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WJC's Lauder said to urge Lapid to make the move

Lapid said weighing Israel’s return to UNESCO, over 2 years after it left

Foreign minister reportedly instructs officials to review situation; source says any move will be coordinated with Washington, which also left agency in 2019 over apparent bias

French Jews hold Israeli flags, as they take part at a demonstration against UNESCO, near the cultural agency's Paris headquarters, July 17, 2017. (Serge Attal/Flash90)
French Jews hold Israeli flags, as they take part at a demonstration against UNESCO, near the cultural agency's Paris headquarters, July 17, 2017. (Serge Attal/Flash90)

The Israeli government is considering rejoining the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), from which it withdrew in 2019, the Axios news site reported Wednesday.

According to unnamed officials, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid asked his office to review the case several weeks ago and its International Organizations Department is expected to present a recommendation soon.

Israel left UNESCO, as did the United States during the Trump administration, over the international body’s alleged anti-Israel bias.

However, according to Axios, Lapid believes Israel’s withdrawal from the international forum only made foreign policy less effective.

Several weeks ago, the foreign minister received a phone call from Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, who urged him to rejoin the agency, sources told the site.

If Israel were to rejoin UNESCO, it could pave the way for the US, now under President Joe Biden, to return to the agency as well, the report said.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid meets with 26 EU foreign ministers in Brussels, July 12, 2021. (European Union)

A Foreign Ministry spokesperson told Axios that Israel would coordinate any decision it makes regarding UNESCO with the US.

A Palestinian-led 2016 UNESCO resolution that ignored Jewish ties to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall caused then-education minister Naftali Bennett to cut ties between his office and the agency. Bennett is now Israel’s prime minister, after replacing Benjamin Netanyahu in June.

In October 2017, mere days after the US administration announced its withdrawal from UNESCO due to, among other things, its alleged obsession with Israel, Netanyahu declared that he was following the US lead.

View of the a mosque in the Old City of Acre, in Northern Israel on October 24, 2016. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Jerusalem and Washington ignored strenuous efforts by the agency’s director-general, Audrey Azoulay, to get both countries to reconsider, including brokering compromises that saw anti-Israel resolutions delayed or softened.

Israel joined UNESCO on September 16, 1949, and is home to six UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including Masada, the Old City of Acre, the Bahai Temples in Haifa and the “White City” of Tel Aviv. These sites remain on the list.

The United States has pulled out of UNESCO before. The Reagan administration did so in 1984 because it viewed the agency as mismanaged, corrupt, and used to advance Soviet interests. The US rejoined in 2003 before leaving again in 2019.

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