October 12, 2017 — New York
AJC, the global Jewish advocacy organization, called the United States decision to leave UNESCO regrettable, but one that should serve as a wake-up call for the other member states.
“UNESCO without the United States will be a diminished organization, and the U.S. outside UNESCO runs the risk of reducing our nation's global role,” said AJC CEO David Harris. “We can only hope that member states will address the U.S. concerns seriously and swiftly. All will be better off with the U.S. in, not out.”
The State Department announced today that due to “U.S. concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO,” the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris-based UN specialized agency as of December 31, 2018.
In the wake of the U.S. announcement, Israel indicated that it would follow suit.
“A minority of UNESCO members, led by the Palestinian Authority and Arab countries, has long sought to exploit this body to castigate Israel,” said Harris. “They have shamelessly politicized the organization by blatantly -- and repeatedly – denying the millennia-old and indisputable links between the Jewish people and Judaism’s holiest sites, including the Old City of Jerusalem, the Western Wall, and Hebron. In doing so, they have also challenged Christian history and belief. And their actions, we should remember, also led to an earlier U.S. withdrawal during the Reagan administration, which continued for nearly two decades.”
These acts, then and now, undermine the noble mission of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which was established as a non-political body to promote education, science, and culture around the world.
“It is important in the current discussion to distinguish between a determined, troublemaking bloc of member states and the outgoing Director-General, Irina Bokova, who has valiantly tried to keep UNESCO away from an obsession with Israel, while appropriately addressing rising antisemitism, Holocaust education, genocide prevention, and counter-radicalism, but, alas, her powers in this regard are limited,” Harris added.
Within the Jewish world, AJC has a unique record of engagement with the UN since its founding in 1945, when AJC leaders traveled to San Francisco for the founding conference and successfully argued for the inclusion of human rights protections in the UN Charter.