Departure From UNESCO to Harm US Global Standing

Departure From UNESCO to Harm US Global StandingDeparture From UNESCO to Harm US Global Standing

Washington's recent decision to quit the UN cultural agency calls into question its status in international organizations, a lawmaker said.  

"The Americans have withdrawn from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to appease Jewish lobbyists because the UNESCO has recently adopted anti-Israeli, pro-Palestinian policies," Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh also told ICANA.

The US administration has formally notified the UN body that it is giving up its membership of the organization, claiming "continuing anti-Israel bias" and also mounting arrears at the organization.

The Thursday statement by the US State Department was closely followed by Israel's announcement of similar plans to quit the cash-strapped cultural and educational agency. In a statement, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, welcomed the US move by claiming, "This is a brave and moral decision, because UNESCO has become a theater of absurd. Instead of preserving history, it distorts it."

  Evading Responsibility

Falahatpisheh, however, denounced the US administration's decision as an attempt to shun its responsibility for promoting social and cultural values worldwide.

"While wielding great influence in the body, the US is withdrawing to wriggle out of its social and cultural commitments," he said. The lawmaker called on the international community to consider stripping the US of its eligibility to host global organizations. "The world should question the eligibility of the United States to host international organizations because regrettably it no longer believes in collective work," he said.

UNESCO 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 Al-Khalil (Hebron), a city in the southern part of the occupied Palestinian territories, as a Palestinian world heritage site.

The withdrawal will take effect on Dec. 31, 2018, but the decision could be revisited. In 2011, the United States stopped funding UNESCO because of what was then a forgotten, 15-year-old amendment mandating a complete cutoff of American financing to any United Nations agency that accepts Palestine as a full member.

Various efforts by US President Barack Obama to overturn the legal restriction narrowly failed and the United States lost its vote at the organization after two years of nonpayment in 2013. UNESCO was dependent on the United States for 22% of its budget, then about $70 million a year.

During the Cold War, the US withdrew from the agency in 1984 because the former administration of Ronald Reagan deemed the organization too susceptible to Moscow's influence and overly critical of Israel.  Ex-president, George W. Bush, pledged in 2002 to rejoin the organization in part to show his willingness for international cooperation in the lead-up to the Iraq war.

In a lengthy written statement, Irina Bokova, UNESCO's outgoing director general, expressed regret at the decision and said 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. Elsewhere in a telephone interview with New York Times, Bokova said she "thought the decision was coming but why now, I don't know, in the midst of elections" for a new director to succeed her.

France's Audrey Azoulay was chosen to replace her on Friday.


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