UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, is back in the news with reports that the Biden administration is about to rejoin the body this month. Washington fully withdrew from UNESCO in 2017.
The withdrawal process started because UNESCO decided to include “Palestine” as a full member. Congress adopted legislation in 2011 prohibiting American funding in the event that UNESCO continued to seek US financial backing.
What made matters worse was the tendency of the UN to make references to holy sites in Jerusalem according to their Arabic names alone, while minimizing any mention of their Jewish connection. UNESCO resolutions became a critical element in the international effort undertaken by Israel’s adversaries to delegitimize the Jewish state.
As with other hostile resolutions adopted by specialized agencies of the UN, UNESCO was not successful in its various campaigns against Israel because of the merits of the cases it was making – but rather because of the automatic majorities it was able to establish during the votes held at its headquarters in Paris.
Washington owes the UN some $619 million in past dues because it did not pay what it owed UNESCO. It appears that now the administration will make good on this debt.
US tensions with UNESCO
True, going back to 1990, during the Reagan administration, the US was critical of the organization. But what intensified the American clash with UNESCO was the steady politicization of its resolutions on Israel. Now, however, a new factor is influencing the US approach: China is picking up some of the slack left by the US financial cutoff, especially in Africa.
All the talk about UNESCO comes without any effort made to revise resolutions that the body adopted in the recent past. Will the resolutions to which Israel strenuously objected still stand?
In the past, UNESCO characterized Hebron as “Occupied Palestinian Territory.” Should Israel allow that to stand as a goodwill gesture to the UN? These questions are highly contentious, but there have been no suggestions that they should be canceled or at least modified
If you accept the definition of the Temple Mount as a purely Islamic site, as does UNESCO, then how can Israeli diplomats defend Israeli interests that have been recognized by the international community at other times?
There are the hills of Battir – southwest of Jerusalem – where the ruins of ancient Beitar are located at a site known as Khirbet al-Yahud. It is a location that the famous Judean commander, Bar Kochba, is believed to have employed as his last stronghold against the Roman Empire in 135 CE.
Battir was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List as a Palestinian site. Thus irresponsible nomenclature with respect to Israel at UNESCO is an instrument for waging political warfare against the Jewish State and establishing a fait accompli concerning the claims each side is asserting regarding their historical rights.
Israel must not acquiesce to this Palestinian effort.
The writer, a former senior adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, served as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations and director-general of the Foreign Ministry.