The US has announced it is pulling out of the Unesco, the scientific, educational and cultural arm of the UN family, citing what it decried as “anti-Israel biases”.
US membership in the UNESCO will formally end next year, the State Department announced on Thursday.
But already in 2013, Washington had lost its voting rights in the UNESCO because Congress stopped paying the dues to the organisation starting in 2011 because it had admitted Palestine as a full member.
The US contribution was 22 percent of UNESCO’s budget and the organisation had to cut its programmes with US arrears totaling more than $600 million
For the US, which has consistently complained about the Paris-based organisation’s policies and resolutions, the breaking point came when UNESCO designated the Old City of Hebron and a sanctuary considered by both Jews and Muslims in the West Bank as part of Palestinian territory while designating it a World Heritage Site.
The area, which Israeli claims, is under its occupation and Hebron is called Al-Khalil by Palestinians.
The sanctuary is called the Tomb of the Patriarchs by Jews and the Ibrahami Mosque Muslim, and both religions trace it to Abraham, whose legacy is claimed both those religions as well as Christianity.
The July meeting of the World Heritage Committee in Krakow that declared Hebron and the sanctuary a World Heritage site also gave the same designation to Ahmadabad.
“The Tomb of the Patriarchs decision was just the latest in a long line of foolish actions, which includes keeping Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad on a UNESCO human rights committee even after his murderous crackdown on peaceful protestors,” US Permanent Representative Nikki Haley said in a statement.
President Donald Trump is a strong supporter of Israel and a skeptic of international organisations, who has threatened cuts to contributions to those bodies.
The US announcement comes as Unesco’s Director-General Irina Bokova’s term is ending and polling is underway to elect her successor.
Former Culture Ministers, Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari of Qatar and Audrey Azoulay of France are tied in the race and another round of balloting is scheduled for Friday.
Should the Qatari win, it will further complicate matters for UNESCO as his country is at odds with Saudi Arabia and several Arab countries, in addition to the US.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “deeply regrets the US withdrawal, in light of the major role that the country has played in UNESCO since its founding,” his spokesperson Farhan Haq told reporters.
General Assembly President Miroslav Lajik, regrets the US decision “but looks forward to engaging with both UNESCO and the United States in working towards this common goal”, his spokesperson Brian Verma said.
Bokova said: “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.”
Unesco has been working aceto promote education for remembrance of the Holocaust across the world as the means to fight anti-Semitism and genocide today,” she added.
This is the second time the US has pulled out of UNSESCO. In 1984, President Ronald Reagan withdrew the US from UNESCO alleging it was anti-American but under President George W. Bush it rejoined in 2002.
– Arul Louis