Congratulations are in order for President Trump, Secretary Tillerson, and Ambassador Haley on our withdrawal — yet again — from the United Nations “Educational,” “Scientific,” and “Cultural” Organization. We put those words in quotation marks to signal that Unesco has nothing to do with what was conceived of as a noble mission. It has become — yet again — a cesspool of corruption and anti-Israelism. Let us hope that this time we are out of it for good.
The first time time we quit was at 1984, when President Reagan led a walkout that also included Britain and Singapore. That time the emphasis was on Unesco’s tilt toward the Soviet Union, though corruption was part of the issue, too. For those of us whose beat included Unesco and France, where Unesco is headquartered, and the Middle East, it was a satisfying story to cover.There was reason to believe it might produce reforms.
After all, President Carter’s decision to pull out of the International Labor Organization had bracing results on that wing of the vast United Nations system. By 2002, President George W. Bush reckoned it was time for America to rejoin Unesco. Our editorial ran under the headline “The Unesco Blunder.” We warned of “the prospect that Unesco will fetch up on the wrong side in the war the Islamic extremists are fighting against America and Israel.”
That is what transpired. Congress got its back up and passed a law prohibiting our payment of dues to any organization that admitted “Palestine.” Unesco welcomed Palestine, nonetheless, and the Obama administration was forced to cut off our dues. Secretary of State Kerry slithered to Paris to reassure Unesco that it would eventually get paid. Another instance of Mr. Kerry, absent authority, siding with foreigners against our own congress.
Meantime the unpaid balance has snowballed to something like $500 million. We’re told by our leg at the United Nations, Benny Avni, that the Qataris have offered to cover the entire $500 million if their nominee gets secretary general. He’s up against more than a dozen candidates, including a French nominee, Audrey Azoulay, a socialist and daughter of Andre Azoulay, famed adviser to King Mohammad VI of Morocco. Lucky will be he or she who doesn’t get the job.
The fact is that Unesco is bent on the isolation of Israel. It’s not just the admission of Palestine. It has lately declared both Jerusalem and Hebron to be World Heritage Sites, theoretically inserting the United Nations into their supervision and, in any event, blaspheming any notion that they are Jewish heritage sites, which each has been for millennia. That was no accident. Unesco acted in a calculated way, and it is no wonder that Prime Minister Netanyahu promptly announced that Israel would quit, too.
It will be illuminating to see who follows. UNESCO’s outgoing director-general, Irina Bokova, is expressing her "profound regret" at America’s decision. She reckons it’s a loss for “the United Nations family” and for multilateralism. She suggests America’s remaining in Unesco would have helped to fight “the rise of violent extremism and terrorism.” Our terroristic enemies, though, have been on the march our whole time in Unesco. So as we say, au revoir, our eyes are dry.