Israel won't battle Biden over US return to UNESCO

Israel has no plans to oppose the US' return to UNESCO and doesn't plan to renew its own UNESCO membership.

A general view of the UNESCO headquarters in Paris (photo credit: REUTERS)
A general view of the UNESCO headquarters in Paris
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Israel has no plans to oppose a push by US President Joe Biden to secure congressional support to restore America’s membership in UNESCO.

The Hebrew news site Walla first reported the story, which was then confirmed by The Jerusalem Post.Israel has no current plans to renew its UNESCO membership.

Both Israel and the United States stopped paying their dues to UNESCO in 2011, after it became the first organization to recognize Palestine as a state. Both countries lost their voting rights as a result.

The US decision to halt funding was mandated by a congressional edict that prevents financial support to UN bodies that grant full membership to non-state actors such as the Palestinian Authority.

 UNESCO DIRECTOR-GENERAL Audrey Azoulay. Regarding Holocaust education, ‘we offer a framework where different partners can talk and work with each other. We speak the language of the local context.’  (credit: CHRISTELLE ALIX/UNESCO) UNESCO DIRECTOR-GENERAL Audrey Azoulay. Regarding Holocaust education, ‘we offer a framework where different partners can talk and work with each other. We speak the language of the local context.’ (credit: CHRISTELLE ALIX/UNESCO)

The Trump administration and Israel formally withdrew from UNESCO altogether in 2019, charging that the organization was biased against Israel.

Biden would need congressional support to rejoin UNESCO, so that he could waive the funding edict. The absence of Israeli opposition would improve his chances in Congress.

Israeli and US officials have held talks on a US return to UNESCO, with an understanding that the organization has undergone a change in its stance on Israel, and that the US would work to prevent any return to an anti-Israel agenda.

It is also expected that UNESCO will allow additional Israeli sites to be inscribed on its World Heritage List.Israel was previously at odds with UNESCO over its decision to register Hebron’s Old Town with its Tomb of the Patriarchs to the state of Palestine. The registration focused on the historical period when those sites were under Muslim rule, and did not fully take into account the Jewish links that date back to the Bible.

Separately, UNESCO’s Executive Committee had approved cyclical resolutions that ignored Jewish ties to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

UNESCO Secretary-General Audrey Azoulay has neutralized these resolutions over the past year, and winnowed out much of the divisive political debate around Israel.