newsU.S.-Israel Relations

Smotrich to PM: Condition Israeli support for US return to UNESCO

The finance minister suggests that Israel should only support the move if the Palestinian Authority is removed as a member.

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, June 18, 2023. Photo by Amit Shabi/POOL.
Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, June 18, 2023. Photo by Amit Shabi/POOL.

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich this week called on Prime Minister Netanyahu to take an official stance against the United States rejoining the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

In a letter sent to Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and obtained by Israel Hayom, Smotrich stressed that it was crucial to express opposition to the move as soon as possible—before U.S. President Joe Biden formally announces the move to Congress next month.

Smotrich cited several examples of anti-Israel bias, such as UNESCO declaring the Cave of the Patriarch in Hebron to be a Palestinian—rather than Jewish—heritage site. He also criticized the organization for marking the so-called Nakba Day, when Palestinians mourn the “catastrophe” of the establishment of the State of Israel.

He wrote, “The U.S. withdrew from UNESCO under the Trump administration, among other things, at the Israeli government’s request, due to the organization’s hostility, which rewrites history and denies the Jewish people’s deep historical connection to the land.”

Smotrich stressed that while the previous Israeli government led by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid gave its consent to the U.S. rejoining UNESCO, that is certainly not the case with the current leadership.

“It goes without saying that Israel’s consent plays a central role in this case. … Support for an organization that twists history is not in line with the government’s Zionist and right-wing vision.”

Smotrich also said that Israel’s support for the move should be conditioned on the removal of the Palestinian Authority from UNESCO.

In December, Congress approved a bill to allocate more than $500 million to pay the U.S. debt to UNESCO and allow its return as a full member. The U.S. plans to rejoin the organization in July.

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