As US prepares to leave UNESCO, envoy urges deep reforms

UNESCO must change and focus on its stated mission, the US ambassador to the organization urged.

The chief US envoy at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said anti-Israel bias and opaque bureaucracy are hobbling the UN cultural agency and is urging deep reforms.

Chris Hegadorn made the appeal Saturday at the agency’s Paris headquarters in one of the last major American speeches to UNESCO before the US withdraws next year.

Hegadorn said the decision to leave “wasn’t taken lightly” but was necessary because of budget reasons, because of the UNESCO’s inclusion of the Palestinians as a member and because countries use the agency to advance their political agendas, primarily against Israel.

He urged UNESCO to speed up spending decisions and do more to prevent “violent extremism,” meaning terrorism through education, notably on social media.

He said the US will remain “a determined advocate for the ideals on which UNESCO was founded” and support heritage protection and educational efforts.

The US State Department announced its withdrawal from UNESCO last month, citing “continuing anti-Israel bias” among the reasons.

“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 spokesperson Heather Nauert said in a statement.

“This is a courageous and ethical decision because UNESCO has become a theater of the absurd and instead of preserving history, distorts it,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated.

He has instructed the Foreign Ministry to prepare Israel’s withdrawal from UNESCO in parallel with the US, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a press statement.

“In recent years, UNESCO has transformed itself into a delusional organization that lost its professional path in favor of the political interests of certain countries,” said Israel’s representative Carmel Shama-Hacohen.

By: AP and World Israel News Staff