The United States and Israel announced later last week that they were withdrawing from the UN’s culture and education body UNESCO. Washington’s decision underlined the new US policy of withdrawing from international institutions and cited “anti-Israel bias” and mounting arrears. “We were in arrears to the tune of $550 million or so, and so the question is, do we want to pay that money?” Heather Nauert, a spokeswoman for the State Department, said and added that “with this anti-Israel bias that’s long documented on the part of UNESCO, that needs to come to an end.”
The Trump administration said that it nevertheless wanted to keep providing American perspective to the organization but as a non-member state. The withdrawal goes into effect at the end of next year, but that decision could be revisited, Ms. Nauert said. If UNESCO returns “to a place where they’re truly promoting culture and education on all of that, perhaps we could take another look at this,” she added.
Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s Director General, said she deeply regretted the US decision 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. Ms. Bokova also called the withdrawal a “loss of multilateralism” while UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres also said he regretted this decision deeply.
“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,” Ms. Bokova said. UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – is a global development agency with a variety of missions including women’s rights, sex education, literacy, and clean water. Popularly, it is known for its designation of World Heritage sites.