Siège de l'Organisation des Nations Unies pour l'éducation, la science et la culture (UNESCO) à Paris.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel and the United States were slated to leave the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization Monday over its anti-Israel bias.
Both countries announced their departure from UNESCO in 2017, effective at the end of 2018. On Monday, the last day of the year, neither country made any statements about the matter.
A diplomatic source said the withdrawal was on track.
Israel has been a member state of UNESCO since 1949. In the last 17 years, the global cultural body has registered nine sites within the country on its World Heritage List.
But it’s pro-Palestinian stances have created increasing friction with both the US and Israel.
In 2011, both countries halted payment of their annual fees after UNESCO became the first UN body to recognize Palestine as a state.
Israel now owes UNESCO over $8.5 million and the US’s debt has reached upwards of $617 million.
Both countries lost voting rights in the organization in 2013 over their failure to pay dues, but maintained all other participation rights.
The situation intensified in 2016 after the Palestinian Authority and the Arab states pushed forward resolutions at UNESCO’s Executive Board that ignored Jewish ties to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, describing the most holy sites in Judaism solely by their Muslim names of al-Haram al-Sharif and the Buraq Plaza. They also passed texts disavowing Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem.
Also in 2017, the World Heritage Committee voted to inscribe Hebron’s Old City and the Tomb of the Patriarchs
to the “State of Palestine.” The inscription focused heavily on the city’s Muslim history after the year 1250, in spite of the city’s biblical and Jewish roots.
Attempts by UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay to remedy the situation since she took office in November 2017 have done little to sway Israel or the US to remain in UNESCO.
Last year, Azoulay was able to broker a comprise on the Jerusalem resolution, which had been approved twice a year in its executive board meetings.
In 2018, UNESCO’s executive board passed a benign text that included no controversial elements.
But an addendum was attached to the document with more controversial statements added.
The addendum, for example, affirmed that Jerusalem was holy to all three religions, but also disavowed Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem and claimed that Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb were an integral part of Palestine.
Already in October, however, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon was fairly blunt in starting that the compromise did not go far enough, because it still allowed for problematic language to move forward.
In June of this year, UNESCO launched its first policy guide for educators on antisemitism. It also held a forum on antisemitism on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly’s opening session in New York.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, boycotted the session, which was attended by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and other heads of state.
At the time Netanyahu said, “Since 2009, UNESCO has passed 71 resolutions condemning Israel and only two resolutions condemning all other countries combined. This is simply outrageous.
“The mark of antisemitism was once singling out the Jewish people for slander and condemnation. The mark of antisemitism today is singling out the Jewish state for slander and condemnation,” Netanyahu said.
“No matter what UNESCO says, the Western Wall is not occupied Palestinian territory, and the Cave of the Patriarchs
– the burial site of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah – is not a Palestinian heritage site.
“In withdrawing from UNESCO
in 2017, Israel and the United States made a clear moral statement that UNESCO’s antisemitism will no longer be tolerated. If and when UNESCO ends its bias against Israel, stops denying history and starts standing up for the truth, Israel will be honored to rejoin. Until then, Israel will fight antisemitism at UNESCO and everywhere else,” he said.