WASHINGTON/PARIS (EJP)—“This decision was not taken lightly. It reflects US concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO," said a statement from the US State Department to explain the Trump administration's decision to withdraw from the Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
The statement adds: "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."
The US withdrawal goes into effect at the end of 2018.
"I wish to express profound regret at the decision of the United States of America to withdraw from UNESCO," said Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, in response to the US decision. "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."
Bokova's statement did not address Israel or antisemitism – part of the reason for the American exit from the organization.
In recent months, UNESCO members voted resolutions denying any Jewish connections to the holy sites such as the Temple Mount and the Western Wall.
The US decision to withdraw from UNESCO comes as American Jewish groups have expressed concern that Hamad Bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari, the candidate from Qatar, would succeed Irina Bokova as director-general of the organization at this week’s vote in Paris. The 58 members of the executive board of Unesco met this week for the election.
Al-Kawari, who came first in the first rounds of votes, ahead of the candidates from France and Egypt, is said to have endorse, encourage, sponsor and supported projects and programs with blatant anti-Semitic content when he was Minister of Culture of Qatar.
The winner of the election, who needs a majority of the executive board members, is expected to be announced by Friday.
In a statement, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Chairman Stephen M. Greenberg and Executive Vice Chairman and CEO Malcolm Hoenlein blasted the support for Al-Kawari as “a disappointing example of political hypocrisy and expedience which threatens the future credibility and effectiveness of UNESCO.”
According to the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC), Al-Kawari, has a record of anti-Semitism since several years.
Shimon Samuels, Director of international relations for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said that despite protests from the SWC and other Jewish organizations, Al-Kawari permitted the prominent display of violently anti-Semitic literature at the Doha Annual Book Fairs in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Anti-Semitic texts have also been display on Qatar’s stand at the world-famous book fair in Frankfurt.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has also noted “a foreword [Al-Kawari] wrote in a book that includes charges of Jewish domination of the media, as well as his endorsement of Culture Ministry-organized book fairs that included antisemitic speakers and texts, such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”
The book to which Al-Kawari contributed a preface — entitled Jerusalem in the Eyes of the Poets and published by his own Ministry of Culture in 2013 — traffics in classical anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, claiming that Jews enjoy complete control of the Western media, and that Israel is responsible for the entire range of conflicts and wars in the Middle East. The work of the late French Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy is cited by the book in support of the claim that the Jewish people have no historical connection to the Land of Israel.
Opposition to Al-Kawari on the UNESCO Executive Board is now being spearheaded by Qatar’s bitter Arab rival, Egypt, which has aligned with Saudi Arabia and other Arab states in isolating the because of its ties with Iran and with terrorist groups.
On Wednesday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told Egypt Today that Qatar was using its considerable financial muscle to win votes on the Executive Board.
“UNESCO is an organization that is owned by international society and cannot be sold to a particular state or individual,” Shoukry was quoted as saying.