UNESCO has a total membership of 193 states and eleven associate members. The associate members are not independent states. It is worth noting that not all member states of the UN are members of UNESCO. There are three nations that are members of the UN, but not members of UNESCO: the United States of America, Israel, and Lichtenstein. Liechtenstein has not been a member of UNESCO, but it is a member of National Organizing Committees (NOC). The US and Israel were members, but they pulled out of the organization citing bias against Israel.
The United States of America's First Withdrawal
The US was among the founding member states and joined the organization on November 4th, 1946. However, the US withdrew its membership from UNESCO on December 31st, 1984. In December 1983, the US president at the time, Ronald Reagan, announced the decision to pull out of UNESCO, and the reasons given by Reagan's administration was that the organization had become highly politicized in almost every subject that the UNESCO was dealing with. Reagan also argued that UNESCO had exhibited hostility towards a free society, particularly a free press and free market, and that it has demonstrated unchecked budgetary expansion. Earlier in 1974, the then US president Gerald Ford had frozen remittances to UNESCO because it had recognized Palestinian liberation organization (PLO). Experts also believe that Reagan's decision was trying to quell presumed and real Soviet influence in different parts around the world. The United States of America joined UNESCO again as a member on October 1st, 2003, under the administration of George W. Bush.
The United States of America's Second Withdrawal
The United States of America gave the intention to withdraw from UNESCO on October 12th, 2017, and it became effective on December 31st, 2018. At the time, President Trump gave reasons why the US was withdrawing from UNESCO, and he cited the mounting arrears to the organization and the need for fundamental reforms in UNESCO as well as the continuing anti-Israel bias. Earlier in 2011, Obama's administration had frozen America's contributions to UNESCO, after the organization granted full membership as a state to Palestine, becoming the first UN agency to do so.
UNESCO's Anti-Israel Bias
In 2016, UNESCO approved resolutions which the US and Israel have claimed is anti-Israel that ignored the Jewish links to Jerusalem’s holy sites. The organization refers to Temple Mount Complex/Haram esh-Sharif by only English and Arabic names and ignores the Hebrew name. UNESCO also had previously referred to Israel as occupying Palestinian territories. UNESCO adopted another controversial resolution in 2017 when it designated the Al-Khalil Old Town/Hebron as a cultural Heritage Site belonging to Palestinians. The site is located in West Bank and it is home to the tombs of Patriarchs, which is known as Machpela in Judaism.
The Impact of Membership Withdrawal
The US payment to UNESCO accounted for about 22% of the total budget of the organization. The US alone has accrued unpaid dues which add up to more than $600 million. The state of Israel is estimated to owe the organization about $10 million.
About the Author
Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor.
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