US to withdraw from UNESCO over “anti-Israel bias”

World Today

The United States said it will withdraw from UNESCO. Beginning in 2019, Washington said it will serve only as an Observer State.

U.S. officials said an “anti-Israel bias” within the cultural agency is the reason for the decision.

CGTN’s Liling Tan reports.

This is the latest international kerfuffle — the U.S. wants out of the UN’s Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and it’s blaming the agency’s debt, the need for reform, and an anti-Israel bias.

“Unfortunately, this venue has become politicized, undermining the work of UNESCO across its mandate,” said Chris Hegadorn, the U.S. representative to UNESCO. “It’s become a venue for anti-Israel bias, and unfortunately we are taking the decision to withdraw from UNESCO at this time.”

UNESCO’s outgoing Director General Irina Bokova tweeted that she deeply regrets the U.S. decision.

“At a time when conflicts continue to tear apart societies across the world, it is deeply regrettable for the United States to withdraw from the United Nations agency promoting education for peace and protecting culture under attack,” said Farhan Haq, UN spokesperson.

UNESCO is well known for designating World Heritage sites such as the ancient ruins of Palmyra in Syria, the Grand Canyon National Park in the US, and the Imperial Palaces of the Ming and Qing Dynasties in China.

At the heart of the alleged politicization and anti-Israel bias is a UNESCO decision in July that appears to have been the last straw, when member states voted to designate two disputed holy sites in the West Bank – the Old City of Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs – as part of Palestinian territory, despite protests by the U.S. and Israel.

“Now, the proper thing in my view for UNESCO to do was designate them a world heritage sites as is their normal practice, without designating whose sites they were, and so they did step into this,” said Jonathan Cristol, a Fellow at the World Policy Institute. “Now the US, by withdrawing, doesn’t actually solve that problem. It probably makes that worse.”

The U.S. provides a fifth of UNESCO’s funding. But Washington actually stopped paying the agency after it voted to include Palestine as a member state in 2011. So the U.S. is itself also in arrears by about $550 million dollars in back payments. But who stands to lose the most from this  Not just UNESCO.

“So this certainly hurts UNESCO, and I think it hurts the United States because we will lose the influence that we would have that comes with having a seat at the table,” said Cristol.

Following the U.S. decision to withdraw, Israel has also said it will quit UNESCO.