UN Cultural Agency Halts US Voting Rights Israel's voting rights also suspended over failure to pay dues By Matt Cantor, Newser User Posted Nov 8, 2013 5:05 PM CST 35 comments Comments The Palestinian Ambassador to UNESCO, Elias Sanbar, left, checks his tablet during a session of the UNESCO General Conference, in Paris Friday, Nov. 8, 2013. (AP Photo/Jacques Brinon) (Newser) – The US failure to pay its dues has cost Washington its voting rights with the UN's Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. The US and Israel stopped paying in 2011, after Palestine was allowed to join the agency; any country that stops paying for two years loses its right to vote, the New York Times reports. "This is not some kind of punishment on behalf of UNESCO for nonpayment. It’s just our rules," says director-general Irina Bokova. The US has never before willingly lost its vote in such an organization, diplomats tell the Times. For UNESCO, the loss of US dues meant missing out on $80 million a year, or a fifth of the agency's funding, the BBC notes. "We’ve lost our biggest contributor; this has a bearing on all our programs," Bokova says. UNESCO deals with issues ranging from freedom of expression to girls' education to the protection of World Heritage sites. In the 1990s, Congress passed measures cutting US funding to any UN agency in the event of full Palestinian membership; the Obama administration was unable to change the legislation, the Times notes.