The vote on Oct. 31 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization to admit Palestine prompted the United States to announce that it is effectively withdrawing support for UNESCO.
The United States technically will remain a member of UNESCO, which works on worldwide education issues among other activities, but won’t be paying its dues, the State Department announced on Monday.
“The United States remains steadfast in its support for the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state, but such a state can only be realized through direct negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in the statement. “Palestinian membership as a state in UNESCO triggers longstanding legislative restrictions which will compel the United States to refrain from making contributions to UNESCO.”
The loss of an estimated $80 million a year from the U.S. to UNESCO threatens the work of the organization, which helps promote literacy programs worldwide and has worked to develop competitive media in Iraq and Egypt, among other projects, according to a statement from the Paris-based organization.
And so the tortured relationship between the U.S. and UNESCO continues.
In 2003, the U.S. rejoined UNESCO after a nearly 20-year absence. According to this EdWeek story, the United States dropped out of UNESCO in 1984 amid allegations of mismanagement at the organization, complaints about its perceived anti-democratic agenda, and criticism of the agency’s plan to monitor the press corps around the world.
Then-President Ronald Reagan, through a formal administration statement, accused UNESCO of “politiciz[ing] every subject it deals with,” and exhibiting “a hostility toward the basic institutions of a free society.”
Britain and Singapore also pulled out of UNESCO in the 1980s, and Britain returned in 1998.