The U.S. Department of State announced Thursday morning the U.S. will withdraw from UNESCO, the United Nations agency that deals with education, science, and culture, because of “anti-Israel bias,” a move that a senior official at the U.N. Foundation finds counterproductive.
“We're pretty disappointed by this decision,” Peter Yeo, vice president for public policy and advocacy at the U.N. Foundation, told Independent Journal Review. “This is a real blow to American interests and a real knock against a very important U.N. organization.”
Yeo said he believes the withdrawal, which will be finalized by 2018, will hamper U.S. interests in educating illiterate Afghan police officers, countering violent extremism, and educating young girls.
On Wednesday, the White House released a statement on International Day of the Girl, committing itself to “ensuring young women have the access, education, and training they need to reach their full potential.”
But Yeo said in the interview, “As the Trump administration considers how it's going to support girls, they should be working with UNESCO, not against it.”
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert cited in a statement Thursday that one of the main reasons the U.S. decided to leave the agency is “the need for fundamental reform in the organization.”
Yeo echoed the need for changes, but he stressed that abandoning the agency would only serve to harm, not help.
“Frankly, U.N. organizations reform best when the U.S. is at the table. By pulling away, the United States will undermine efforts to reform UNESCO moving forward,” he said.
Yeo disputed the administration's suggestion that UNESCO is biased against Israel: “There's a difference between being anti-Israel and the fact that the member states voted to admit Palestine as a member state. I believe the term 'anti-Israel' as it applies to UNESCO is not accurate.”
According to the State Department, withdrawal will take immediate effect on Dec. 31, 2018, although the U.S. will continue to remain a nonmember observer state for the specialized agency.