Biden admin wants back in with UNESCO after Trump’s withdrawal

Former Vice President Mike Pence last week made a visit to Hebron, where he and his wife Karen paid a visit to the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.

The tomb is the burial site of the founding fathers and mothers of the Jewish people: Abraham and his wife Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah. Adam and Eve are also buried at the site, according to believers in Jewish mysticism.

Pence’s visit comes as the Biden administration is said to be exploring ways to rejoin the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO),

which voted for a Palestinian resolution in 2017 that declared the Tomb of the Patriarchs a Palestinian world heritage site in danger.

That decision and several others led the Trump administration to officially withdraw from UNESCO in 2019. Making the decision to rejoin the agency is also problematic because U.S. law forbids U.S. membership at U.N. bodies that have allowed full Palestinian membership.

Yishai Fleisher, the international spokesman for the Jewish community of Hebron who took the Pences on the tour, told Fox News Digital that the “Trump/Pence administration courageously decided that this was not going to stand and simply walked out of UNESCO because of the antisemitic history erasing decision against the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.” He said Pence’s trip to Hebron “was an opportunity to thank him for that courageous step in honoring and re-affirming Jewish history.

Fleisher said the trip was a historic one. “How moving it is that an American former vice president takes all this political heat to come out here and to show his yearning to connect with Abraham, what a beautiful thing. What a beautiful thing that is that people who love the Bible and guide their life through the Bible and are leaders of the free world.”

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UNESCO was co-founded by the U.S. after the Second World War to build peace through international cooperation in education, science and culture as well as to protect world heritage sites. Observers say the agency began its anti-Western shift in the early 1980s.

“The U.S. left UNESCO in 1984 because of the organization’s politicization, anti-Western bias, rampant mismanagement, and advocacy of policies that undermine freedom of the press and free markets,” noted Brett Schaefer a United Nations expert at the Heritage Foundation. The U.S. returned to the body in 2003 only having to leave again in 2011 after the Obama administration was forced to due to U.S. law.

“U.S. law prohibits any funding of U.N. organizations that grant the Palestinians full membership,” Schaefer explained. “UNESCO granted the Palestinians full membership in 2011 knowing that this would cut off U.S. funding. If the law were changed, it would be a green light for the Palestinians to join other U.N. organizations. Thus, rejoining UNESCO would undermine a foreign policy priority of opposing Palestinian recognition and membership in international organizations absent a negotiated peace with Israel.”

Protesters burn a portrait of Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and the Israeli flag during a demonstration in the southern Gaza Strip. (Yousef Masoud/SOPA Images/Sipa USA)

Protesters burn a portrait of Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and the Israeli flag during a demonstration in the southern Gaza Strip. (Yousef Masoud/SOPA Images/Sipa USA)

Schaefer told Fox News Digital there are several reasons why the Biden administration wants to return to UNESCO, and one is the administration’s policy of reversing Trump era decisions to leave U.N. organizations, such as the Human Rights Council and the WHO.

“Democrats tend to support engagement and participation in international organizations by default,” he noted. “This is why the Obama administration did not withdraw after UNESCO granted the Palestinians full membership in 2011 but focused on changing U.S. law to allow UNESCO funding. Third, there is a concern about China’s influence in U.N. organizations in general and UNESCO is no exception, but the ability of the U.S. to influence UNESCO is limited.”

Last year it was reported by Reuters that there was a move afoot in Congress that would potentially waive the law and open the way for the U.S. to rejoin UNESCO.

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A State Department spokesperson in response to a Fox News Digital query seemed to indicate the U.S was looking to return. “The president has stated he believes firmly that more can be accomplished by working within U.N. organizations than outside. The many responses to the invasion of Ukraine, including in such bodies as the U.N. General Assembly and the U.N. Human Rights Council, illustrate the effect of U.S. multilateral leadership.”

The spokesperson said one reason was China’s growing influence at the U.N. “UNESCO is an important body engaged in a broad range of work that affects U.S. security, scientific and commercial interests,” the spokesperson said, “and our absence there has left a void that other member states, including the PRC, have sought to exploit. We will continue to consult with Congress to discuss the necessary actions that would be required before any decision to rejoin UNESCO could be taken.”

Schaefer, who is an expert on international regulatory affairs at Heritage’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, warned that if the U.S. does rejoin, there is also over half a billion dollars owed to UNESCO in arrears. “The U.S. will have virtually zero say in how that huge windfall, approximately its entire regular budget appropriation, will be spent.”


He cautioned, “UNESCO’s past decisions don’t inspire confidence. As we are witnessing with the WHO and HRC, unconditional re-engagement does not necessarily lead to U.S. influence or a willingness to support U.S. policies or positions. Unlike the Security Council, where the U.S. has a veto, UNESCO decisions are by a simple majority or two-thirds majority vote. Assuming other concerns could be resolved, the U.S. should seek forgiveness of the arrears as a precondition of re-engagement.”

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