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COLUMN: To Support Israel, President Trump Right to Withdraw from UNESCO

October 16, 2017
Weekly Column and Op-Ed

The U.S. and the Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) have had a long, contentious history over the organization’s controversial stances. The aim of UNESCO—to promote greater cross-cultural understanding—is well-intentioned. In fact, the U.S. had a formative role in creating UNESCO as an organization meant to promote freedom and democratic values. But in practice, UNESCO has departed from that mission and acted as a platform for anti-Israel and anti-Western totalitarians. U.S. presidents on both sides of the aisle have curtailed American involvement in the organization.

In 1983, President Reagan ordered the U.S. to withdraw from UNESCO because the organization had become too corrupt and too supportive of the USSR. Reagan’s administration pointed out that UNESCO “exhibited a hostility toward the basic institutions of a free society, especially a free market and a free press,” and “demonstrated unrestrained budgetary expansion.'' Only after President George W. Bush assessed that anti-American sentiment had eroded in the aftermath of 9/11 did the U.S. rejoin the organization.

Under President Obama, the U.S. stopped paying dues in 2011 after UNESCO voted to allow “Palestine” to become a full member, in a direct affront to our closest ally in the Middle East, Israel.

In 2012, even after Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad violently suppressed his own people, UNESCO refused to expel Syria from its human rights committee.

Last year, Israel recalled its UNESCO ambassador in protest of the organization’s approval of a resolution ignoring Judaism’s connection to the Temple Mount.

In June of this year, UNESCO approved a resolution calling Israel the “occupying power” in Jerusalem’s Old City.

In July, UNESCO designated the Old City of Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs as part of Palestinian territory. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley was absolutely right to say that the decisions “represents an affront to history” and “undermines the trust that is needed for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to be successful.”

The pattern is obvious: UNESCO has strayed from its mission and constantly approves anti-Israel resolutions and tiptoes around tyrants. Why should the U.S. support or fund the work of such a tone-deaf and unserious organization?

Citing the need for fundamental reform and obvious anti-Israel bias, President Trump’s State Department announced last week that the U.S. would again withdraw from UNESCO, remaining a nonmember observer state. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded with praise for President Trump’s “brave and moral decision, because UNESCO has become the theater of the absurd and because instead of preserving history, it distorts it.”

Clearly, American participation that legitimizes UNESCO’s current path does not serve our foreign policy interests. UNESCO is deeply flawed and needs fundamental reform before the U.S. should ever consider rejoining. I applaud President Trump’s decision to take strong action, and I support his administration’s commitment to reevaluate U.S. participation in additional UN agencies.