WASHINGTON — The Trump administration announced on Thursday that it would withdraw from Unesco, the United Nations cultural organization, after years of America distancing itself because of what it called the group’s “anti-Israel bias.”
“This decision was not taken lightly,” according to a State Department statement on Thursday. In addition to anti-Israel bias, the department cited “the need for fundamental reform” and “mounting arrears” at the organization.
While the United States withdrew from the group, the Trump administration said it wanted to continue providing American perspective and expertise to Unesco, but as a nonmember observer. The withdrawal goes into effect at the end of 2018.
Unesco, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization known for its designation of world heritage sites, is a global development agency with missions that include promoting sex education, literacy, clean water and equality for women.
In a lengthy written statement, Irina Bokova, Unesco’s director-general, expressed regret at the American withdrawal and said that the American people shared the organization’s goals.
“Universality is critical to Unesco’s mission to strengthen international peace and security in the face of hatred and violence, to defend human rights and dignity,” she wrote.
The Obama administration ended funding to Unesco in 2011 after the group admitted Palestinians as full members, following legislation from 1990 and 1994 that mandates such a cutoff to any United Nations agency that gives full membership to Palestinians. America lost its vote in the organization in 2013 because it ended its financial contributions.
Analysts said that actually withdrawing from the organization was a significant escalation by the United States in its criticism of United Nations bodies.
“This is another example of the Trump’s administration’s profound ambivalence and concern about the way the U.N. is structured and behaves, and it shows the administration’s determination to separate itself from its predecessors,” said Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East negotiator and adviser in Republican and Democratic administrations.
In July, Unesco declared the ancient and hotly contested core of Hebron, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, as a Palestinian World Heritage site in danger, a decision sharply criticized by Israel and its allies. And in 2015, Unesco adopted a resolution that criticized Israel for mishandling heritage sites in Jerusalem and condemned “Israeli aggressions and illegal measures against freedom of worship.”
The Trump administration has made the defense of Israel on the global stage a key tenet of its foreign policy. After he was elected but before he became president, Mr. Trump made an extraordinary intervention on the world stage by criticizing the Obama administration’s decision not to block a United Nations resolution criticizing Israeli settlements. Mr. Trump has pledged to move the United States Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv and selected a pro-settlement ambassador.
Nikki Haley, the U.N. ambassador, has repeatedly criticized the United Nations for what she called its anti-Israel bias.
Source : New York Times