US to rejoin UNESCO after Trump’s withdrawal citing ‘anti-Israel bias’

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US to rejoin UNESCO after Trump’s withdrawal citing ‘anti-Israel bias’

The Paris-based organisation votes overwhelmingly to readmit Washington, with 132 countries voting for it and ten voting against

UNESCO's offices in Brazil. The organisation has now voted to readmit the United States, after Donald Trump's decision to withdraw in 2017.
UNESCO's offices in Brazil. The organisation has now voted to readmit the United States, after Donald Trump's decision to withdraw in 2017.

The United States looks set to rejoin UNESCO later this month after former US president Donald Trump’s withdrawal citing its “anti-Israel bias”.

The United Nations’ Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation, based in Paris, has operated without US membership for four years, but on Friday its members voted to readmit Washington – despite Moscow and Beijing voting against.

Under Joe Biden’s presidency, American diplomats have sought to re-engage with international institutions, in part to counter the rising influence of China in world affairs. Its readmission will cost the US around $619m in unpaid dues.

Biden has also committed to meet 22 percent of UNESCO’s ongoing annual budget and to make special contributions towards programmes including Holocaust remembrance, journalists’ safety, and gender equality.

Last month, US officials noted that UNESCO had made “reforms”, including “a focus on decreasing politicised debate, especially on Middle East issues”.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has made a point of wanting to be readmitted. In March, he told Congress: “They are working on rules, norms, and standards for Artificial Intelligence. We want to be there.”

In 2011, under Barack Obama’s presidency, UNESCO voted to admit Palestine, despite it not being formally recognised as a UN member state by the US or Israel. As a result, Obama cut US contributions to the UNESCO budget.

In 2016, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee adopted a decision ruling that Israeli actions related to archaeology, tourism, and freedom of movement in the Old City of Jerusalem contravened cultural heritage laws and practices.

American and Israeli officials said that not including the full Jewish history of the city in any decision about Jerusalem was tantamount to denying its Jewish identity.

In 2019, Israel left UNESCO after 69 years of membership. Its ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, accused it of “continually rewriting history, including by erasing the Jewish connection to Jerusalem”.

In 1983, Ronald Reagan withdrew the US for a first time, citing an anti-Western bias. It was readmitted in 2002 as George W. Bush’s administration sought international allies in its ‘War on Terror’.

In 2017, Trump became the second US president to withdraw the US from UNESCO, citing its “continuing anti-Israel bias” as a reason. The decision took effect in 2018.

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