EXCLUSIVE: US Bid to Rejoin UN Education Agency Could Be Derailed by House GOP

EXCLUSIVE: US Bid to Rejoin UN Education Agency Could Be Derailed by House GOP
The logo of UNESCO in Paris on Nov. 12, 2021. (Julien de Rosa/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Alex Newman

Despite an ongoing scandal involving the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) leadership and the agency’s decision to flout U.S. law by admitting the “State of Palestine” as a member state, the United States is now formally seeking to rejoin.

However, lawmakers may scuttle the effort by refusing to provide necessary funding.

If it moves forward, rejoining the U.N. education and culture agency is expected to cost U.S. taxpayers more than half a billion dollars just to rejoin, with additional funding expected each year going forward.

There has been some criticism in Congress already. And congressional appropriators dealing with foreign operations and State Department funding have vowed to terminate funding for UNESCO in the 2024 budget.

The Biden administration and defenders of the move argue that rejoining the agency would help counter the influence of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

A spokesman for the U.S. State Department told The Epoch Times that the move would advance U.S. interests and restore American leadership.

The podium at the State Department in Washington on April 11, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
The podium at the State Department in Washington on April 11, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

In a June 8 letter to UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay obtained by The Epoch Times, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Richard Verma also argued that the international agency had made progress in addressing the concerns that caused the U.S. government to withdraw in 2018.

But critics contend that, among other concerns, rejoining the U.N. agency would actually be a boon to the CCP, which has members serving in senior positions.

It would also benefit other forces hostile to U.S. interests and allies such as Israel, according to experts, lawmakers, and former officials.

Opponents of the move who spoke to The Epoch Times, including senior officials behind the 2017 decision to leave UNESCO, slammed the Biden administration’s move to rejoin.

“They ought to be paying us to be involved,” argued former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs of State Kevin Moley, who, along with former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, shepherded the withdrawal through to completion.

Speaking to The Epoch Times in a phone interview, Ambassador Moley said the decision would not serve U.S. interests. Instead, he argued, it will benefit U.S. adversaries such as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Citing a variety of issues including anti-Semitism, waste, corruption, and extremism within the U.N. education agency, the Trump administration announced that the U.S. government would withdraw from the organization in 2017.

Pointing to murderous dictatorships on the agency’s “human rights” committee and other policies, then-U.N. Ambassador Haley at the time said the “extreme politicization” of UNESCO had “become a chronic embarrassment.”

“Just as we said in 1984 when President Reagan withdrew from UNESCO, U.S. taxpayers should no longer be on the hook to pay for policies that are hostile to our values and make a mockery of justice and common sense,” Haley said.

The logo of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is seen in Paris on Nov. 12, 2013. (Jacques Brinon/AP Photo)
The logo of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is seen in Paris on Nov. 12, 2013. (Jacques Brinon/AP Photo)

Even before that, federal laws barring U.S. support for international organizations that accept the “State of Palestine” as a member forced the Obama administration to stop U.S. taxpayer funding to UNESCO over a decade ago. The laws were aimed at forcing Arabs to negotiate a settlement with Israel rather than unilaterally seeking statehood via international organizations.

The Reagan administration pointed to similar problems as those cited by the Trump administration decades later.

As previously reported in November of 2021, the Biden administration was hoping to rejoin the organization after having rejoined various other U.N. entities and agreements. At the time, U.S. law made that impossible due to the membership of the Palestinians.

But in December, with Democrats getting ready to hand over power in the House of Representatives, Congress approved the omnibus bill with a waiver purporting to allow the administration to rejoin and fund UNESCO if it believed the move would serve U.S. interests. The bill also authorized more than $500 million of taxpayer money in arrears for the agency.

However, sources on Capitol Hill tell The Epoch Times that Republicans intend to terminate funding for UNESCO and numerous other international agencies and programs.

A document outlining the priorities of Republicans on the House Appropriations subcommittee dealing with international organizations confirmed that UNESCO funding is on the chopping block, along with funding for the U.N. general budget.

Impact on US Classrooms

Even without being involved in UNESCO, its influence was still felt in American classrooms, explained former Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas.

“While I most certainly do not agree with the U.S. rejoining it, nonetheless I can’t help but wonder how truly removed we are from UNESCO policy and influence,” she told The Epoch Times, adding that U.S. officials continued working on international education initiatives involving UNESCO even after withdrawal.

She also warned that U.S. involvement with UNESCO was a way of “allowing foreign governments—including dictatorships—a voice in the education of American children.”

“As if the nationalization of education through Common Core Standards wasn’t bad enough, in returning to UNESCO we will once again allow international ideology to be part of the indoctrination of our children,” she warned, pointing to biblical admonitions on child rearing and warning about the danger of allowing U.N. or even federal agencies to be involved in educating children.

Critics Speak Out

Criticism of the decision to rejoin is growing louder. Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Moley, who pushed for and oversaw the withdrawal in 2017 and 2018, previously told The Epoch Times he did not think UNESCO was fixable.

“As long as the G77 + China [group of over 130 governments] rules the roost in these U.N. organizations, we have no business being involved,” he told The Epoch Times last week, noting that the grouping led by the CCP dominates policymaking in international organizations such as UNESCO even though American taxpayers pay much of the bill.

“Not only does rejoining UNESCO not serve U.S. interests,” Moley continued, “it serves the interests of our adversaries such as the CCP, and we are paying for it.”

“All this this doing is enhancing CCP influence by making us part of the problem they caused,” added Moley, who has served at a senior level in international affairs across multiple administrations after his time in the Marines.

“We are actually becoming, in effect, co-conspirators by financing these organizations that are patently at odds with our interests and the interests of our allies,” he added.

Describing the process and reasoning that led up to the final withdrawal in 2018, Moley said a brazenly anti-Israel resolution in 2017 was “the straw that broke the camel’s back and gave us the opportunity to finally say ‘no more.’”

But in addition to the pervasive anti-Israel bias, Moley pointed to widespread waste, corruption, anti-American bias, not getting any benefits for U.S. taxpayers, CCP influence, and many other problems.

Critics around the world also raised concerns about UNESCO’s leader at the time, Bulgarian Irina Bokova, who had a long history of involvement with the Bulgarian Communist Party and the brutal regime it controlled.

Other governments had also grown critical, Moley said, pointing to a UK review of multilateral agencies over a decade ago finding UNESCO was among the worst.

Israel announced its withdrawal shortly after the United States.

“Rather than protecting culture and history, UNESCO contributes to its erasure,” the influential Jerusalem Post said in a recent editorial, criticizing the organization’s treatment of Jerusalem while describing the prospect of Israel rejoining as a “mixed bag.”

“There is an automatic majority in votes against Israel and many U.N. institutions are systemically biased against the Jewish state. Arguing for engagement by saying Israel can sway these bodies to be in its favor would be quixotic.”

Sources within UNESCO who spoke with The Epoch Times on condition of anonymity to avoid issues with their employer also slammed the move.

One diplomatic source in Paris said plans were underway to have Arab diplomats representing the “State of Palestine” join other U.N. agencies as a member state, now that the U.S. laws forbidding it have been undermined.

Rejoining Would ‘Restore’ US Leadership

In a statement emailed to The Epoch Times, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department said, “the Biden administration believes firmly that the United States must be present and active on the global stage wherever U.S. interests can be protected and advanced.”

Rejoining UNESCO, the spokesman continued, would “allow the United States to restore its leadership on a host of matters including expanding access to education, preservation of cultural heritage, protection of journalists, shaping best practices for new and emerging technologies, Holocaust education, and much more.”

“UNESCO influences our shared international understandings on matters such as the evolution of artificial intelligence, the responsibility of nations to respect media freedoms, the immeasurable toll of the Holocaust, and protection of world heritage in ways both immediate and incremental,” the spokesman continued.

In the letter to UNESCO chief Azoulay obtained by The Epoch Times, the administration argued that UNESCO had modernized its management and reduced political tensions within the organization, especially involving “Middle East issues,” a clear reference to concerns about anti-Israel bias.

The administration also praised UNESCO’s work to address “new and emerging challenges” beyond its original focus on culture, science, and education.

One recent focus of the agency beyond its traditional mandate includes fighting “conspiracy theories” and “misinformation.”

Among other concerns, the U.N. agency warned that they fuel “populist” movements, undermine trust in public institutions, and may cause people to be less concerned about their “carbon footprint.”

In announcing the move, the head of UNESCO praised the agency, the Biden administration, and multilateralism more broadly.

“This is a strong act of confidence, in UNESCO and in multilateralism,” Azoulay said in a statement celebrating the news. “Not only in the centrality of the Organization’s mandate—culture, education, science, information—but also in the way this mandate is being implemented today.”

CCP Response

The CCP’s ambassador to UNESCO praised the move and called for U.S. taxpayers to pay over $600 million in arrears accrued since the U.S. government stopped financing the agency.
“Being a member of an international organization is a serious issue,” CCP Ambassador Jin Yang was quoted as saying by French media, adding that the U.S. withdrawal had negatively impacted UNESCO.

“We also hope that the U.S. will shoulder its international responsibilities and fulfill its obligations and assure its sincerity to comply with international rules and respect international rule of law,” he added.

A recent report by the Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project blasted UNESCO for allowing the heritage system to be made “complicit” in CCP atrocities and even “genocide” perpetrated against Uyghurs.

Before the U.S. government can rejoin, UNESCO member states must give their approval.

Last week, Azoulay convened a session with UNESCO member states to share the Biden administration’s request.

The Japanese government with support from other delegations proposed an “extraordinary session” of the UNESCO General Conference to consider the proposal. That session is now scheduled for June 29.

With more than half a billion dollars on the line, and considering the fact that U.S. taxpayers have long covered almost one fourth of the agency’s budget, widespread support for the Biden administration’s request is expected, diplomats in Paris told The Epoch Times.

UNESCO did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

Alex Newman is a freelance contributor to The Epoch Times. Mr. Newman is an award-winning international journalist, educator, author, and consultant who co-wrote the book “Crimes of the Educators: How Utopians Are Using Government Schools to Destroy America’s Children.” He writes for diverse publications in the United States and abroad.
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