The US and Israel Pull Out of UNESCO Because of Anti-Israel Bias'

The move will cut more than one-fifth of UNESCO's funding.

by Greg Walters
13 October 2017, 6:00am

Palmyra, the archaeological gem is a desert oasis surrounded by palm trees, and a UNESCO world heritage site, that boasts 2,000-year-old towering Roman-era colonnades and priceless artifacts. Photo by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service Photo via AP

This article originally appeared on VICE News.

The United Nations' cultural division, UNESCO, is known for designating much-loved World Heritage sites like Yellowstone National Park, the Statue of Liberty, and the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra.

Now, the organization that protects cultural landmarks and teaches children about sustainable development stands accused of an "anti-Israel bias" by the US and Israel. Both countries announced Thursday that they're pulling out of the agency — a move that will cut more than a fifth of UNESCO's funding, due to concerns over the body's finances and its alleged "anti-Israel bias," according to a State Department statement.

Despite its mission to promote peace and harmony through culture and learning, UNESCO has weathered fierce criticism from American conservatives and Israeli politicians, especially over its more culturally sensitive designations in the Middle East. In July, UNESCO infuriated Israeli officials by designating the old city in Hebron in the West Bank a World Heritage site.

Leaving UNESCO is just the latest example of an emerging Trump doctrine on international affairs that revolves around pulling out of multinational institutions, like the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade initiative, according to Richard Haass, a former senior State Department official under George W. Bush.

"Trump foreign policy has found its theme: The Withdrawal Doctrine," Haass tweeted, adding that its slogan should be "Leaving from Behind."

The US will seek "non-member observer status" at the world body in order "to contribute U.S. views" on "the protection of world heritage, advocating for press freedoms, and promoting scientific collaboration and education."

The US nominally contributes about $80 million USD a year to UNESCO's budget, although Washington has in fact withheld those funds ever since the cultural body admitted Palestine as a full member in 2011.

"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. "This is a loss to the United Nations family. This is a loss for multilateralism."

Yet this is not the first time the US has left UNESCO. Citing differences in goals, the US pulled out in 1984, and didn't rejoin until 2003.

Following UN rules, the US will remain a full member until Dec. 31, 2018.