The United States will withdraw from UNESCO at the end of next year, the State Department said Thursday, in order to stop accumulating uppaid dues and make a stand on what it said is anti-Israel bias at the U.N.’s educational, science and cultural organization.
In notifying UNESCO of the decision Thursday morning, the State Department said it would like to remain involved as a nonmember observer state. That will allow to United States to remain engaged in debates and activities, though it will lose its right to vote on issues.
The withdrawal of the United States, which was a founding member of the organization after World War II, deals a symbolic blow.
The most immediate impact is that the U.S. will halt the arrears it has run up since it stopped funding the organization in 2011 to protest admitting Palestine as a full member. By the end of this calendar year, the unpaid U.S. bill will amount to $550 million. With no sign that U.S. concerns would be addressed, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson decided to pull out after Dec. 31, 2017, when the unpaid balance will top $600 million.
State Department officials said they hope the withdrawal will help push UNESCO to make changes that would satisfy Washington so the U.S. can resume full membership.
“It sends a strong message that we need to see fundamental reform in the organization, and it raises everyone’s awareness about continued anti-Israel bias,” said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity under department ground rules.
The United States helped found the United Nations Educational, Scientific Cultural Organization, but has been at odds with the organization in recent years. State Department officials cited a 2012 decision not to expel Syria from its human rights committee after the civil war in that country began, and repeated resolutions that refer to Israel as an occupying power.
Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said the last straw was when UNESCO this summer designated the old city of Chevron in the West Bank, with its Me’oras Hamachpelah, a Palestinian World Heritage site.
Calling UNESCO’s politicization a “chronic embarrassment,” Haley added, “Just as we said in 1984 when President Reagan withdrew from UNESCO, U.S. taxpayers should no longer be on the hook to pay for policies that are hostile to our values and make a mockery of justice and common sense.”
Haley said the United States will evaluate all U.N. agencies “through the same lens.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the decision to leave UNESCO “brave” and “moral.” Other Israeli officials, from both left and right, also praised the decision. Netanyahu said he had instructed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to prepare for Israel’s withdrawal as well.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Eli Rosenberg