The United States announced Thursday that it is withdrawing from the United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), citing financial considerations, the need for reform and the organization’s “continuing anti-Israel bias.”
In a statement, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said that the decision was “not taken lightly and reflects US concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform within the organization and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO.”
Nauert said Washington would establish an “observer mission” to replace its representation at the Paris-based agency.
The withdrawal will take effect on December 31, 2018.
The head of UNESCO Irina Bokova voiced “profound regret” over the decision, which she called a “loss to multilateralism.”
Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, said UNESCO has become a forum for Israel-bashing and had forgotten its original purpose. It was now “paying the price” for the “shameful” decisions it has adopted against Israel, he said, citing “a new era” dawning at the UN in which “anti-Israel discrimination” has consequences.
According to a Foreign Policy magazine report on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made the decision to withdraw several weeks ago at the UN General Assembly, but the State Department urged Washington to remain in the organization until a new director-general is voted in the coming weeks.
The US pulled out of UNESCO in the 1980s because Washington viewed it as mismanaged and used for political reasons, then rejoined it in 2003.
The current head of UNESCO, Irina Bukova, is in fact quite neutral and even fair-minded when it comes to Israel. The trouble is that the votes don’t necessarily follow her moderate way of thinking, and the automatic Arab and Muslim anti-Israel majority always outvote both Israel and the US with more and more absurd resolutions, like denying any Jewish connection to Jerusalem or calling Hebron a Palestinian heritage site. Therefore even if the new chief is also neutral on the issue of Israel, there does not seem to be any likelihood of major change in UNESCO’s automatic anti-Israel direction.
You will probably be surprised – I know I was – to learn that UNESCO passed more anti-Israel resolutions than the Human Rights Council! Hillel Neuer tweeted:
After the United States’ UNESCO bombshell, US Ambassador Nikki Haley warned the UN that its other agencies will also come under scrutiny:
In a statement later Thursday, Ambassador Haley recalled that, “In July, when UNESCO made its latest outrageous and politically based decision, designating the Old City of Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs as part of Palestinian territory, the United States clearly stated that this decision would negatively affect our evaluation of our level of engagement with the organization.” Thursday’s decision to withdraw from UNESCO, she indicated, represented the result of that evaluation.Furthermore, she warned, “The United States will continue to evaluate all agencies within the United Nations system through the same lens.”
Haley added that, “The purpose of UNESCO is a good one. Unfortunately, its extreme politicization has become a chronic embarrassment. The Tomb of the Patriarchs decision was just the latest in a long line of foolish actions, which includes keeping Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad on a UNESCO human rights committee even after his murderous crackdown on peaceful protestors. Just as we said in 1984 when President Reagan withdrew from UNESCO, US 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.”
In June, ahead of a trip to Israel, Haley said the US could withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council unless it carried out reforms, including by removing its built-in procedural mechanism to bash Israel.
Haley said the Council’s “relentless, pathological campaign” against a state with a strong human rights record “makes a mockery not of Israel, but of the Council itself.”
In a speech to the Graduate Institute of Geneva, Haley said that if the Human Rights Council failed to make the required changes, the US would consider quitting the body and looking for ways to promote human rights in different frameworks.
The Council, she said, needs to abolish the infamous Agenda Item 7 (“the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories”), which singles out Israel for perpetual censure. “There is no legitimate human rights reason for this agenda item to exist,” Haley said. “It is the central flaw that turns the Human Rights Council from an organization that can be a force for universal good, into an organization that is overwhelmed by a political agenda.”
“The Council is no more justified in having a separate agenda item on Israel than it is on having one for the United States, or Canada, or France, or the United Kingdom. More appropriate would be to have an agenda item on North Korea, Iran, and Syria, the world’s leading violators of human rights,” she said.
“These changes are the minimum necessary to resuscitate the Council as a respected advocate of universal human rights,” she went on. The US “will not sit quietly while this body, supposedly dedicated to human rights, continues to damage the cause of human rights,” she warned.
Since the Human Rights Council was created, it has passed more than 70 resolutions criticizing Israel but only seven on Iran, Haley said. “This relentless, pathological campaign against a country that actually has a strong human rights record makes a mockery not of Israel, but of the Council itself.”
In that same speech in June, Haley also slammed the effort to create a blacklist of Israel companies that operate in the settlements.
Ambassador Haley should be applauded for her strong stance against the hypocrisy and bias inherent in all UN institutions by virtue of the one-country one-vote system, whereby the multitudes of dictatorships and tyrannies vastly outnumber Israel, the US and other civilized democracies.
As soon as the Trump Administration announced its intention of leaving UNESCO, Israel promptly followed suit, announcing its own plans to withdraw:
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced Thursday night that Israel will be exiting the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) over the organization’s anti-Israeli bias, following a similar announcement by the Trump administration.
UNESCO’s board is set to meet next week and had announced that the anti-Israel resolutions it had intended to bring to a vote would be postponed for six months. This is seen by sources as a possbile attempt to stave off the actions of the US and Israel.
Netanyahu’s statement came just hours after the US State Department declared that the US would be leaving UNESCO by 2019 due to its anti-Israel bias.
The leading contender for the post of head of UNESCO is a Qatari delegate. The Simon Wiesenthal Center protested the choice, writing that candidate Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari has repeatedly endorsed anti-Semitic works and denied Jewish connection to Jerusalem.
The Prime Minister’s Office revealed that Netanyahu had already called on his country’s diplomats to prepare for Israel’s departure from UNESCO.
“The Prime Minister instructed the Foreign Ministry to prepare Israel’s withdrawal from the organization alongside the United States,” the statement by the Prime Minister’s Office read.
Netanyahu added that he “welcomes the decision by President Trump to withdraw from UNESCO. This is a courageous and moral decision because UNESCO has become the theater of the absurd and because instead of preserving history it distorts it.”
Netanyahu’s decision was bolstered by Israel’s Ambassador to UNESCO, Carmel Shama-Hacohen:
Earlier Thursday, Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO, Carmel Shama-Hacohen, said his personal recommendation to Netanyahu would be to “immediately withdraw” from the organization.Shama-Hacohen said that in recent years UNESCO has become “an absurd organization that has lost its way in favor of the political considerations of certain countries” and that his “personal recommendation to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to follow suit and immediately withdraw [from UNESCO].”
In my opinion it would have been better if Israel had been the first to withdraw from UNESCO, rather than following the US like a junior partner. Although it is understandable that Israel was concerned about the diplomatic backlash it might have faced, by following the US so closely it makes Israel appear as a vassal state of the US rather than a sovereign independent-minded country.
Nevertheless, the decision to withdraw from UNESCO by both countries is an excellent position and has been a long time, maybe too long, in coming. Now let’s see how long it takes us to withdraw from the Human
Rights Wrongs Council.