US Withdraws from UNESCO
By admin October 13, 2017

On Thursday the Trump Administration announced that it will withdraw from UNESCO, the United Nations Cultural Organization. The announcement comes after years of the US distancing itself on the basis of “anti-Israel” bias. The administration also cited mounting arrears as an additional reason for the decision. According to the spokeswoman for the State Department the arrears owed were in the amount of $550 million USD. Despite choosing to withdraw, the administration said that it wanted to continue to provide perspective to UNESCO, but as a non-member.

The US withdrawal with not formally take place until the end of 2018 and the decision will be revisited. UNESCO is an organization that enables global development initiatives with a mission on promoting literacy, clean water and equality for woman among other things. The US said it would consider rejoining the organization if it committed to returning to promoting culture and education.

Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s director-general, responded with a lengthy statement in which she expressed deep regret at America’s choice to leave the organization. Ms. Bokova also reported telling congress that payment of the arrears was not an immediate concern but the US’s commitment to stay was vital to protecting American interests abroad and therefore should not be compromised. The organization is critical to American interests and initiatives as UNESCO is working to combat violent extremism as well as lead efforts to increase literacy through programs in Afghanistan, an area relevant to US policy. The organization is currently in the process of elections to replace Irina Bokova, as director-general.

The move to leave the organization on the bias of anti-Israel sentiment is not inconsistent with prior action taken by the US in regards to issues involving the topic of Israel. In 2011 the US pulled funding from UNESCO which at that point was a considerable 22 percent of their total budget. The move was justified by UNESCO’s violation of an amendment mandating the discontinuation of American funds to any UN agency that accepted Palestine as a member. Owing to two years of non-payment the US lost it’s vote in UNESCO in 2013. President Obama attempted to overturn amendment which restricts US funding to any UN organization that legitimizes Palestine but failed to do so by a narrow margin. The US also withdrew from the agency in 1984, also due to the organization being overly critical of Israel. In July of this year UNESCO declared the core of Hebron, a Palestinian world heritage site, in danger. The area is highly contested and the move garnered criticism from Israel and its allies. In 2015 UNESCO also criticized Israel for their mishandling of heritage sights.

Analysts say the US’s move to leave a UN affiliated organization is a further escalation of tension between the US and United Nations bodies, which the US has been particularly critical of. Trump has criticized the UN bodies repeatedly for anti-Israel sentiment and has made the global defense of Israel one of the key tenets of his administration’s foreign policy. Netanyahu the Israeli prime minster commended the US move to leave UNESCO, claiming the organization was a theater for the absurd. Bokova said that now more than ever the US must continue internationally coordinated efforts for peace. It is possible that the US will decide not to leave in December but the US’s action indicate growing tension.


Further Reading:

U.S. Will Withdraw From Unesco, Citing Its ‘Anti-Israel Bias’

U.S. withdraws from UNESCO, the U.N.’s cultural organization, citing anti-Israel bias

US withdraws from UNESCO over ‘anti-Israel bias’

US and Israel withdraw from UNESCO


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