chairs within the Israeli higher education system.
On 6 February, Mr Matsuura visited the Jerusalem Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, Yad Vashem, where he placed a wreath in memory of the victims of the Holocaust. Furthermore, Mr Matsuura visited the New Holocaust History Museum in the company of Mr Mr Avner Shalev, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate. During a working meeting at the International School for Holocaust Studies, Mr Matsuura emphasized, as a follow-up to Resolution 61 on Holocaust Remembrance adopted by the General Conference at its 34th session, UNESCO's will to place education for peace and tolerance at the centre of its work for remembrance.
Pursuing his discussions with various representatives of the scientific and academic community in Israel, Mr Matsuura visited, on 5 February, the Weizmann Institute for Science in Rehovot, where he met the President of the Institute, Professor Daniel Zajfman, to discuss the possible establishment, under the auspices of UNESCO, of an international training and teaching centre on Proteomics-Functional Genomics and Bioinformatics. This was followed by a visit to the Tel Aviv University, where, during a round-table discussion on future areas of collaboration, he met with the deans of the university’s faculties, in the presence of the Rector of the University, Professor Dany Leviatan, and the Vice-President of the University, Professor Hagit Messer-Yaron.
On 5 February, the Director-General visited Mr Ron Huldai, Mayor of the Tel Aviv. The "White City" of Tel Aviv was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2003. During this visit, Mr Matsuura paid tribute to the conservation and restoration work undertaken by the municipality to preserve the authenticity and integrity of the city's Modern Movement style architecture. He also welcomed the active role played by Israel in the World heritage Committee.
At the end of his visit, Mr Matsuura met with the two technical focal points for the UNESCO Action Plan for the Safeguarding of the cultural heritage of the Old City of Jerusalem, Professors Michael Turner from Israel and Shadia Touqan from Palestine. He presented them with the final version of the Plan of Action, result of an initiative announced by the Director-General at the 31st session of the General Conference (2001).