The United States and Israel announced on Thursday they were withdrawing from The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) amid U.S. claims the organization is biased against Israel, putting the future of the organization in doubt.
“This 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,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.
UNESCO has passed multiple resolutions negating any Jewish connection to religious sites in Israel. In 2016, UNESCO passed a resolution declaring the Temple Mount “a Muslim site of worship”, while labeling Israel an “occupying power”. UNESCO recently designated the Cave of the Patriarchs and the city of Hebron as Palestinian Heritage site.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was highly supportive of the decision by the U.S. and announced on Thursday night that Israel will also be withdrawing from UNESCO.
“This is a brave and moral decision because UNESCO has become a theatre of absurd. Instead of preserving history, it distorts it.”
UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova expressed her disappointment in the U.S. decision.
“At the 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,” she said. “This is a loss to the United Nations family. This is a loss for multilateralism.”
“Today is a new day at the U.N. when there is a price to pay for discrimination against Israel,” Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon said.
The price is indeed steep. In accordance with an amendment mandating a complete cutoff of American financing to any United Nations agency that accepts Palestine as a full member, the U.S. began withholding its funding for UNESCO in 2011. American funds account for $70 million annually, about 20 percent of the organization’s budget. This was in protest to UNESCO admitting Palestine as a full member. Washington’s arrears on its $80 million annual dues are now over $500 million. The organization is struggling financially and this recent development puts its future in question.
Under UNESCO rules, the U.S. withdrawal will take effect in December 2018.
UNESCO has been in the process of selecting a new head and after four days of secret balloting, Qatar’s Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari qualified for the Friday runoff. Qatar is a small oil-rich nation that has been accused of sponsoring terrorism and allowing terror financiers to operate within its borders.