UN announces “review” of bookstore after protest over books targeting Jews and Israel

images from UN bookstore

GENEVA, April 30, 2015 – The head of the United Nations European Headquarters in Geneva has initiated a review of its concession arrangement with the bookstore operating next to the Human Rights Council in response to allegations over book displays that deliberately target Jews and Israel.

The world body announced the action in response to a March 26th protest by UN Watch, a non-governmental human rights monitoring group in Geneva, over the bookstore’s display of a series of books such as “How I Stopped Being a Jew,” which accuses the Jewish religion of being “genocidal.” (See UN Watch’s March 26th letter at bottom for list of other titles.) The controversy was reported in a major Israeli newspaper article.

“We welcome this prompt action by the United Nations, which is founded on the principles of equality and tolerance,” said UN Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer.

“At a time when Jews across Europe are being targeted by violent attacks and incitement, it is deeply distressing that the UN Headquarters in Europe would promote books on ‘how to stop being a Jew.’ It’s impossible to miss that no other books in the shop target or even criticize any other religious or ethnic group,” he added.

In its letter to  Neuer (see below), the United Nations Office in Geneva (UNOG) announced that Acting Director-General Michael Moller “has initiated an administrative review by the relevant services at UNOG of the existing concession arrangements and related procedures.”

Saying that it “sensitive to the gist” of UN Watch’s complaint, the world body said that it has “reaffirmed” to the bookstore “the requirement that varied viewpoints be presented on the shop’s bookshelves,” to ensure that the choice of books in the UN shop is “diverse and balanced, as befits an outlet affiliated with the United Nations Organization.”

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Click here for PDF

United Nations Office at Geneva
CHEF DE CABINET

24 April 2015

Dear Mr. Neuer,

Thank you for your letter of 26 March 2015 addressed to the Acting Director- General of UNOG, expressing concern about the selection of books in the United Nations Bookshop at the Palais des Nations, which has been duly noted.

The bookshop is operated by a commercial vendor and the selection for sale at the bookshop of items other than United Nations publications and souvenirs bearing the UN logo, is not subject to a substantive vetting procedure by the United Nations. Nor does the selection by the management of the bookstore of printed material for sale constitute any endorsement by the United Nations of the outside publications, the responsibility for which lies with the author s and the relevant publishing house.

That said, and sensitive to the gist of your argument in the above-referenced letter, UNOG has reaffirmed to the vendor the requirement that varied viewpoints be presented on the shop’s bookshelves, as part of the ongoing effort to ensure that the choice of books on offer is diverse and balanced, as befits an outlet affiliated with the United Nations Organization.

In addition, the Acting Director-General has initiated an administrative review by the relevant services at UNOG of the existing concession arrangements and related procedures.

Yours sincerely,
David A. Chikvaidze

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March 26th Letter by UN Watch director
Hillel Neuer to the United Nations
PDF

Michael Moller
Acting Director-General
United Nations Office at Geneva
Palais des Nations
1211 Geneva 10

26 March 2015

Dear Mr. Moller,

UN Watch is deeply concerned by the highly suspect selection of books featured in the United Nations Bookshop, and we urge you to investigate. (Photos are enclosed.)

Perusing the shelf displays, one cannot miss the carefully orchestrated line-up of anti-American and anti-Israeli book titles, from “Reflections on Israel’s War Against Palestinians” to “The Punishment of Gaza.” Worse, the UN bookshop—situated just below the Human Rights Council prominently displays a book entitled “How I Stopped Being a Jew.” The author accuses the Jewish religion of a “genocidal Yahwestic tradition.”

Let us be clear: under no circumstances whatsoever would we presume to dictate to the UN bookshop which books to sell. We unflinchingly support the freedom of expression and full exchange of ideas, good and bad. Yet the unmistakable pattern of anti-American, anti-Israel and anti-Jewish books is a matter that requires your attention. We recall the promise of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the historic 2004 United Nations gathering against anti- Semitism: “The fight against anti-Semitism must be our fight,” said Mr. Annan, “and Jews everywhere must feel that the United Nations is their home, too.” As I am sure you will agree, the selective offering of one-sided and inflammatory books that demean Israelis and Jews does not contribute to the culture of acceptance promised by Mr. Annan.

At a time when Jews across Europe are being targeted by violent attacks and incitement, it is deeply distressing that the United Nations Headquarters in Europe would promote books on “how to stop being a Jew.” Significantly, we note there are no other books in the shop targeting or criticizing any other religious or ethnic group.

Numerous visitors pass through the UN bookshop every day, including young students who take the UN tour in order to learn about the UN Charter values of equality, tolerance and peace. We urge the United Nations to live up to its founding values, and to prevent yet another UN institution from falling victim to selectivity and politicization. We sincerely hope that you will investigate this serious matter, and take remedial action as necessary.

Yours truly,

Hillel Neuer
Executive Director

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