U.S. and Israel Lose Voting Rights in UNESCO

The United States and Israel lost their voting rights at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on Friday after suspending funding to the organization in 2011 when it admitted “Palestine” as a member.

A source from the UN agency who spoke to AFP said neither the United States nor Israel “presented the necessary documentation this morning to avoid losing their right to vote.”

In a controversial decision, UNESCO accepted the PA as a member in October of 2011, after 107 members voted in favor of the motion. Only 14 nations voted against the PA, including the United States, Canada, Germany and Israel.

The move prompted the United States to cut off funding to the organization, due to a longstanding law that prohibits U.S. support for any United Nations-affiliated body that accepts Palestinian Authority membership.

The fact that both Israel and the U.S. stopped paying their contributions to the global cultural agency provoked a major financial crisis at the agency and put hundreds of jobs in jeopardy, reported AFP.

Under UNESCO rules, the U.S. and Israel had until Friday to pay their dues or automatically lose voting rights.

U.S. contributions represented 22 percent of the agency’s overall budget. With the US and Israel withdrawing their contributions UNESCO’s budget fell from $653 million to $507 million.

The reduced budget means some 300 people at UNESCO are in danger of losing their jobs. In 2012 the UN agency employed 1,200 people at its headquarters in Paris and 900 around the world.

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“The list of countries that will lose their voting rights will be announced probably tomorrow (Saturday) in a plenary session,” the same UNESCO source told AFP.

UNESCO’s chief Irina Bokova has raised $75 million to deal with the financial crisis at the agency, which is responsible for selecting and overseeing World Heritage sites and deals with literacy, media freedom, science and environmental issues.

Responding to Friday’s decision, the United States expressed “regret” at losing voting rights at UNESCO.

“We regret that today the United States lost its vote in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) General Conference,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

In a statement, she however noted that “a loss of vote in the General Conference is not a loss of U.S. membership,” and said the United States intends to continue its active participation.

The organization has for years been biased against Israel and, most recently, planned a “monitoring visit” to the Old City of Jerusalem  following pressure from Jordan and the PA.

Ahead of the start of the delegation’s work, Israel called it off, explaining that the PA was were trying to “politicize” it contrary to understandings reached by the sides, and to change the action plan UNESCO decided upon in 2010.

The UN group claimed it wanted to visit Jerusalem to catalog the sites, and that the trip was to be professional in nature – and that it would not have a political character. On that basis, the government agreed to allow the group into Israel.

In reality, however, UNESCO officials had set up several meetings with Arab activists, Palestinian Authority figures, and terrorists, giving the visit a political, not professional, character.

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After admitting “Palestine” as a member, UNESCO designated Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity and the nearby pilgrimage route as a World Heritage site.

After it succeeded in getting the Church of the Nativity recognized as a World Heritage Site, the PA had announced it would seek to have additional religious sites recognized by UNESCO.

Source material can be found at this site.

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