The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization announced on June 12 that the United States plans to rejoin the body in July and pay more than $600 million in back payments. Washington had withdrawn from UNESCO in 2018, citing the world body’s decision to grant membership to “Palestine.”
“This is a strong act of confidence, in UNESCO and in multilateralism,” stated Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO’s director-general, who is Jewish. “Not only in the centrality of the organization’s mandate—culture, education, science, information—but also in the way this mandate is being implemented today.”
Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.) told JNS that the United States must continue to stand with its ally Israel, which rejoining UNESCO undercuts.
“The Biden administration’s decision to rejoin UNESCO undermines this important alliance because of UNESCO’s history of passing anti-Israel resolutions, including one identifying Israel as ‘the occupying power’ in Jerusalem,” Green said. “Any organization that doesn’t treat Israel as a legitimate and contributing nation does not deserve U.S. support or participation.”
At a time when Washington ought to be cutting spending, Americans should be “furious” that the Biden administration is paying hundreds of millions of dollars to UNESCO, according to Green, a member of the House Republican Israel Caucus.
“The U.S. will likely return to becoming its largest funder. This is a bad use of taxpayer dollars, to say the least,” he said. “UNESCO made its stance on Israel clear. By rejoining this organization, the Biden administration is turning its back on our friend and ally.”
It had previously been illegal under U.S. law for Washington to fund any U.N. entity that bestows full membership on entities lacking “internationally recognized attributes” of statehood. In 2011, the Obama administration stopped funding UNESCO after it welcomed Palestine as a member, and in 2018, the Trump administration exited UNESCO altogether, and Israel followed thereafter.
Last December, Congress allocated more than $500 million to settle unpaid U.S. dues to the body. The United States can waive the law barring its return to UNESCO if the president notifies the House speaker, Senate president pro tempore and congressional committees that rejoining “counter Chinese influence” or promote other U.S. national interests, per section 7070 of H.R.2617, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023, which became law on Dec. 29, 2022.
The provision will sunset on Sept. 30, 2025, unless Congress extends it, and the “authority of this section shall cease to have effect if, after enactment of this act, the Palestinians obtain the same standing as member states or full membership as a state in the United Nations or any specialized agency thereof outside an agreement negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians,” the law adds.
Green thinks that the United States, as a “beacon of freedom,” should extend its hand to those who need it to remain strong. “But at a time when antisemitism is growing stronger, rejoining UNESCO sends a message to Israel that we are more committed to an organization that slanders its name than we are to them, one of our closest allies,” he said.
He also doesn’t think that U.S. participation in UNESCO is the right way to counter the growing threat from Communist China.
Washington should prioritize military readiness, education and technology instead, according to the congressman, who reintroduced his China Technology Transfer Control Act in April.
“We know China uses technology to oppress its own people while stealing ours,” Green told JNS. His new legislation “will strengthen controls on outbound technology and critical intellectual property from the United States,” Green said.
The congressman also introduced legislation earlier this month to better collaborate on military technology with the United Kingdom, and he said the United States should improve technology collaboration with Israel as well.
U.S. President Joe Biden, he added, “needs to get serious about China’s intellectual property theft and the crafty ways Communist China exploits the U.S. Rather than investing in UNESCO, he should be investing here at home.”