U.S. to leave UNESCO, citing ‘anti-Israel bias’
WASHINGTON – The Trump administration announced Thursday that it would withdraw from UNESCO, the U.N. cultural organization, after years of the United States distancing itself because of what it called the group’s “antiIsrael bias.”
“This decision was not taken lightly,” according to a State Department statement Thursday. In addition to anti-Israel bias, the department cited “the need for fundamental reform” and “mounting arrears” at the organization.
While the United States withdrew from the group, President Trump’s administration said it wanted to continue providing U.S. perspective and expertise to UNESCO, but as a nonmember observer. The withdrawal goes into effect at the end of 2018.
UNESCO, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization popularly known for its designation of world heritage sites, is a global development agency with missions that include promoting sex education, literacy, clean water and equality for women.
In a lengthy written statement, Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s director-general, expressed regret at the U.S. withdrawal and said that the American people shared the organization’s goals.
“Universality is critical to UNESCO’s mission to strengthen international peace and security in the face of hatred and violence, to defend human rights and dignity,” she wrote.
In 2011, the United States stopped funding UNESCO due to what was then a forgotten, 15-year-old amendment mandating a complete cutoff of U.S. financing to any U.N. agency that accepts Palestine as a full member. Various efforts by President Barack Obama to overturn the legal restriction narrowly failed in Congress, and the United States lost its vote at the organization after two years of nonpayment, in 2013. UNESCO was dependent on the United States for 22 percent of its budget, then about $70 million a year.
Since 2011, U.S. arrears to the organization have reached about $600 million, Bokova said, but she had told members of Congress repeatedly that immediate payment was not an issue, only U.S. political re-engagement in the organization, which she believes serves many U.S. interests abroad.
Bokova, in a telephone interview, said she “thought the decision was coming but why now, I don’t know, in the midst of elections” for a new director to replace her. “It’s very weird that it’s today,” she said. “It’s very, very regrettable.”
Analysts said that actually withdrawing from the organization was a significant escalation by the United States in its criticism of U.N. bodies.
“This is another example of the Trump’s administration’s profound ambivalence and concern about the way the U.N. is structured and behaves, and it shows the administration’s determination to separate itself from its predecessors,” said Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East negotiator and adviser in Republican and Democratic administrations.