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US to rejoin UNESCO

The United States withdrew from the U.N. cultural organization in 2018 under President Donald Trump due to its anti-Israel bias.

UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Photo by Fred Romero via Wikimedia Commons.
UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Photo by Fred Romero via Wikimedia Commons.

Four years after leaving it under President Donald Trump, the United States is set to rejoin UNESCO.

The Biden administration privately notified UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) of the decision last week, Axios reported, citing a State Department spokesperson.

According to the report, the agency’s director-general, Audrey Azoulay, called the ambassadors of member states to an urgent meeting on Monday to discuss the issue.

At the meeting, Azoulay will reportedly call for a July session to approve the United States’ reentry. 

“Any such action would require concurrence by UNESCO’s current membership,” the State Department spokesperson told Axios, referring to the United States rejoining the agency.

Last December, Congress approved the allocation of more than $500 million to settle the United States’ unpaid dues to UNESCO and allow for a return as a full member. When a member, the United States finances 22% of the agency’s budget.

Washington withdrew from UNESCO on Dec. 31, 2018, with the State Department citing at the time “U.S. concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO.”

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.

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.

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 in 2009-2014, 46 of which were directed against Israel and one of which criticized Syria.

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