UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France
UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France

The U.S. State Department announced Thursday afternoon its intent to withdraw from UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) citing anti-Israel bias.

“On October 12, 2017, the Department of State notified UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova of the U.S. decision to withdraw from the organization and to seek to establish a permanent observer mission to UNESCO. This decision was not taken lightly and reflects U.S. concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO,” Heather Nauert, State Department spokesperson, said in a released statement.

“The United States indicated to the Director-General its desire to remain engaged with UNESCO as a non-member observer state in order to contribute U.S. views, perspectives, and expertise on some of the important issues undertaken by the organization, including the protection of world heritage, advocating for press freedoms, and promoting scientific collaboration and education,” she added.

The United States’ withdrawal will not go into effect until December 31, 2018.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Twitter commended President Donald Trump’s decision and said Israel would also withdraw.

Universality is critical to UNESCO’s mission to strengthen international peace and security in the face of hatred and violence, to defend human rights and dignity,” UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said expressing “profound regret” by the U.S. decision.

“This is a loss to the United Nations family. This is a loss for multilateralism,” she added.

Watch Bokova’s full statement:

UNESCO has passed numerous anti-Israel resolutions in the past. UNESCO has remained silent when acts of anti-Israel terrorism have been committed, but quick to issue resolutions condemning and demeaning Israel. Recent resolutions have called Israel as an “occupying power” in Jerusalem, and recently, they have barred Israeli scientists from performing archaeological excavations in the Old City of Jerusalem, even though scientists’ previous findings have been of great significance to Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike.

This year they designated the ancient city of Hebron a Palestinian World Heritage Site. Hebron is the location of the Tomb of the Patriarchs having historical, cultural, and biblical significance to the Israeli people. The United States cut funding to UNESCO in 2011 after it gave full membership to the Palestinians. In 2016 Israel suspended cooperation with UNESCO after the executive council passed an Arab-sponsored resolution that referred to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem by its Arabic name (Haram al-Sharif) and made no reference to Jewish ties to this critical holy site.

This is not the first time the United States has withdrawn from UNESCO. President Ronald Reagan removed the United States in 1984 calling UNESCO a left-wing political organization that was financially irresponsible. The United States rejoined in 2003 under President George W. Bush.

On Friday, Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-Florida) and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) introduced a resolution in the House and the Senate condemning UNESCO.

The resolution reads:

Affirming the historical connection of the Jewish people to the ancient and sacred city of Jerusalem and condemning efforts at the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to deny Judaism’s millennia-old historical, religious, and cultural ties to Jerusalem.

Whereas for over 3,000 years, Jerusalem has played a central role in the history and identity of the Jewish people;

Whereas Jerusalem is the location of the holiest site for the Jewish people, the Temple Mount, as well as the Western Wall, where Jews from across the world come to pray;

Whereas Jerusalem has been a Christian pilgrimage site for over 2,000 years, and holds considerable religious significance for Christians;

Whereas Jerusalem is home to the third holiest site in Islam, and holds considerable religious significance for Muslims;

Whereas Jerusalem serves as a cultural and religious inspiration to billions of people around the world;

Whereas the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has passed a series of anti-Israel resolutions in recent years regarding Jerusalem, both at the Committee level and by the Executive Board—a governing body of UNESCO;

Whereas these biased resolutions are attempts to erase or minimize the Jewish as well as Christian historical and religious ties to Jerusalem, and unjustly single out our close ally Israel with false accusations and criticism;

Whereas numerous archaeological excavations, such as those taking place in the City of David, Israel’s most archaeologically excavated site, have uncovered a myriad of antiquities which scientifically reaffirm Jerusalem’s historical significance to Judaism as well as Christianity;

Whereas the City of David is the archaeological site of ancient Jerusalem, and is believed to be the very site recorded in the Bible upon which King David established the capital of ancient Israel;

Whereas since 1867, there have been archaeological excavations at the site of the City of David, including international delegations of archaeologists from the United States, England, France, and Germany;

Whereas these excavations have unearthed antiquities from over 10 different civilizations, including Canaanite, Israelite, Roman, Byzantine, and Persian;

Whereas the current excavations of the City of David are carried out under the auspices of the Israel Antiquities Authority, and are held to the highest scientific standards;

Whereas among the most significant archaeological discoveries unearthed from the City of David include the Siloam Inscription (8th century B.C.E.), which recounts the preparations made by King Hezekiah of Judah for the impending Assyrian siege against Jerusalem, consistent with the Biblical account from 2 Kings; clay seal impressions/bullae (6th century B.C.E.) bearing the names of two Judean Government officials who are mentioned in the very same verse in the Bible, Jeremiah 38:1; the Pool of Siloam (1st century B.C.E.), which served during the Second Temple period as a ritual bath for the hundreds of thousands of Jewish pilgrims ascending annually to the Temple, which stood atop the Temple Mount; and the Second Temple Pilgrimage Road (1st century C.E.), which began at the Pool of Siloam and served as the main thoroughfare of Second Temple period Jerusalem that carried hundreds of thousands of people on their annual pilgrimages to the Temple;

Whereas the Pilgrimage Road located within the City of David, which stretches 600 meters from the Pool of Siloam to the footsteps of the Western Wall, will be open to visitors upon completion of the excavation; and

Whereas these discoveries affirm the undeniable truth that the City of David, the Western Wall, and the Temple Mount are inextricably linked together—physically, historically, and symbolically—as the bedrock of the connection between the Jewish people and Jerusalem, and have been for millennia: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the House of Representatives—

(1) recognizes and affirms the historical connection of the Jewish people to the ancient and sacred city of Jerusalem;

(2) recognizes and affirms that the archaeological discoveries from the City of David, the site of ancient Jerusalem, present undeniable scientific evidence of the millennia-old connection of Jerusalem to the Jewish people, and, by extension, to Christianity;

(3) commends the Government of Israel for protecting the freedoms of all faiths in Jerusalem including Jews, Christians, and Muslims, ensuring their access to holy sites so that they may worship freely;

(4) condemns any past, present, or future efforts at UNESCO to delegitimize Israel through attempts to rewrite and deny the history of Jerusalem; and

(5) encourages the United States to continue working with allies to prevent UNESCO from passing biased and unjust anti-Israel resolutions in the future.

“The Jewish people, and the people of Israel have a deep and ancient connection to the holy city of Jerusalem. Yet the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, is actively trying to rewrite history. UNESCO has not been silent in their condemnations of Israel. Each year brings new horrors. Their cruelty, their attempts to erase history, and their anti-Semitism cannot be tolerated any longer,” Gaetz said.

“The Trump Administration has demonstrated strong moral clarity in deciding to withdraw and continuing to withhold U.S. taxpayer dollars from UNESCO as a result of its relentless hostility towards our close ally Israel,” Cruz said. “I am proud to have worked with Rep. Matt Gaetz on this bicameral resolution that formally rejects UNESCO’s shameful and absurd attempts to deliberately erase the history of Jerusalem, Israel’s eternal capital. This resolution reaffirms the profound historical connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem that has existed for thousands of years, describes archeological excavations at the City of David that have revealed incontrovertible, physical evidence of the Jewish, as well as Christian ties to Jerusalem, and denounces efforts at UNESCO to delegitimize Israel and deny historical truth.”

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