US withdraws from UNESCO | Integrated Heritage Project

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The United States has announced its decision to withdraw from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), citing ‘anti-Israel bias’ from the UN’s cultural body.

The Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, announced the resolution on Thursday morning, stating the US would remain as a non-member observer state.

In a statement by Heather Nauert, a spokesperson for the State Department, “This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects US concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO,” (The Telegraph)

Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s director-general, stated her “profound regret” over this decision, noting that, “At the time when the fight against violent extremism calls for renewed investment in education, in dialogue among cultures to prevent hatred, it is deeply regrettable that the United States should withdraw from the United Nations leading these issues.” (Washington Post).

The United States has had a conflicting relationship with UNESCO. In 1984, the Reagan administration withdrew from UNESCO due to pro-Soviet Union bias. The US rejoined in 2002, under a George W. Bush mandate, seeking international cooperation. Unfortunately, new issues arose in 2011, when the US ceased its financial support to UNESCO after the UN’s agency included The Palestinian Authority as a member. With the recognition and listing of the cultural heritage site of Hebron as a Palestinian UNESCO World Heritage Site, tensions between the US and UNESCO increased. The US construed the listing of Hebron as further evidence of an ‘anti-Israel’ bias within UNESCO.

UNESCO promotes equal education, sustainable development, cultural preservation and builds knowledge through free communication. UNESCO runs the World Heritage program, which identifies and protects cultural sites of importance for the world. This week, the UN’s body is choosing a new director, who will face further challenges in funding and continued the division due to the Palestinian membership.

The United States’ decision to withdraw sends a strong message regarding its national and international priorities to both member and nonmember states. The impacts of this decision, real and perceived, will be extensive.

More information:

Washington Post

The Telegraph


The Guardian


*Image: Philippe Wojazer/Reuters 

Posted in: Heritage News