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Biden to tap longtime aide as envoy to UNESCO

Longtime aide Courtney O’Donnell is currently a senior adviser in Vice President Kamala Harris’s office.

The logo of the UNESCO on the main building in Paris, France. Photo by Bumble Dee/Shutterstock.
The logo of the UNESCO on the main building in Paris, France. Photo by Bumble Dee/Shutterstock.

U.S. President Joe Biden will nominate longtime aide Courtney O’Donnell to serve as envoy to Paris-based UNESCO, the United Nations’ educational, scientific and cultural body, The Associated Press reported Monday.

O’Donnell is currently a senior adviser in Vice President Kamala Harris’s office and acting chief of staff for Harris’s husband, second gentleman Doug Emhoff.

Her prospective position holds the rank of ambassador.

In June, UNESCO announced that the United States was rejoining the body the following month and paying more than $600 million in outstanding dues. The Trump administration had withdrawn from UNESCO in 2018, citing the world body’s anti-Israel bias.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking at a congressional hearing in April 2022, cited the growing influence of China on the agency’s agenda as a major reason for rejoining the organization. Blinken added that the government of then-Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett supported a U.S. return.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu filed notice in October 2017 that Israel would be withdrawing its membership in the organization at the same time as the United States.

When a member, the United States finances 22% of the agency’s budget.

In a 2016 resolution, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee registered the Tomb of the Patriarchs, located in Hebron, in the name of the “State of Palestine” on its “List of World Heritage in Danger.”

UNESCO passed 47 resolutions during the years between 2009 and 2014—46 of which were directed against Israel and one of which criticized Syria.

More recently, Likud lawmaker Dan Illouz sent a letter to UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay asking her to prevent ancient Jericho from being listed as a city in the “State of Palestine.”

Illouz, a member of the Knesset’s Land of Israel Caucus, wrote the letter in response to what he said was the intention of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee to vote in favor of the move at its 45th session, scheduled to be held in Riyadh from Sept. 10 to Sept. 25.

On Sunday, Israeli officials held an “emergency tour” of Jericho to raise awareness of the matter.

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