By Nick Wadhams and Kambiz Foroohar
- Dues of $80 million a year haven’t been paid since 2011
- UNESCO director calls the U.S. decision ‘deeply regrettable’
The Trump administration withdrew the U.S. from the United Nations cultural organization, saying it’s biased against Israel and citing its decision to admit the Palestinian territories as a member state.
The decision to quit the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which the U.S. co-founded in 1945, “was not taken lightly,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement Thursday. She cited the need for “fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO.”
The U.S. hasn’t been paying dues to UNESCO since 2011, when President Barack Obama’s administration stopped providing about $72 million a year after the Paris-based organization accepted Palestine as a full member. The arrears total almost $543 million, according to UNESCO. U.S. laws bar funding for any UN agency that gives Palestinians the status of a nation, and the U.S. lost its voting privilege in the organization in 2013.
That decision threw the organization into financial crisis because the U.S. had accounted for more than 20 percent of UNESCO’s annual budget. The U.S. also withdrew from the organization in 1984 but rejoined in 2003.
“At the time when conflicts continue to tear apart societies across the world, it is deeply regrettable for the United States to withdraw from the United Nations agency promoting education for peace and protecting culture under attack,” UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said in a statement. “This is why I regret the withdrawal of the United States.”
The organization is best known for designating world heritage sites but also promotes issues such as women’s equality and human rights. Its decision to designate Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs as a Palestinian heritage site this year, as well as resolutions that seemed to minimize Jewish ties to Jerusalem, prompted new accusations of anti-Israel bias, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accusing the organization of promoting “fake history.”
Netanyahu on Thursday welcomed what he called the “brave and moral” U.S. decision, saying UNESCO’s anti-Israel agenda had made it into a “theater of the absurd.” He has instructed the Foreign Ministry to prepare for Israel’s own departure from the group, Netanyahu said in comments his office sent by text message.
The U.S. will remain a non-member observer state “in order to contribute U.S. views, perspectives and expertise,” Nauert said. Withdrawal from the organization won’t take effect until Dec. 31, 2018.