Why is the USA leaving UNESCO?

  • According to this article, the United States will leave UNESCO:

    The United States has formally notified the UN’s world heritage body Unesco that it is withdrawing its membership of the organisation citing “continuing anti-Israel bias”.

    The body is best known for its world heritage listings of outstanding cultural and natural sites but has often drawn the ire of Israel and the Trump administration for a series of decisions, including the listing of Hebron, a city in the southern part of the occupied Palestinian territories, as a Palestinian world heritage site.

    As mentioned in the article, UNESCO is mostly known for its cultural activities, not political ones. Also the motives are quite vague (anti-Israel bias).

    What other reasons for US leaving UNESCO organization might there be?

    Do you mean possibly unstated reasons unrelated to Israel? Or the stated reasons in relation to Israel? Or is your question asking for examples of UNESCOs anti-Israel bias unrelated to the US decision to leave?

    @tim - Both possibly unstated and in relation to Israel. Leaving UNESCO is an important decision and "anti-Israel bias" seems a rather small reason to count alone for it. The article mentions about including Hebron (Palestinian city) into the world heritage site list, but it is not clear why is this an issue (UNESCO include numerous buildings/places into this list from virtually the entire world).

    Any "reason" involving budget cuts is illusory. The US passed legislation in 1990 and 1994 which prevents it making payments to any organization in which Palestine is a full member. Therefore no payments have been made to UNESCO since that time. In return, UNESCO remove the US's voting rights, though paradoxically it can still apply for membership, and be admitted, to UNESCO projects where it would otherwise have voting rights! So in a pragmatic sense, the US had already ceased to be a fully functional member long before Trump decided to make some political capital from his "decision".

  • ugoren

    ugoren Correct answer

    4 years ago

    Disclaimer:
    This is written from an Israeli point of view, which USA seems to share. For understanding these countries' motives, this is the only relevant point of view.

    Since accepting Palestine as a member, UNESCO had taken a series of decisions which Israel sees as anti-Israeli.

    The main points that offend Israel are:

    1. Referring to the Holy places of Jerusalem as Muslim sites, disregarding their Jewish history. E.g. using the term "Haram al-Sharif" instead of "Temple Mount".
    2. Considering Palestine, not Israel, as sovereign in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
    3. Referring to Israel as "the occupying power".
    4. Claiming that Israel damages Muslim sites, claims Israel rejects.

    The executive board's 200th session decisions provides examples:

    1. 'Haram al-Sharif' used as the only name for Temple Mount.
    2. All references to Israel take the form "Israel, the occupying Power".
    3. Visits by Israelis to the Temple Mount are describes as "continuous storming of Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif by Israeli right-wing extremists and uniformed forces".
    4. Claims that Israel damages holy sites, such as "Regrets the damage caused by the Israeli forces, especially since 23 August 2015, to the historic gates and windows of the al-Qibli Mosque".

    USA, under Trump's administration, accepts Israel's position on this matter. Given that this organization attacks Israel, and serves as a political weapon instead of dealing with culture, The USA and Israel prefer to leave it.

    This looks right, can you add sources for it?

    For the second point, did the UNESCO consider the Palestinian Authority the sovereign of ALL of Jerusalem? Most countries recognize Israel in its pre-1967 borders, which means that the Western part of Jerusalem is recognized as Israelian.

    +1. Good to point out that this is only the specific *view* of the Israeli goverment which is shared by the USA which led to this decision and not if this position or counterpositions have any merit.

    @JonK, I'll add some.

    @SJuan76, UNESCO considers the sites mentioned in its decisions as Palestinian. I think all of them are in east Jerusalem.

    In general, this answer does a great job to present a subjective point of view (Israel's and US administration's) with clarity and neutrality. These words are the only exception: "Given that this organization attacks Israel, and serves as a political weapon instead of dealing with culture,". Changing "Given" into "Considering" would make the answer excellent.

    I'm not sure that *"USA, under Trump's administration, accepts Israel's position"* on the second point. Although Trump's position beside "support for Israel" is hardly well defined, I've never heard about him reconsidering the 1967-border, which is US official position. Contesting that point in a consistant way would mean leaving not only UNESCO, not UN as a whole. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_Security_Council_Resolution_242

    (-1) There is no need to write your answer in that way. For example, “Given that” does not suggest a view point and could easily be replaced by something like “Considering that”.

    This answer appears to suggest that this is a recent issue with the current US administration, but the reality is that the US has long had a troubled on and off relationship with UNESCO - and the US was partly responsible for its creation: https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/10/how-did-unesco-get-so-politicized/542733/

    @SJuan76 *"Most countries recognize Israel in its pre-1967 borders, which means that the Western part of Jerusalem is recognized as Israelian"* you'd think that, but actually even US doesn't. There was a huge row some time ago when some American Jew born in Jerusalem got his US passport stamped "born in Jerusalem", no "Jerusalem, Israel". The US as do most others, go by UN 1949 (?) resolution calling for Jerusalem to be an "internationally-administered city". And 1967's were never "borders", but 1949 armistice lines.

    I appreciate your effort into giving an unbiased answer but notice that there is some strange political agenda here, both from Netanyahou and Trump. Both know that Unesco passes resolutions by member state vote; both know that who proposed those resolutions (and voted in favor of) were Islamic countries. And both know the great majority of members abstained. By blaming UNESCO both leaders will only reinforce the idea to Israelis that the world is against them when facts state something quite different. This will only provoke nationalistic feelings and increase the odds for further conflict.

    @armatita, the decision's outcome of not the question. And repeated "UNESCO attacks Israel once more" headlines promote the "everybody hates us" agenda much better than the withdrawal.

    The question is "why?". And many of those headlines were said by members of the Israeli government. Again I'm not saying your answer is incorrect, I just don't think its the whole story. Perhaps you better than anyone (considering your nationality) can assess if Israeli (or US) public opinion corresponds with the truth, or if somehow its being swayed in favor of less than transparent agendas. In any case congratulations on the acceptance of your answer. It seems to have been very well received by readers.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM

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