CBS News Logo UNESCO U.S. withdrawal: Citing anti-Israel bias, Trump administration leaves agency

Last Updated Oct 12, 2017 11:45 AM EDT UNITED NATIONS -- The Trump administration announced Thursday that the U.S. was pulling out of the U.N.'s economic and cultural agency."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," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.The decision doesn't take effect until Dec. 31, 2018."It is so sad," UNESCO's outgoing director-general, Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, told CBS News. "One of the main goals of UNESCO is prevention of terrorism and building peace - a main piece of U.S. policy."The U.S. announcement comes as the Paris-based agency known for designating cultural sites was in the process of electing a new director-general after Bokova chose not to run for another term.President Trump is not the first American leader to withdraw from UNESCO. In the 1980s President Ronald Reagan pulled the U.S. out over the Soviet tilt of the organization, and the U.S. rejoined under President George W. Bush. President Obama supported the organization but was bound by U.S. law to cut much of its funding.The U.S. stopped funding UNESCO in 2011, when the organization voted to grant full membership to the Palestinian Authority, which, at the time, was not considered a "state" by the U.N. Cheers went up in the voting hall in Paris after delegates voted to approve the membership. One shouted "Long Live Palestine!" in French.U.S. law prohibits funding to any U.N. organization that grants membership to the Palestine Liberation Organization or any group that does not have "internationally recognized attributes of statehood."The membership decision was not the only reason for U.S. antagonism: UNESCO passes resolutions condemning Israel and refers to it as an occupying power. This past summer, UNESCO nominated the old city in the West Bank town of Hebron to be a Palestinian world heritage Continue Reading

Egypt censors play ‘Before the Revolution,’ director appeals

Brian Rohan, Associated Press Updated 10:35 am, Sunday, March 18, 2018 window._taboola = window._taboola || []; _taboola.push({ mode: 'thumbnails-c', container: 'taboola-interstitial-gallery-thumbnails-4', placement: 'Interstitial Gallery Thumbnails 4', target_type: 'mix' }); _taboola.push({flush: true}); Photo: Nariman El-Mofty, AP Image 1of/4 CaptionClose Image 1 of 4 FILE - In this Wednesday, March 14, 2018 file photo, staff working for the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival work as an election campaign banner of Egyptian presidential candidate President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, with partial translation of Arabic that reads, "for safety, stability, and moving forward for our beloved Egypt, we support President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi," hangs on a building in front of them, in Cairo. State censors have banned a play, that is part of the festival, the day of its Cairo premiere, saying it could not be shown without the removal of five scenes. less FILE - In this Wednesday, March 14, 2018 file photo, staff working for the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival work as an election campaign banner of Egyptian presidential candidate President Abdel-Fattah ... more Photo: Nariman El-Mofty, AP Image 2 of 4 In this Wednesday, March 14, 2018 photo, Egyptian director Ahmed El Attar, sits in a room at his office in Cairo, Egypt. State censors have banned a play, that is part of the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival, the day of its Cairo premiere, saying it could not be shown without the removal of five scenes. As a result El Attar cancelled two showings of Before the Revolution, a two-actor piece that depicts oppression and stagnation in Egypt before its 2011 popular uprising. less In this Wednesday, March 14, 2018 photo, Egyptian director Ahmed El Attar, sits in a room at his office in Cairo, Egypt. State censors have Continue Reading

UNESCO’s weird, wonderful new world heritage sites

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U.S. quits UNESCO, the U.N.’s educational and cultural agency. Israel immediately follows suit

Citing what it described as “anti-Israel bias” and a need for “fundamental reform,” the United States announced Thursday that it would withdraw from the United Nations agency that works to protect cultural and natural heritage sites across the globe. Israel has apparently followed suit, with media reporting that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had instructed the Foreign Ministry to begin the process of pulling out of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, better known as UNESCO. Danny Danon, Israel’s permanent representative to the U.N., hailed the development in a tweet Thursday, saying it shows “there is a price to pay for discrimination against Israel.” The U.S. pullout, part of a “long and deliberative” process that predated the Trump administration, would take effect Dec. 31, 2018, according to Heather Nauert, a State Department spokeswoman. In 2011, after UNESCO voted to grant full membership to a Palestinian state, the U.S. stopped funding the Paris-based organization. “This is, in a sense, the end point of a road that we’ve been on for some time, that is an uneasy relationship with UNESCO and especially an uneasy relationship around how it connects to the Israel-Palestine conflict,” said Kal Raustiala, a law professor and director of the Burkle Center for International Relations at UCLA. “Obviously we’re a huge part of UNESCO’s contributions, and symbolically it’s unfortunate,” Raustiala said. “UNESCO is a politicized organization like any U.N. agency. But I think this feeds the perception that it is especially ideological. It’s not going to derail UNESCO entirely, but it’s meaningful because we are a huge contributor of funds and of legitimacy.” In a statement, Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s outgoing director-general, expressed “profound regret” over America’s decision to abandon the group, Continue Reading

Upset at Unesco: Bulgaria Wins Top Job

This article was updated September 22, 2009, at 6:13pm, to reflect the results of the Unesco election. A bitter, at times ugly, battle over the election of a new director general of Unesco, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, ended in a surprise upset on Tuesday, as the Egyptian front-runner was defeated in a last-minute surge of support for a former Bulgarian foreign minister, Irina Bokova. The tally was 31-27 in a contest where 30 votes won the prize. Bokova will be the first woman and the first eastern European to hold the top job at Unesco, which is based in Paris. She will replace Koichiro Matsuura of Japan. Until Monday, when several other candidates had withdrawn and European and other countries coalesced behind Bokova to deny the victory to the controversial Egyptan candidate, Farouk Hosni, he seemed almost unbeatable. But in Monday’s vote by the Unesco board, Bokova suddenly pulled even with Hosni in a 29-29 tie. Only a few weeks ago, Hosni was seen as the leading candidate. He is a recognized artist who has been Egyptian culture minister for twenty-two years. But opposition from critics abroad and at home grews steadily harsher as the voting neared. His 2008 boast in parliament that he would burn any Israeli book found in an Egyptian library has drawn the wrath of Jewish organizations in Europe and the United States. Organizations and individuals promoting freedom of expression have also decried his banning of publications in Egypt, including Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (and the subsequent film) as well as books deemed offensive to Islamists or not in line with Egypt’s culture, according to Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian-born author, writing in the Washington Post. Unesco is the UN’s guardian of press freedom. A stake for the United Nations was the reputation of Unesco as the major cultural center of the UN system at a time when many nations, including the United States under President Continue Reading

Seattle named 2nd U.S. UNESCO City of Literature. What does that mean for Iowa City?

Since 2008, Iowa City has been the only city in the U.S. designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as a City of Literature.That changed Thursday when UNESCO named Seattle a City of Literature, joining 27 other cities across the globe who have earned the designation. "As much as we were ecstatic to be the first U.S. city to be a City of Literature, as much as that was a feather in our cap, we're very glad [Seattle] got in," John Kenyon, executive director of the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature.In fact, both Kenyon and Christopher Merrill, director of the University of Iowa's International Writing Program, who has also served on the National Commission for UNESCO, have been long-time advocates for Seattle being named a City of Literature."It was only a matter of time for Seattle to make it," Kenyon said. Stesha Brandon, a board member of the Seattle City of Literature organization, said it was "a thrill" when the organization learned that they had been added to UNESCO's Creative Cities Network by being awarded the City of Literature designation. "I cannot emphasize how helpful and lovely John and Christopher have been. They have shepherded us through that application process,” Brandon said, crediting the two for the advice they lent and the connections with UNESCO they helped the Seattle organization build."We really feel Seattle is a world-class literary city," Brandon said.It has been a four-year process for the Seattle City of Literature organization to earn the designation, Brandon said. For her, Seattle was a perfect fit for the Creative Cities Network not just for its present work in the literary arts, but because of its impressive, centuries-long connection to storytelling."We have a strong tradition of oral storytelling through indigenous cultures the predated white settlements here," Brandon said. According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, indigenous peoples have been living in the Continue Reading

U.S. again pulling out of UNESCO amid Palestinian tensions

PARIS — U.S. officials have told The Associated Press that the United States is pulling out of UNESCO, after repeated criticism of resolutions by the U.N. cultural agency that Washington sees as anti-Israel. While the U.S. stopped funding UNESCO after it voted to include Palestine as a member in 2011, the State Department has maintained a UNESCO office at its Paris headquarters and sought to weigh in on policy behind the scenes. The withdrawal was confirmed Thursday by U.S. officials speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to be publicly named discussing the decision. It was not clear when the move would be formally announced. The decision comes as the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is voting to choose a new director this week, in tense balloting overshadowed by the agency's funding troubles and divisions over Palestinian membership. Many saw the vote to include Palestine as evidence of long-running, ingrained anti-Israel bias within the United Nations, where Israel and its allies are far outnumbered by Arab countries and their supporters. UNESCO is best known for its World Heritage program to protect cultural sites and traditions around the world. The agency also works to improve education for girls in desperately poor countries and in scientific fields, to promote better understanding of the horrors of the Holocaust and to defend media freedom, among other activities. The Trump administration has been preparing for a likely withdrawal for months, and a decision was expected before the end of the year, according to U.S. officials. Several diplomats who were to have been posted to the mission this summer were told that their positions were on hold and advised to seek other jobs. In addition, the Trump administration's proposed budget for the next fiscal year contains no provision for the possibility that UNESCO funding restrictions might be lifted. The lack of staffing and Continue Reading

Rights groups protest UNESCO heritage status decision in Tibetan area

BEIJING (Reuters) - Tibetan rights groups have criticized a U.N. cultural organization's decision to extend world heritage status to an extensive plateau area in a heavily Tibetan area, saying it reinforces Chinese control in the region. The groups argue the UNESCO designation will allow Chinese authorities to remove residents from the area, known as Hoh Xil in Qinghai province, and threaten its environment and nomadic culture. "The (UNESCO) Committee ignored the reality that Tibetans, and nomads in particular, are stewards of the landscape whose role is essential to sustaining the wildlife," said Kai Mueller, executive director of the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT). The area has an elevation of more than 4,500 metres (14,764 feet) and is home to several endemic species as well as the entire migratory route of the endangered Tibetan antelope. The designation of protected areas does not give UNESCO any powers of enforcement, but has proved to be controversial in areas plagued by conflicting territorial claims. On Friday, UNESCO also designated an ancient shrine in the occupied West Bank, revered by both Jews and Muslims, as a "Palestinian World Heritage Site in Danger", angering Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who called the decision "delusional". The Tibetan rights groups argue the UNESCO designation could accelerate Chinese efforts to move nomads into settled villages. "UNESCO is supposed to uphold and safeguard the world's culture, but this shameful decision will do exactly the opposite and will ultimately assist China in denying Tibetans their fundamental rights," Pema Yoko, executive director of advocacy group Students for a Free Tibet, said in a statement. At a U.N. forum in March, China was pressed by members to ease its clamp-down on Tibet, in a rare show of direct criticism from member countries. There are also large Tibetan communities in neighboring provinces like Qinghai and Sichuan. China's foreign ministry and did Continue Reading

U.S., Israel lose UNESCO voting rights in dispute over Palestinian membership

American influence in culture, science and education around the world took a high-profile blow Friday when the U.S. automatically lost voting rights at UNESCO by missing a deadline to repay its debt to the world’s cultural agency. The U.S. hasn’t paid its dues to the Paris-based U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in three years in protest to the decision by world governments to make Palestine a UNESCO member in 2011. Israel suspended its dues at the same time in support of the U.S. and also lost voting rights on Friday. Under UNESCO rules, the U.S. and Israel had until Friday morning to resume funding or explain themselves, or to automatically lose their vote. A UNESCO official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue, said nothing was received from either country. The suspension of U.S. contributions — which account for $80 million a year, or 22 percent of UNESCO’s overall budget — brought the agency to the brink of a financial crisis and forced it to end or scale back American-led initiatives such as Holocaust education and tsunami research over the past two years. Many in Washington are now worried that the U.S. is on track to becoming a toothless UNESCO member with a weakened voice in international programs such as fighting extremism through education and promoting gender equality and press freedoms. Some fear that a weaker U.S. presence will lead to growing anti-Israeli sentiment within UNESCO, where Arab-led criticism of Israel for territorial reasons has long been an issue. “We won’t be able to have the same clout,” said Phyllis Magrab, the Washington-based U.S. national commissioner for UNESCO. “In effect, we (now won’t) have a full tool box. We’re missing our hammer.” The UNESCO tension has prompted new criticism of U.S. laws that force an automatic funding cutoff for any U.N. agency with Palestine as a member. The official list Continue Reading

Airstrikes targeting Shiite rebels destroy part of Yemen’s UNESCO heritage site, kill at least 6

SANAA, Yemen — Saudi-led airstrikes targeting Shiite rebels and their allies in Yemen destroyed historic houses on Friday in the center of the capital, Sanaa, a UNESCO world heritage site. Rescue teams digging through the debris pulled the bodies of six civilians from under the rubble. The bombing drew swift condemnation from the U.N. cultural agency, whose chief expressed sorrow at the loss of human life and the destruction of priceless architectural heritage. Yemen's conflict has left millions of the Arab world's poorest nation in dire need of humanitarian assistance in just about everything -- from fuel to water, food, electricity and medical supplies -- as civilians are increasingly caught in the crossfire. Also, early on Friday, random shelling killed 12 civilians in the southwestern city of Taiz, which witnessed some of the fiercest battles between rebels and southern fighters, witnesses and officials said. In the Sanaa airstrikes, residents initially believed the warplanes had targeted a house occupied by a senior rebel commander, but officials and witnesses later said there were no Shiite rebels among the victims. The impact of the missiles flattened at least three houses and caused cracks in surrounding buildings, which are cemented to one another, leaving large sections of the old city's district at the risk of collapse. At a destroyed four-story building, an Associated Press reporter saw a pile of bricks, dust and wood mingled with clothes, kitchenware and water tanks, which are traditionally kept on roofs. An adjacent three-story building was split in half, wooden window frames dangling from the upper floors. Rescue workers were covered with dust as they searched for victims. Most of the old city's three-to-four-story buildings had been emptied out weeks ago, as their residents left in fear of the airstrikes. The Saudi-led coalition launched the campaign in Continue Reading