On Friday the United States lost its vote in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization for non-payment of dues.
UNESCO has been one of the basic units of the United Nations since 1946. It has 195 members, including Palestine, which joined in 2011. The United States was a member from 1946 to 1984, when it withdrew because it considered UNESCO too favorable to Third World causes.
It rejoined in 2002 and was providing 22 percent of UNESCO's budget when in 2011 U.S. laws on organizations that admitted Palestine, passed at Israel's behest, forced the administration of President Barack Obama to stop paying U.S. dues. Two years of no dues resulted and, under UNESCO's rules, the United States lost its vote.
The supreme irony is that while this happened because of UNESCO's recognition of Palestine, the United States is putting on a full-court press to urge the Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate an agreement to include Palestine alongside Israel as states in the former Palestinian territory.
There are two aspects of the problem for the United States. The first is that UNESCO performs functions that involve important issues such as literacy, democracy, freedom of the press, girls' education, HIV/AIDS prevention and the designation of World Heritage sites (more than 20 of which are in the United States). The United States will no longer have a say in these UNESCO activities.
The second, more general problem is that the United States has dealt itself out of the game on important international concerns because of legislation passed by Congress that neither George H.W. Bush nor Bill Clinton had the courage to veto. UNESCO deals with critical subjects, and America's voice should be heard on them.
The Obama administration needs to take steps to fix this problem as soon as possible.