U.S. plans to with­draw from UNESCO

Of­fi­cials cite fund­ing, anti-is­rael bias in leav­ing cul­tural or­ga­ni­za­tion

The Dallas Morning News - - Nation&world - Eli Rosen­berg, The Wash­ing­ton Post

The United States plans to with­draw from UNESCO, cit­ing fi­nan­cial rea­sons as well as what it said was anti-is­rael bias at the United Na­tions’ Ed­u­ca­tional, Sci­ence and Cul­tural Or­ga­ni­za­tion.

UNESCO was no­ti­fied Thurs­day morn­ing of the U.S. in­ten­tion to with­draw at the end of 2018. The State Depart­ment said the United States would like to re­main in­volved as a non­mem­ber ob­server state.

The with­drawal means the U.S. will halt the ar­rears it has run-up since it stopped fund­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion in 2011 to protest the ad­mis­sion of the Pales­tinian Author­ity as a full mem­ber. By the end of this cal­en­dar year, the un­paid U.S. bill will amount to $550 mil­lion. With no sign that U.S. con­cerns would be ad­dressed, Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son de­cided to pull out.

State Depart­ment of­fi­cials said they hope the with­drawal will help push UNESCO to make changes that would sat­isfy Wash­ing­ton so the U.S. can re­sume full mem­ber­ship. Though it will not be able to par­tic­i­pate in vot­ing, as an ob­server the U.S. will re­main part of dis­cus­sions on cul­ture, ed­u­ca­tion, sci­ence and com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

“It sends a strong mes­sage that we need to see fun­da­men­tal re­form in the or­ga­ni­za­tion, and it raises ev­ery­one’s aware­ness about con­tin­ued anti-is­rael bias,” a State Depart­ment of­fi­cial said, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity.

Last straw

The United States helped found UNESCO but has been at odds with the or­ga­ni­za­tion in re­cent years. State Depart­ment of­fi­cials cited a 2012 de­ci­sion not to ex­pel Syria from its hu­man rights com­mit­tee af­ter the civil war in that coun­try be­gan, and re­peated res­o­lu­tions that re­fer to Is­rael as an oc­cu­py­ing power.

Nikki Ha­ley, the U.S. am­bas­sador to the U.N., said the last straw was when UNESCO des­ig­nated the old city of He­bron in the West Bank, with its Tomb of the Pa­tri­archs, a Pales­tinian World Her­itage site. Call­ing UNESCO’S politi­ciza­tion a “chronic em­bar­rass­ment,” Ha­ley added, “U.S. tax­pay­ers should no longer be on the hook to pay for poli­cies that are hos­tile to our val­ues and make a mock­ery of jus­tice and com­mon sense.”

Ha­ley said the United States will eval­u­ate all U.N. agen­cies “through the same lens.”

Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu called the de­ci­sion to leave UNESCO “brave” and “moral.” He said he had in­structed the Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs to pre­pare for Is­rael’s with­drawal as well.

“UNESCO has be­come a the­ater of the ab­surd be­cause, in­stead of pre­serv­ing his­tory, it dis­torts it,” he said in a state­ment.

‘Pro­found re­gret’

Irina Bokova, di­rec­tor-gen­eral of UNESCO, ex­pressed “pro­found re­gret” af­ter the State Depart­ment an­nounced its de­ci­sion.

“At the time when the fight against vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism calls for re­newed in­vest­ment in ed­u­ca­tion, in di­a­logue among cul­tures to pre­vent ha­tred, it is deeply re­gret­table that the United States should with­draw from the United Na­tions lead­ing th­ese is­sues,” she said in a state­ment.

“This is a loss to UNESCO,” she added. “This is a loss to the United Na­tion fam­ily. This is a loss for mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism.”

The with­drawal de­ci­sion comes as UNESCO mem­bers are vot­ing on a re­place­ment for Bokova. Qatar’s Ha­mad bin Ab­du­laziz al-kawari is lead­ing France’s Au­drey Azoulay and Egypt’s Moushira Khat­tab in the first vot­ing rounds.

Is­raeli of­fi­cials and U.S. Jewish groups have ex­pressed con­cerns about al-kawari for what they have said is a record of fos­ter­ing anti-semitism.

UNESCO was es­tab­lished af­ter World War II to help pro­mote global co­op­er­a­tion around the flow of ideas, cul­ture and in­for­ma­tion. UNESCO’S mis­sion in­cludes pro­grams to im­prove ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion, pre­serve cul­tural her­itage, im­prove gen­der equal­ity and pro­mote sci­en­tific ad­vances and free­dom of ex­pres­sion.

It is per­haps best known for the World Her­itage pro­gram, which helps main­tain ma­jor cul­tural sites around the globe.

The U.S. pulled out of the or­ga­ni­za­tion in 1984 for what was de­scribed as pro-soviet Union bias, then re­joined in 2002 as part of an ef­fort by the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion to em­pha­size a mes­sage of in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion.

“Amer­ica will par­tic­i­pate fully in its mis­sion to ad­vance hu­man rights, tol­er­ance and learn­ing,” Bush said at the time.

Ten­sions have re­turned in re­cent years. Is­rael re­called its am­bas­sador to the Paris-based or­ga­ni­za­tion last year af­ter some gov­ern­ments sup­ported a res­o­lu­tion that de­nounced Is­rael’s poli­cies on re­li­gious sites in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.


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