The decision by the Trump administration to withdraw from full US membership in UNESCO is deeply misguided and will only serve to undermine the interests of both the United States and Israel.
This is just the latest demonstration of the Trump administration’s contempt for international institutions and its full-fledged retreat from American leadership on the world stage. While UNESCO’s member states have a long history of passing resolutions biased against Israel, US withdrawal will do nothing to address these problems. On the contrary, it will simply remove remaining US leverage and influence, further undermining the interests of the US and our allies and empowering those that oppose them.
The suspension of the US contribution to UNESCO in 2011 provided a bleak preview of what happens when the US abdicates responsibility and influence at the UN. The US government was forced to suspend its contribution following Palestinian accession to UNESCO, thanks to earlier poison pill legislation passed by Congress. That action ultimately deprived Israel of the full diplomatic weight of its most vocal and powerful advocate in the organization. As a result, it has been much harder for the US to prevent the passage of biased resolutions related to Jerusalem and other issues. With the US now withdrawing from full membership – and Israel reportedly set to follow – this lack of influence will become even more pronounced.
Making US defunding permanent via this new withdrawal will continue to cripple UNESCO’s important work on anti-extremism, Holocaust education, literacy, science, clean water, education and equal treatment for girls and young women. These are issues of tremendous significance to global security and stability – and that have long been important to the American Jewish community.
Those who embrace this decision as a rebuke to critics of Israel are favoring self-destructive spite over sound strategy. It is deeply disappointing and dangerous that rather than stepping up and exercising effective leadership to help advance our interests and goals around the world, the US under President Trump is settling into a clear pattern of diplomatic retreat and isolation.