U.S. to Withdraw From UNESCO Because of ‘Anti-Israel Bias’

The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization headquarters in Paris. The State Department cited “the need for fundamental reform” at Unesco as among the reasons the United States was withdrawing.
Francois Mori/Associated Press

The Trump administration announced on Thursday that it would withdraw from Unesco, the United Nations cultural organization, after years of America distancing itself because of what it called the group’s “anti-Israel bias.”

“This decision was not taken lightly,” according to a State Department statement on Thursday. In addition to anti-Israel bias, the department cited “the need for fundamental reform” and “mounting arrears” at the organization.

While the United States withdrew from the group, the Trump administration said it wanted to continue providing American perspective and expertise to Unesco, but as a nonmember observer. The withdrawal goes into effect at the end of 2018.

Unesco, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization popularly known for its designation of world heritage sites, is a global development agency with missions that include promoting sex education, literacy, clean water and equality for women.

In a lengthy written statement, Irina Bokova, Unesco’s director-general, expressed regret at the American withdrawal and said that the American people shared the organization’s goals.

“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 wrote.

In 2011, the United States stopped funding Unesco due to what was then a forgotten, 15-year-old amendment mandating a complete cutoff of American financing to any United Nations agency that accepts Palestine as a full member. Various efforts by President Barack Obama to overturn the legal restriction narrowly failed in Congress, and the United States lost its vote at the organization after two years of nonpayment, in 2013. Unesco was dependent on the United States for 22 percent of its budget, then about $70 million a year.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Gardiner Harris and Steven Erlanger