Why the US Is Withdrawing From UNESCO

State Department sees anti-Israel bias, also wants to keep back-dues bill from mounting
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 12, 2017 8:39 AM CDT
Updated Oct 12, 2017 11:31 AM CDT
US Withdrawing From UNESCO Over Israel
The UNESCO logo is pictured on the entrance at UNESCO's headquarters in Paris.   (AP Photo/Francois Mori, File)

The US has long had dicey relations with the UN cultural organization UNESCO, and those relations have just taken another sour turn. The State Department announced Thursday that the US is pulling out of the organization at the end of next year, citing what it sees as an anti-Israel bias, concern over America's mounting back dues, and the "need for fundamental reform," reports the Hill. Though it won't be a full member, the US will maintain a lesser role with "observer" status. Details:

  • Not the first time: Ronald Reagan severed ties with UNESCO in 1984, accusing the group of having a pro-Soviet bias and of being plagued with corruption, notes Foreign Policy. George W. Bush reinstated ties in 2002, saying the organization had made the necessary reforms and corrected an anti-Israel bias.

  • About Israel: The US stopped paying $80 million in annual dues in 2011 after UNESCO accepted Palestine as a member. And this summer, UNESCO recognized the old city of Hebron in the West Bank as a Palestinian World Heritage Site over the objections of the US and Israel. Those unpaid dues, meanwhile, now add up to about $550 million in back payments, reports the AP, and the US wants to stop the amount from growing.
  • UNESCO mission: The organization, formed after WWII and based in Paris, is perhaps best known for the aforementioned World Heritage operation, which designates cultural sites worthy of preservation. (The Statue of Liberty and the Grand Canyon are among them.) Beyond that, the broad mission is in the name: the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. One example is improving girls' access to education. The group has 195 member nations and is currently in the process of picking a new leader, per the Washington Post.
  • Trump pattern? Reuters sees the move as in line with the Trump administration's embrace of "America First" and its corresponding disdain of engaging with international bodies. It cites the disavowal of the TPP trade deal and the Paris climate accord, as well as the potential ditching of NAFTA.
  • 'Profound regret': UNESCO chief Irina Bokova voiced "profound regret" at the decision in a statement. "At the time when the fight against violent extremism calls for renewed investment in education, in dialogue among cultures to prevent hatred, it is deeply regrettable that the United States should withdraw from the United Nations agency leading these issues."
(More UNESCO stories.)

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