US to UNESCO: We're outta here until you end anti-Israel bias; Update: Israel exits too

Well, almost outta here. The State Department announced that the US would remove itself as a full member of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for its “continuing anti-Israel bias,” as well as mismanagement of funds. The US will take on permanent observer status instead until the UN reforms the organization:


The problem began six years ago, when UNESCO allowed the Palestinian Authority to become a full member of the organization. That amounted to a de facto recognition of sovereignty, and the Obama administration withdrew funding from UNESCO as a result — but kept the US as a full voting member. Astute readers will recall that Barack Obama blamed then-French president Nicolas Sarkozy for sandbagging him on the vote, before the two of them gossiped about Benjamin Netanyahu with an open mic picking up the whole conversation.

The move does not come as a surprise, the Associated Press reported earlier:

The Trump administration has been preparing for a likely withdrawal for months, and a decision was expected before the end of the year, according to U.S. officials. Several diplomats who were to have been posted to the mission this summer were told that their positions were on hold and advised to seek other jobs.

In addition, the Trump administration’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year contains no provision for the possibility that UNESCO funding restrictions might be lifted. The lack of staffing and funding plans for UNESCO by the U.S. have been accompanied by repeated denunciations of UNESCO by senior U.S. officials, including U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.

The U.S. pulled out of UNESCO in the 1980s because Washington viewed it as mismanaged and used for political reasons, then rejoined it in 2003.


UNESCO director Irina Bokova decried the move as a loss for multilateralism, while NBC notes that the move comes at a particularly tense moment:

The departure is a loss for “the United Nations family” and for multilateralism, Bokova said in a statement. She said the U.S. and UNESCO matter to each other more than ever now because “the rise of violent extremism and terrorism calls for new long-term responses for peace and security.”

The decision comes as the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is voting to choose a new director this week, in tense balloting overshadowed by the agency’s funding troubles and divisions over Palestinian membership.

Egyptian media reports that Qatar and France have teamed up to push out Egypt’s nominee for the position. The report mentions nothing about the Palestinian question, but Qatar has had a long relationship with Hamas and France voted for the PA inclusion at UNESCO, while Egypt has banned Hamas and its Muslim Brotherhood parent organization. The US move may be calculated to tilt the vote to the Egyptian candidate, with a return to full membership a carrot. Or, more likely, the US simply has had enough of the United Nations’ constant focus on Israel, and this is the first opportunity the Trump administration has to express its disgust effectively.


At any rate, it’s a small loss for the US and for multilateralism. It’s a bigger loss for those who profit from endemic corruption and who engage in anti-Israel activities. When the UN becomes serious about multilateral diplomacy and human rights, they can call us. Until then, we’ll just sit back and keep an eye on them.

Update: Israel withdrew from UNESCO today as well:

That may make it a little tougher for UNESCO to manage its World Heritage Sites in Israel and “Palestine.”

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Jazz Shaw 5:21 PM on September 27, 2023