Is­rael, US to quit UNESCO

J’lem with­drawal comes hours af­ter Amer­i­can de­ci­sion

Jerusalem Post - - FRONT PAGE - • By MICHAEL WILNER in Wash­ing­ton, HERB KEINON and TOVAH LAZAROFF

Hours af­ter the US’s dra­matic de­ci­sion to with­draw from UNESCO, cit­ing anti-Is­rael bias, Is­rael stated that it also planned to leave the ed­u­ca­tion, sci­en­tific and cul­tural body.

Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu on Thurs­day night di­rected the For­eign Min­istry to “pre­pare Is­rael’s with­drawal from the or­ga­ni­za­tion in par­al­lel with the US.”

Ne­tanyahu, in a state­ment is­sued by the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice, called the Amer­i­can move a “brave and moral de­ci­sion, be­cause UNESCO has be­come the the­ater of the ab­surd and be­cause in­stead of pre­serv­ing his­tory, it dis­torts it.”

State Depart­ment spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, “This de­ci­sion was not taken lightly, and re­flects US con­cerns with mount­ing ar­rears at UNESCO, the need for fun­da­men­tal re­form in the or­ga­ni­za­tion, and con­tin­u­ing anti-Is­rael bias at UNESCO.

“The United States in­di­cated to the di­rec­tor-gen­eral its de­sire to re­main en­gaged with UNESCO as a non­mem­ber observer state in or­der to con­trib­ute US views, per­spec­tives and ex­per­tise on some of the im­por­tant is­sues un­der­taken by the or­ga­ni­za­tion, in­clud­ing the pro­tec­tion of world her­itage, ad­vo­cat­ing for press free­doms and pro­mot­ing sci­en­tific col­lab­o­ra­tion and ed­u­ca­tion.”

Nauert, later speak­ing with re­porters, said that Foggy Bot­tom gave a “long,” non-par­ti­san look at whether to re­main within UNESCO over the course of sev­eral ad­min­is­tra­tions. She noted that the US owes money to the UN body and that state con­ducted a “cost-ben­e­fit anal­y­sis” on pay­ing up.

“The ques­tion is, do we want to pay that money, and do we want to pay more money go­ing for­ward when there’s ac­tu­ally a law that says that any UN en­tity that ac­cepts Pales­tini­ans as a mem­ber state can­not get US fund­ing?” Nauert asked.

She said that the re­cent race for UNESCO lead­er­ship was un­re­lated to the US’ “long, de­lib­er­a­tive process” on whether to with­draw.

“Let me just re­mind you that Bashar As­sad of Syria was one of the peo­ple on the

hu­man rights com­mit­tee of UNESCO,” Nauert con­tin­ued. “Does that make any sense to you?”

Re­form within the or­ga­ni­za­tion, she said, might cause the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to re­visit their de­ci­sion.

Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials, such as UN Am­bas­sador Nikki Ha­ley, have warned for weeks that pulling out would be a pos­si­bil­ity if the body fails to re­form.

The US de­ci­sion comes as Qatar’s Ha­mad bin Ab­du­laziz al-Kawari, who has been ac­cused of an­tisemitism by Jewish and Is­raeli groups, may be poised to be­come the next UNESCO di­rec­tor-gen­eral.

Kawari has been the lead can­di­date in four rounds of se­cret bal­lot vot­ing. On Thurs­day he re­ceived 22 of the 30 votes needed to re­place out­go­ing di­rec­tor-gen­eral Irina Bokova. French-Jewish diplo­mat Au­drey Azoulay and Egyp­tian hu­man rights ad­vo­cate Moushira Khat­tab are tied for sec­ond place with 18 votes. A spe­cial se­cret bal­lot vote will be held on Fri­day af­ter­noon to break the dead­lock be­tween the two women.

Diplo­matic sources spec­u­lated that news of the US with­drawal, which has been in the works for weeks, could strengthen the stand­ing of the two al­ter­na­tive can­di­dates and weaken Kawari’s cam­paign.

One diplo­matic source ex­plained the rather pe­cu­liar word­ing of the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice state­ment, that the premier had di­rected the For­eign Min­istry to pre­pare for the with­drawal from the or­ga­ni­za­tion in par­al­lel with the US, as a way to re­tain some wig­gle room in case a new leader will change the di­rec­tion of UNESCO and the US will de­cide to re­main a full mem­ber.

The source em­pha­sized that the US de­ci­sion does not come into ef­fect un­til the end of De­cem­ber 2018, leav­ing am­ple time for the or­ga­ni­za­tion to change di­rec­tion.

Kawari’s ini­tial suc­cess in the di­rec­tor-gen­eral race is just the lat­est in a long list of Is­raeli con­cerns with re­gard to UNESCO.

UNESCO’s Ex­ec­u­tive Board in 2016 passed two res­o­lu­tions ig­nor­ing Jewish ties to the Tem­ple Mount and one in 2017 that dis­avowed Is­rael’s sovereignty in Jerusalem.

Over the sum­mer, UNESCO’s World Her­itage Com­mit­tee de­clared the Cave of the Pa­tri­archs and He­bron’s Old City as en­dan­gered Pales­tinian sites.

Ne­tanyahu blasted UNESCO dur­ing his speech to the UN Gen­eral Assem­bly last month, hold­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion up as an ex­am­ple of the ab­sur­di­ties at the UN when it comes to Is­rael. Dur­ing that speech, Ne­tanyahu de­clared that the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s de­ci­sion to de­clare the Tomb of the Pa­tri­archs a Pales­tinian World Her­itage Site was “worse than fake news, that’s fake his­tory.”

In 2011, UNESCO be­came the first United Na­tions body to rec­og­nize Pales­tine as a mem­ber state. To protest the vote, both Is­rael and the US stopped their fund­ing to the or­ga­ni­za­tion and in 2014 lost their vot­ing rights.

But the US and Is­rael still re­tain other priv­i­leges as mem­ber states, which they will lose should they leave the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

In an un­usual move on Wed­nes­day, the 58-mem­ber Ex­ec­u­tive Board agreed to de­lay by half a year two anti-Is­rael res­o­lu­tions. Typ­i­cally it passes such texts at its bian­nual meet­ings.

Is­rael’s am­bas­sador to UNESCO in Paris, Carmel Shama-Ha­co­hen, told the board he hoped that the de­lay was part of a “wind of change” to­ward Is­rael and was not tied to the race for di­rec­tor-gen­eral.

“We also hope that this change is a not a re­sult of a tac­ti­cal ma­neu­ver in­flu­enced by the cam­paign of a fu­ture di­rec­tor-gen­eral, but [that it is] a change that will end the anti-Is­raeli rit­u­als that this com­mit­tee is used to, a change that will end the politi­ciza­tion that harm this or­ga­ni­za­tion.” •

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