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US, Israel Lose UNESCO Voting Rights

The United States and Israel miss deadline for repayment of dues aftery cutting off contributions to the Paris-based body since Palestine became member

- Andrea Germanos, staff writer

The United States and Israel lost voting rights at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Friday after missing a deadline to repay dues the countries had accumulated since Palestine became a member to the world body.

The Palestinian flag being raised at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France. (Photo: UN) In 2011, the U.S. and Israel cut off tens of millions of dollars in annual contributions after the Paris-based body admitted Palestine as a member. Palestine's admission to UNESCO was referred to as "tragic" by Israel and "regrettable" by the U.S..

U.S. laws from 1990 and 1994, slammed by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn) as "antiquated" and "a bad idea," prohibit funding to any UN organization to which Palestine is a member.

"The decision to withhold the dues was in the interest of the foreign policy 1 percent—Israel and its most hard-line supporters in the U.S.–not in the interest of the rest of us," wrote Middle East analyst Phyllis Bennis in the wake of the 2011 move. "There has rarely been a clearer example of domestic politics—in this case influence of the pro-Israel lobbies—undermining national interests," Bennis continued.

Israel and the U.S. had to meet an 1100 GMT Friday deadline to "provide an official justification for non-payment and a plan to pay back missed dues, a UNESCO source told Reuters," or face suspension of voting privileges

The loss of U.S. contributions makes a critical impact on UNESCO's operations; U.S. funds, amounting to $80 million annually, had provided 22 percent of UNESCO's budget.

Agence France-Presse reports that

With the US and Israel withdrawing their contributions UNESCO's budget fell from $653 million to $507 million. [...]

UNESCO's chief Irina Bokova has raised $75 million to deal with the financial crisis at the agency, which is responsible for selecting and overseeing World Heritage sites and deals with literacy, media freedom, science and environmental issues.

A statement from the U.S. State Department released Friday reads, in part:

UNESCO directly advances U.S. interests in supporting girls’ and women’s education, facilitating important scientific research, promoting tolerance, protecting and preserving the world’s natural and cultural heritage, supporting freedom of the press, and much more. It is in that vein that President Obama has requested legislative authority to allow the United States to continue to pay its dues to UN agencies that admit the Palestinians as a member state when doing so is in the U.S. national interest. Although that proposal has not yet been enacted by Congress, the President remains committed to that goal.

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