Today the Trump administration announced the United States will leave UNESCO, the United Nations development agency, over the organization’s alleged “anti-Israel bias.”
Leaving UNESCO might seem like typical Trump isolationism, but the U.S.’s beef with the organization goes back to previous administrations. After UNESCO accepted Palestinians as full members in 2011, the New York Times reported that the Obama administration axed its funding. With no funds forthcoming, the U.S. lost its vote in the agency in 2013.
The State Department briefly outlined its reasoning in a press release: “This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects U.S. concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO.”
The Israel controversy re-ignited this summer after UNESCO named Hebron’s city center a Palestinian World Heritage Site. The city, one of the world’s oldest, sits in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
UNESCO, officially the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, is known mainly for naming and overseeing World Heritage Sites, a list that includes over 1,000 protected natural and built environments of great importance to humanity. In the U.S., listed sites include the Statue of Liberty and Independence Hall, as well as national parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite. Worldwide, UNESCO also promotes education, gender equity initiatives, access to culture and science, and the pursuit of liberal democratic ideals like freedom of expression.
The U.S. will withdraw on December 31, 2018, but will remain active in the group as a nonmember observer.