How they see us: Quitting UNESCO over anti-Israel bias
Thank you, Donald Trump, for calling out anti-Semitism at UNESCO, said Abraham Ben Zvi in Israel Hayom (Israel). On the campaign trail last year, the then presidential candidate “hurled acute, pointed criticisms” at the United Nations’ cultural and scientific agency for its biased resolutions, such as its 2016 decision to describe the Temple Mount— site of the ancient Jewish Temples and the Al-Aqsa Mosque—as sacred to Muslims only. UNESCO attacked Jewish heritage again earlier this year by designating the ancient, contested core of Hebron as a Palestinian, not Israeli, World Heritage Site. Never mind that the West Bank city is home to the Cave of the Patriarchs, where Judaism’s patriarchs and matriarchs are said to be buried. For Trump, a loyal friend of Israel, it was too much. The president announced last week that the U.S. would quit the body at the end of 2018, just as President Ronald Reagan pulled the country from UNESCO in 1984 over its clear “pro-Soviet bias.”
Trump could at least have alerted Israel ahead of time, said Barak Ravid in Ha’aretz (Israel). Israeli officials belatedly learned of his decision from a post on the U.S. news site ForeignPolicy.com. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the withdrawal, as did Israeli lawmakers across the political spectrum, and he announced that Israel would also leave the body. But the fact that Netanyahu had been left in the dark exposed “a grave lack of coordination between the two countries.” And it’s unfortunate that Israel’s departure comes just as UNESCO has elected its first Jewish director-general: Audrey Azoulay, a former French culture minister and the daughter of a Moroccan statesman.
The abandonment of UNESCO is another blow by Trump to international cooperation, said Le Monde (France) in an editorial. He has already pulled U.S. funding from the U.N. Population Fund, which helps provide access to health care and family planning around the world; withdrawn from the Paris climate change accord; and weakened the Iran nuclear deal. UNESCO “has a greater role to play than ever, in a world plagued by political and religious extremism, conspiracy theories, and, often, a questioning of science.” We agree that UNESCO’s snubs to Israel were inappropriate—but surely the response should be to try to work within the cultural agency, not storm off in a huff.
America’s departure makes room for China, said the South China Morning Post (China). The U.S. had for years covered 22 percent of UNESCO’s funding, but it stopped paying annual dues of $80 million in 2011 to protest the agency’s admission of Palestine as a full member. When the U.S. quits at the end of next year, its unpaid bill will have hit $600 million. China is now UNESCO’s second-largest funder, contributing almost 8 percent of the budget, closely trailing Japan with 9 percent. Beijing will use its growing soft power to craft “an agenda that is fairer to developing countries.” With the U.S. abandoning global obligations, “China is well placed to capitalize.”