Poll: Is the US right to withdraw from Unesco? - Museums Association

Poll: Is the US right to withdraw from Unesco?

US formally notified organisation last week
Patrick Steel
Last week the United States formally notified the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) that it would withdraw its membership from 31 December 2018, citing “mounting arrears at Unesco, the need for fundamental reform in the organisation, and continuing anti-Israel bias“.

Museums Journal understands that Israel is also planning to leave the organisation.

The Israeli government was unhappy with a Unesco vote earlier this year to inscribe the old city of Hebron as a world heritage site in Palestine.

The old city, home to several hundred Jewish settlers under the protection of the Israeli army and around 200,000 Palestinian residents, is the focus of disputes between Israel and Palestine.

Muslim and Jewish worshippers at the Tomb of the Patriarch, one of the sites inscribed by Unesco, are separated by a metal barrier and all visitors to the site have to go through an Israeli army checkpoint.

Irina Bokova, Unesco’s director-general, said: “I wish to express profound regret at the decision of the United States of America to withdraw from Unesco.

“Universality is critical to Unesco’s mission to strengthen international peace and security in the face of hatred and violence, to defend human rights and dignity.”

Daniel Weiss, the president and chief executive officer of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, said: "One of our most important responsibilities as museum leaders is to protect cultural heritage and promote international education.

“For more than half a century The Met and countless other museums have successfully partnered with Unesco, an organisation that has earned the respect of nations and communities worldwide for bringing together curators, conservators, and a range of other scholars to educate, preserve, protect, and support the intellectual and artistic traditions of our shared cultural heritage.

“President Trump's decision to withdraw from Unesco undermines the historic role of the United States as a leader in this effort and weakens our position as a strong advocate for cultural preservation.

“Although Unesco may be an imperfect organisation, it has been an important leader and steadfast partner in this crucial work. The Met remains deeply committed to productive engagement with Unesco and our colleagues around the world who share this important objective."

On Saturday Unesco elected Audrey Azoulay to be its next director-general. A former French culture minister, Azoulay was described by The Jerusalem Post as “the first Jewish head of an organisation often charged with anti-Israel bias”, and insiders are hoping that she could persuade the US to reconsider its decision.

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