In what was declared as an unprecedented move, the United States announced its withdrawal from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, over what is said was ‘mounting arrears and anti-Israel bias.’ Speaking from the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, the United States’ Charge d’affaires at UNESCO Chris Hegadorn accused the organization of becoming increasingly politicized, effectively deviating from its original mandate. He said, “Two main issues prompted our decision: one was mounting arrears, which have been mounting since 2011 when this organization admitted Palestine as a member state. That amount in arrears is essentially unsustainable. The second issue: unfortunately, this venue has become politicized, undermining the work of UNESCO across its mandate. It’s become a venue for anti-Israel bias, and unfortunately we are taking the decision to withdraw from UNESCO at this time,” Hegadorn said.
The move by the United States has prompted an announcement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said he instructed the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem to prepare to pull out of the organization as well.
The withdrawal of the United States, which provides a fifth of UNESCO’s funding, is a severe blow for the Paris-based organization which began work in 1946 and is known for designating World Heritage sites such as the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria, the religious shrines in Timbuktu and the Grand Canyon National Park. Nevertheless, UNESCO, which employs around 2,000 people worldwide, has long been the object of criticism over its use of resources and resolutions that have been perceived by many countries, including Israel and the United States, as political and biased. UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova responded to the decision by Washington, expressing deep regret, while confessing that the politicization of UNESCO in the last few years has taken a toll on the organization.
Officials in Jerusalem and in Washington said they will review the decision to withdraw from UNESCO should it change its anti-Israel policy during the tenure of the new director, who is expected to be chosen next week.
Meanwhile, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon declared the United States’ withdrawal from UNESCO a strong signal to the UN Human Rights Council, which has also been accused of anti-Israel bias, that Washington would consider withdrawing from it as well if it did change its ways.