By Maya Alsughaiyer (BA Politics and World Philosophies)
On October 12th, the U.S. State Department declared that the country will be withdrawing from UNESCO at the end of 2018 citing the organisations “continuing anti-Israel bias”.
The announcement was followed by Israel’s decision to also quit the 72-year-old world heritage organisation which focuses on promoting international cooperation through education, science, culture and communication.
The decision by the United States has been anticipated following the cessation of funding to UNESCO following its admission of Palestine a full member in 2011.
In a statement, the State Department stated “This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects U.S. concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organisation, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO.”
Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN stated that the UNESCO’s “extreme politicisation” has become “a chronic embarrassment”. Previously Ms Haley has criticised UNESCO for designating Hebron’s Old City and the Tomb of the Patriarchs as residing within Palestinian territory.
Haley added “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.”
According to a report published by Foreign Policy, the decision to quit UNESCO was also attributed to the desire to make budget cuts.
It is estimated that by the end of the 2018, the unpaid U.S. bill to UNESCO will amount to over $600 million. Prior to the cessation of funding following the admission of Palestine, the U.S. provided twenty two percent of the UNESCO funding.
This decision received praise by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who referred to this decision as “brave and moral” as “UNESCO has become a theatre of absurd. Instead of preserving history, it distorts it.”
However, this move was criticised by other member countries.
France’s Ambassador to the UN, Francois Delattre criticised the move stating “we need an America that stays committed to world affairs.”
Tatiana Dovgalenko, a Russian representative to The Associated Press, told the agency that the departure of “one of the countries that founded the UN system” is a “shock and a pity.”
UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova, expressed her “profound regret” over the decision of the U.S. stating that this was “a loss to both the organisation and the U.S.”
Bokova added “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.”