The US has announced it will pull out of the UN’s educational, scientific and cultural organisation UNESCO, accusing it of “anti-Israel bias”.
In a statement, US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said “decision was not taken lightly, and reflects US concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organisation, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO”.
UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, expressed “profound regret” at the US decision at a time “when the rise of violent extremism and terrorism calls for new long-term responses for peace and security, to counter racism and antisemitism, to fight ignorance and discrimination”.
She went on to list how the US and UNESCO had worked together over the years, including on ways to combat antisemitism and promote remeberance of the Holocaust across the world. She said:
“Together, we have worked to protect humanity’s shared cultural heritage in the face of terrorist attacks and to prevent violent extremism through education and media literacy.
“Together, we worked with the late Samuel Pisar, Honorary Ambassador and Special Envoy for Holocaust Education, to promote education for remembrance of the Holocaust across the world as the means to fight antisemitism and genocide today, including with, amongst others, the UNESCO Chair for Genocide Education at the University of Southern California and the UNESCO Chair on Literacy and Learning at the University of Pennsylvania.
“Together, we work with the OSCE to produce new tools for educators against all forms of antisemitism, as we have done to fight anti-Muslim racism in schools.”
She concluded that the US decision was a loss to the “UN family” and to “multilateralism”.
Since becoming president, Donald Trump has made a number of statements hostile towards the idea of multilateralism and complained that the US pays a disproportionate amount for the upkeep of the UN, Nato, and other international organisations. The US funds 22% of the UN’s regular budget and 28% of UN peacekeeping, but has not contibuted anything to the UNESCO budget since 2011 after the organisation decided to grant full membership to the Palestinians.
Last year, Israel suspended its cooperation with UNESCO following the adoption of a controversial resolution that made no reference to Jewish ties to a holy site in Jerusalem. More recently, the organisation came under fire from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for declaring the Old City of Hebron in the West Bank and World Heritage Site.