Israel withdraws from UNESCO

Israel’s withdrawal will take effect on December 31, 2018, the same date that the US ends its membership.

Newly elected Director-General of UNESCO Audrey Azoulay speaks at a news conference in Paris
UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay expressed regret over Israel's decision to end its membership [Philippe Wojazer/Reuters]

Israel has filed notice to withdraw from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) alongside the United States.

Israel has blasted UNESCO in recent years over the organisation’s criticism of Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem and its decision to grant full membership to Palestine in 2011.

UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said on Friday that she deeply regretted Israel’s decision to withdraw. 

“A member of UNESCO since 1949, Israel has a rightful place inside the United Nations agency that is dedicated to education, culture and science,” Azoulay noted.

Both Israel and the US – which filed its own withdrawal notice in October, noting that it would instead seek to establish a permanent observer mission to UNESCO – will officially cease membership as of December 31, 2018. 

In announcing its withdrawal, the US Department of State noted “anti-Israel bias” and “the need for fundamental reform” within the organisation. Shortly afterwards, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel would pull out of UNESCO on the grounds that the body had become “a theatre of the absurd”. 

Ongoing disagreements

UNESCO is best known for its work to preserve heritage, including maintaining a list of World Heritage sites, and programmes to promote education in developing countries.

In May, a UNESCO resolution on Jerusalem strongly criticised Israel’s occupation of the eastern part of the city.

In July, the UN body declared the Old City of Hebron in the occupied West Bank to be an endangered World Heritage site, prompting Netanyahu to announce a $1m funding cut to the UN, saying the UNESCO vote ignored Jewish ties to the site.

Such disagreements were best dealt with from “inside UNESCO and not outside it”, Azoulay said.

“In the face of disagreements among Member States, which lead to votes for which they are responsible, engaging fully in the work of UNESCO makes possible sustained dialogue, cooperation and partnerships that are more necessary than ever,” she said.

Israel has nine sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, including the White City of Tel Aviv, the Incense Route along desert cities in the Negev, and the sites of human evolution at Mount Carmel.

Source: Al Jazeera