In gratitude to US, Israel to announce UNESCO exit

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday instructed Shama Hacohen to submit a formal withdrawal letter to Audrey Azoulay, the organization’s director-general, before the end of the year.

December 24, 2017 00:50
3 minute read.
In gratitude to US, Israel to announce UNESCO exit

Israel's Ambassador to UNESCO Carmel Shama HaCohen with a replica of a Jewish menorah from the Gate of Titus in Rome following the destruction of the Second Temple.. (photo credit: EREZ LICHTFELD)


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Israel plans this week to formally announce its withdrawal from UNESCO as an expression of gratitude to the United States.

The move will go into effect at the end of 2018, on the same day that the US completes its withdrawal.

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The US told the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization in October that it planned to leave the organization, citing anti-Israel bias as one of its reasons.

Israel issued its announcement on Friday, the day after the UN General Assembly held a special session in which it disavowed Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem and rejected the US declaration recognizing the city as Israel’s capital.

Israel’s UNESCO envoy Carmel Shama Hacohen said, “This departure is the best way to express our gratitude to our best and great ally the United States, and in particular to its excellent representative, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley.

“For many years, the US has made sure that Israel won’t walk alone, while facing a crushing majority and paying a price. The bottom line is that the US is leaving UNESCO because of the State of Israel, and we have a moral obligation to ensure that she doesn’t do that alone,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday instructed Shama Hacohen to submit a formal withdrawal letter to Audrey Azoulay, the organization’s director-general, before the end of the year. For technical reasons, the withdrawal of a member only takes effect one full year, after the year in which a letter is received by UNESCO.

Shama Hacohen had already spoken with Azoulay, who took up her post in November, and presented her with ideas on how to reform the UN body.

Although Azoulay is UNESCO’s first Jewish director-general, it is thought that like her predecessor, Irina Bokova, she holds little sway over the votes cast by member states.

Still, both the US and Israel indicated they would remain in the organization should it change its anti-Israel bias.

“The Israeli government isn’t slamming the door, but rather invites the organization’s new leadership, together with sane countries, to advance reform and stop fearing the same gang that rules over the organization,” Shama Hacohen said.

For the last three years, Israel has waged a highly public battle against a series of Arab resolutions disavowing Israeli ties to Jerusalem and ignoring Jews’ ties to their holiest site, the Temple Mount.

Although it was able to sway UNESCO from referring to the Temple Mount solely as Al-Haram al-Sharif, and to add a reference to it as a Jewish holy site, it was unable to stop it from disavowing Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, a resolution that has come before UNESCO repeatedly.

Separately, UNESCO this summer inscribed the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Hebron’s Old City under the “State of Palestine” on its list of world heritage sites in danger.

In 2011, UNESCO became the first UN body to recognize “Palestine” as a full member state. In response, Israel and the US froze their annual funding of the body, and in 2014, both countries lost their voting rights.

Shama Hacohen said he felt Israel has garnered as much support in UNESCO as is possible without serious reform being made to the body.

“There are no more achievements to be gained here,” he said. He added that the new composition of the UNESCO executive board – on which Turkey replaced Germany, a country that was supportive of Israel – will make the future difficult.

“UNESCO, led by the Arab countries and the rest of the depressed, frustrated and dark countries of the world, has held a record number of votes that were filled with incitement and lies against Israel and the Jewish nation, that polluted [the organization’s] noble values with politicization and diplomatic terror that bordered at times on antisemitism,” Shama Hacohen said.

Eytan Halon contributed to this report.

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