Israel Joins UNESCO
The Bahai Garden in Haifa, one of Israel’s UNESCO sites. Photo: Israel MFA

September 16, 1949

Israel becomes a member of UNESCO, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Based in Paris, UNESCO has the purpose of creating peace and security by encouraging international collaboration in education, natural sciences, human and social sciences, culture, and communication/information. Israel joins the agency a year after declaring statehood, but their relationship is complicated.

Beginning in 2010, UNESCO accuses Israel of recognizing only the Jewish character of cultural and historical sites and not noting their importance to Muslims and Christians. In response, Israel accuses UNESCO of having political motivations, participating in Palestinian escalation and undermining its mission of promoting international cooperation. In 2011, UNESCO accepts Palestine as a member, causing controversy in Israel.

In 2016, UNESCO passes a resolution about East Jerusalem that condemns Israel and describes an illegal occupation. Israel notes UNESCO’s use of only Muslim names for important historical sites and accuses the agency of trying to erase the Jewish connection to the Land of Israel. Jews around the world protest what they perceive as UNESCO’s bias against Israel.

In October 2017, the United States announces its decision to withdraw from UNESCO because of the anti-Israel bias in the organization and the need for fundamental reform. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu follows with a similar announcement, and the two countries withdraw in December 2018.