Irina Bokova, Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Agency (UNESCO), made a comment in connection with the announcement of the US Department of State on the withdrawal of this country from UNESCO.
Bokova’s statement does not mention Israel and does not comment on Benjamin Netanyahu’s order to prepare for the secession of the Jewish state from UNESCO.
Bokova recalled that in 2011 the United States suspended the payment of membership fees to UNESCO, but, according to her, the cooperation continued and developed, despite the reduction in funding. Such cooperation, she said, “is all the more relevant today, when the rise of violent extremism and terrorism requires new long-term measures to achieve peace and security, counter racism and anti-Semitism, and combat ignorance and discrimination.”
Irina Bokova’s statement listed the topics that unite UNESCO and the United States: increasing literacy and developing the education system, promoting the use of new technologies, expanding scientific cooperation, protecting freedom of speech, protecting women’s rights, combating the consequences of natural disasters and armed conflicts, protecting the environment. environment, etc.
“This is a loss for UNESCO. This is a loss for the United Nations family. This is a loss for multilateralism,” she said, ending her speech by saying that the agency will continue to work despite the US withdrawal from the organization.
The fact that Bokova did not mention Israel in her speech is quite understandable: she reacted to an official letter from the US State Department, and not to an order from the Israeli Prime Minister, which was not formalized as an official document and was not sent to the UNESCO leadership. However, it is noteworthy that Bokova talks about the financial conflict with Washington, without mentioning the second reason named in the statement of the US State Department – about anti-Israeli resolutions and prejudice against Israel.
At the same time, Bokova twice mentioned the joint struggle against manifestations of anti-Semitism in various countries of the world in her speech on the withdrawal of the United States from UNESCO.
On October 12, 2017, the US Department of State officially announced its withdrawal from UNESCO. According to the official statement of the US Department of State, which was presented to UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova, this decision was made in connection with “the growing debts of UNESCO, the need to carry out fundamental reforms in the organization and prejudice against Israel.”
Earlier, the American edition of Foreign Policy wrote that this decision was due, among other things, to the desire to save financial resources. Currently, the United States donates $ 80 million annually to UNESCO. US President Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction with the “disproportionate” share of US participation in financing international institutions.
The decision will enter into force on December 31, 2018. After that, the United States expects to continue cooperation with UNESCO as a permanent observer.
Soon after the statement of the American State Department, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the Israeli Foreign Ministry to prepare for the process of leaving the organization simultaneously with the United States.
On 7 July 2017, UNESCO declared the Old City of Hebron (Al-Khalil) and the Cave of the Forefathers (Haram al-Ibrahimi) as a Palestinian Cultural Heritage Site of Worldwide importance. Earlier, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee voted for a resolution denying Israel’s sovereignty over the Old City of Jerusalem and condemning excavations in the historic part of the Israeli capital. In response to these decisions, Israel has sharply reduced its participation in the funding of UNESCO.
The issue of the US withdrawal from UNESCO, raised by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, was discussed several weeks ago on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. In particular, this issue was raised at a meeting between US President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron.
The announcement of this decision has been postponed until the election of a new UNESCO Director-General this week. The main candidates are Audrey Azoulay (France) and Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari (Qatar). Paris asked Washington to support their candidate and hoped that the United States would not leave UNESCO during the crisis.
Recall that the United States is one of the founding states of UNESCO. In 1984, at the height of the Cold War, US President Ronald Reagan initiated his country’s withdrawal from UNESCO, considering this organization an ideological ally of the USSR. In 2002, when George W. Bush was president, the United States rejoined UNESCO.