United States Abandons UNESCO
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.