Foreign Ministry denies opposing UNESCO withdrawal

Foreign Ministry denies opposing UNESCO withdrawal

Ministry say it is ‘unequivocally’ committed to leaving UN’s cultural arm following report diplomats have expressed reservations

The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Foreign Ministry denied a report on Tuesday it opposes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s directive for Israel to withdraw from UNESCO, saying it remains “unequivocally” committed to pulling out of the United Nations’ cultural arm.

“The Foreign Ministry is preparing to implement the prime minister’s directive on the matter of leaving UNESCO. Unequivocally,” it said.

The denial came in response to a Channel 10 report that diplomats expressed their reservations over withdrawing from UNESCO at a Foreign Ministry meeting last week attended by the ministry’s director general Yuval Rotem.

Earlier this month, Netanyahu said Israel would follow the United States’ lead in pulling out of UNESCO. The State Department cited “mounting arrears,” the need for reform and UNESCO’s “continuing anti-Israel bias” when announcing its decision.

According to Tuesday’s report, Foreign Ministry officials are concerned Israel would be unable to rejoin the organization if it quits, as the support of a majority of its members — many of whom are Arab and Muslim states seen as hostile to Israel — is needed for entry to UNESCO.

The US, on the other hand, could likely easily muster the necessary votes to rejoin UNESCO, creating the possibility of a situation in which Israel finds itself alone outside the organization.

A picture taken on October 12, 2017, shows the logo of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) headquarters in Paris. (AFP/Jacques Demarthon)

During the meeting diplomats floated the possibility that the Trump administration would successfully push for reforming UNESCO, allowing Israel to remain alongside the US.

The officials also agreed on dispatching a delegation to Washington and New York in the coming weeks in an effort to convince the Trump administration to give Israel more flexibility on the matter and allow it remain in the organization even if the US quits, the report said, citing the minutes of the meeting.

Although Netanyahu, who also serves as foreign minister, has reiterated Israel is preparing to depart from UNESCO, the Foreign Ministry still has not informed the organization of the country’s intention to withdraw.

As UNESCO rules state a decision to quit by a country does not take effect until December 31 of the year after it formally notifies the organization of its withdrawal, the earliest Israel could depart is December 31, 2018, when the US is scheduled to leave.

While Israel has long been critical of UNESCO for its bias against the Jewish state, the organization has drawn Jerusalem’s ire over the past year for a number of resolutions it passed, such as the Paris-body’s recent decision to declare the the Old City of Hebron in the West Bank an endangered world heritage site.

It has also passed several resolutions ignoring Jewish ties to Jerusalem, drawing Israeli officials’ fury.

Netanyahu’s declaration Israel would quit UNESCO came just a day after it unanimously agreed to delay voting on a pair of anti-Israel resolutions in what was a significant diplomatic achievement for Israel, with the Foreign Ministry noting it was the first time no anti-Israel resolutions were passed at a UNESCO session since 2011.

UNESCO’s incoming leader Audrey Azoulay, who was chosen for the post the day after the US and Israeli announcements, has implored the two countries to reconsider their decisions, saying “In a time of crisis, we need to be more involved than ever, seek to strengthen [UNESCO], and not leave it.”

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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