United States Aban­dons UNESCO

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The United States has an­nounced that it will be leav­ing UNESCO, the cul­tural body of the United Na­tions, ef­fec­tive De­cem­ber 31.

On Oc­to­ber 12, the United States an­nounced it is pulling out of UNESCO after 72 years. In a state­ment about the move, re­leased on Oc­to­ber 12, the State Depart­ment said, “This de­ci­sion was not taken lightly and re­flects U.S. con­cerns about the mount­ing ar­rears at UNESCO, the need for fun­da­men­tal re­form in the or­ga­ni­za­tion and the con­tin­u­ing anti-is­rael bias at UNESCO.”

UNESCO (United Na­tions Ed­u­ca­tional, Sci­en­tific and Cul­tural Or­ga­ni­za­tion) has the char­ter of co­or­di­nat­ing in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion on ed­u­ca­tion, sci­ence, cul­ture and com­mu­ni­ca­tion. It was de­signed to func­tion as a means of bring­ing coun­tries to­gether so that “each child and cit­i­zen … has ac­cess to qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion ..., may grow and live in a cul­tural en­vi­ron­ment rich in di­ver­sity and di­a­logue, where her­itage serves as a bridge be­tween gen­er­a­tions and peo­ples, can fully ben­e­fit from sci­en­tific ad­vances and can en­joy full free­dom of ex­pres­sion, the ba­sis of democ­racy, de­vel­op­ment and hu­man dig­nity.”

The U.S. role in UNESCO goes back to its orig­i­nal for­ma­tion in 1945, with famed au­thor Archibald Ma­cleish, the first U.S. mem­ber of UNESCO’S gov­ern­ing board, cred­ited with writ­ing the pream­ble to its 1945 con­sti­tu­tion. That con­sti­tu­tion in­cluded the fa­mous first line “Since wars be­gin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the de­fenses of peace must be con­structed.”

The with­drawal from UNESCO is per­haps a sym­bol of the United States’ cur­rent ap­proach to con­fronting is­sues on an Amer­ica-first ba­sis rather than us­ing multi­na­tional means of re­solv­ing them. That is­sue was high­lighted by UNESCO Di­rec­tor Gen­eral Irina Bokova when she is­sued her state­ment say­ing the U.S. de­ci­sion is “a loss for mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism and the UN fam­ily.” In her for­mal state­ment on the mat­ter, Bokova said, “At a 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 agency lead­ing th­ese is­sues.”

That this might hap­pen has been tele­graphed for some time by past events. When UNESCO made the de­ci­sion to admit the Pales­tinian Author­ity as a mem­ber in 2011, the United States halted its fund­ing of the or­ga­ni­za­tion. Is­rael has also made state­ments dur­ing pre­vi­ous years about in­creas­ing anti-is­rael stances be­ing taken by UNESCO and ap­par­ently lob­bied hard with its col­leagues in Wash­ing­ton to take a hard line against the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

The tim­ing of the an­nounce­ment by the United States to walk out on UNESCO may have also been co­or­di­nated with Is­rael. Only a few hours after the Amer­i­can an­nounce­ment to pull out, Is­rael said it was leav­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion as well. In ex­it­ing UNESCO, Is­rael’s Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu praised the United States for its move. “This is a brave and moral de­ci­sion, be­cause UNESCO has be­come a theater of ab­surd. In­stead of pre­serv­ing his­tory, it dis­torts it.”

As­sum­ing there will be no re­ver­sal of the de­ci­sion, the State Depart­ment said that start­ing Jan­uary 1, the United States’ role in UNESCO will be solely “as a non-mem­ber ob­server state in or­der to con­trib­ute U.S. views, per­spec­tives and ex­per­tise.”

The jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for with­draw­ing from UNESCO given by the State Depart­ment is only par­tially true.

The United States owes UNESCO more than $500 mil­lion dol­lars, which it has no in­ten­tion of pay­ing. Fund­ing UNESCO does noth­ing to en­rich or em­power Amer­ica’s oli­garchs, and the UNESCO mis­sion runs counter to the oli­garchs’ agenda.

There has in­deed been a need for re­form within UNESCO, and much of its ex­pen­di­tures in pre­vi­ous years have not been trans­par­ent. How­ever, the or­ga­ni­za­tion has been re­form­ing and is now vastly more trans­par­ent. Lack of re­form is no longer a rea­son to leave.

UNESCO doesn’t re­ally have a bias against Is­rael; it is just not in­flu­enced by Is­rael and does not support Is­rael’s crimes. Is­rael is in­fu­ri­ated that UNESCO stands up to it and sup­ports the ba­sic hu­man rights of the Pales­tini­ans.

From a prag­matic per­spec­tive, the United States should no longer be a mem­ber of UNESCO. It is no longer a mem­ber of the com­mu­nity of na­tions, does not support the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s mis­sion and would only in­flu­ence it in neg­a­tive ways. Many feel that the United States should not even have sta­tus as a non­mem­ber ob­server state.

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