US and Israel Both Withdraw from UNESCO on the Same Day

The U.S. Department of State announced today its withdrawal from UNESCO. In the brief statement issued from the State Department, they indicated the “decision was not taken lightly, and reflects U.S. concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO.”

While it may seem surprising that a government agency would take a non-politically correct stand of any sort, tensions have been mounting between the U.S. and UNESCO for some time. The U.S. halted payments to the organization back in 2011 following UNESCO’s decision to admit the Palestinian Authority as a member and is in arrears $550 million.

Additionally, in 2012, UNESCO chose not to boot Syria from its human rights committee despite the ongoing civil war in that nation and also referred to Israel as an occupying power in multiple resolutions.

The charge of anti-Israel bias has been a longstanding one but reached new heights this summer when UNESCO named the old city of Hebron in the West Bank a Palestinian world heritage site.

This is not the first time the U.S. has withdrawn from UNESCO. In 1984 Ronald Reagan pulled out, citing a pro-Soviet Union bias, and it was only in 2002 under George W. Bush that we rejoined.

Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley noted, “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.”

She further warned, “The United States will continue to evaluate all agencies within the United Nations system through the same lens,” and indicated in a recent speech that the U.S. may also withdraw from the U.N. Human Rights Council.

The State Department is not indicating that this move is a permanent one. In fact, they are hoping this will nudge UNESCO in the direction that would allow the U.S. to resume its membership in the organization.

The U.S. will still be able to participate in discussions UNESCO has on relevant topics, although it will not be allowed to vote.

Following the U.S. withdrawal, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said in a statement, “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 added, noting that UNESCO would continue “to build a 21st century that is more just, peaceful, equitable”.

Having nations such as Syria on their human rights committee and being so intent on passing anti-Israel resolutions does leave one to wonder what UNESCO’s definition of “just, peaceful,” and “equitable” is.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the U.S. decision to leave “brave” and “moral.”

He added,“UNESCO has become a theater of the absurd because, instead of preserving history, it distorts it.”

Since issuing that statement, Israel has also withdrawn its membership.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was formed after World War II with the help of the U.S. with the intent to advance information, ideas, and culture globally.

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Heidi Munson

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