Following the US and Israeli governments’ announcements this week that the two countries intend to withdraw from UNESCO, World Jewish Congress (WJC) President Ronald S. Lauder urged the United Nations body “to focus on its core mandate rather than addressing political matters that fall outside the organization’s purview.”
On Thursday, the Trump administration formally notified the UN cultural administration of its withdrawal, to take effect in Dec. 2018, citing the group’s “continuing anti-Israel bias.” Hours later, Israel announced it would also withdraw.
“In recent years, despite the best efforts of outgoing Director General Irina Bokova, UNESCO has strayed from its mission to preserve history and has allowed itself to become politicized, demonstrating a continuing and disturbing bias against Israel,” said Lauder.
“I urge UNESCO to focus on its core mandate rather than addressing political matters that fall outside the organization’s purview. Decisions that rewrite history and call into question deep rooted Jewish ties to our holy sites in Jerusalem and elsewhere have no place at UNESCO, and it is our hope that the organization will carry out much-needed reforms.”
Best known for its world heritage listings of cultural and natural sites, the UN body has drawn international attention – and outrage from the US and Israel – for accepting the Palestinian Authority as a full member in 2011, and approving a series of contested decisions challenging Jewish links to holy sites in Israel, including in Jerusalem.
“Not only do the US and Israel together provide more than 25 percent of UNESCO’s funding, but they also lend the organization critical credibility,” added Lauder. “UNESCO should be run by professionals, without regard to political considerations. It should focus on education, culture, and heritage, instead of providing a platform to repeatedly attack Israel. This is simply not a place for politics.”
Friday night in Paris, UNESCO’s Executive Board nominated former French Minister of Culture Audrey Azoulay as its new director general.