US quits UNESCO, citing anti-Israel bias
The United States will withdraw from UNESCO — the United Nations Educational, Scientific Cultural Organization — at the end of next year, the State Department said Thursday, in order to stop accumulating up paid dues and make a stand on what it said is antiIsrael bias at the U.N.’s educational, science and cultural organization.
In notifying UNESCO of the decision Thursday morning, the State Department said it would like to remain involved as a nonmember observer state. That will allow to United States to remain engaged in debates and activities, though it will lose its right to vote on issues.
The withdrawal of the United States, a founding member of the organization after World War II, deals a symbolic blow. But it does not necessarily foreshadow a further retrenchment of U. S. engagement with the United Nations, which the Trump administration has been pushing to bring about strutural and financial reforms.
“This is pragmatic, not a grander political signal,” said John McArthur, a fellow in the Global Economy and Development program at the Brookings Institution and an adviser to the UN Foundation.
The most immediate impact is that the U.S. will halt the arrears it has run up since it stopped funding the organization in 2011 to protest admitting Palestine 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 after Dec. 31, 2017, when the unpaid balance will top $600 million.
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.
“It sends a strong message thatwe need to see fundamental reform in the organization, and it raises everyone’s awareness about continued anti-Israel bias,” said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity under department rules.
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 this summer 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, “Just as we said in 1984 when President Reagan withdrew from UNESCO, 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.” Other Israeli officials, from both left and right, also praised the decision. Netanyahu said he had instructed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to prepare for Israel’s withdrawal.
Irina Bokova, directorgeneral of UNESCO, ex- pressed “profound regret” over the decision.
UNESCO is perhaps best known for the World Heritage program, which helps maintain major cultural sites around the globe. But it runs a wide range of international programs. It trains Afghan police officers how to read and write, and is the only U.N. agency that has a program to teach the history of the Holocaust.
The withdrawal decision comes as UNESCO members are voting on a replacement for Bokova. Qatar’s Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari — opposed by Israeli officials and American groups — is leading France’s Audrey Azoulay and Egyptian hopeful Moushira Khattab in the first voting rounds.