US rejoins UNESCO, reversing Trump administration pullout over anti-Israel bias


WASHINGTON ((JEWISH REVIEW)) — The Biden administration rejoined the the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, reversing at the Trump administration’s decision in 2017 to pull out of the organization over its anti-Israel bias.

The Biden administration had sought reentry in part because China is becoming preeminent in the organization at a time when the body, which shapes international cooperation on cultural and science issues, is taking a role in writing artificial intelligence policy.

“In pursuing full membership with UNESCO, the United States makes clear its commitment to multilateralism and diplomacy on critical issues, including protection of journalists, expanding access to education, shaping best practices on new and emerging technologies, protecting cultural heritage, and remembering the immeasurable toll of the Holocaust to ensure such atrocities never happen again,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is Jewish, said Friday in a statement.

Israel and the United States both announced their intention to withdraw in 2017, and Israel’s withdrawal took effect on Jan. 1, 2019.

Israel and the Trump administration cited the body’s frequent criticism of Israel over its treatment of heritage sites claimed by the Palestinians, including in Hebron and Jerusalem. UNESCO frequently referred to the Temple Mount, one of the holiest sites in Judaism and Islam, only by its Arabic name, Al-Haram al-Sharif.

The Trump administration’s statement at the time cited “the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO.”

The United States had supplied 22% of UNESCO’s budget before leaving the organization and will be expected to return to that level of funding upon re-entry. The return is a victory for Audrey Azoulay, the French Jewish director general of the body, who has for years lobbied for the return of Israel and the United States.