US, Israel Lose UNESCO Voting Right in Dispute

TEHRAN (Tasnim) - American influence in culture, science and education around the world took a high-profile blow Friday after the US automatically lost voting rights at UNESCO, after missing a crucial deadline to repay its debt to the world's cultural agency.

US, Israel Lose UNESCO Voting Right in Dispute

The US hasn't paid its dues to the Paris-based UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in protest over the decision by world governments to make Palestine a UNESCO member in 2011. Israel suspended its dues at the same time and also lost voting rights on Friday.

Under UNESCO rules, the US had until Friday morning to resume funding or explain itself, or it automatically loses its vote. A UNESCO official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue, said nothing was received from either the US or Israel.

The suspension of US contributions, which account for $80 million a year — 22 percent of UNESCO's overall budget — brought the agency to the brink of a financial crisis and forced it to cut or scale back American-led initiatives such as Holocaust education and tsunami research over the past two years, AP reported.

It has worried many in Washington that the US is on track to becoming a toothless UNESCO member with a weakened voice in international programs fighting extremism through education, and promoting gender equality and press freedoms.

Some fear that a weaker US presence will lead to growing anti-Israeli sentiment within UNESCO, where Arab-led criticism of Israel for territorial reasons has long been an issue.

"We won't be able to have the same clout," said Phyllis Magrab, the Washington-based US National Commissioner for UNESCO. "In effect, we (now won't) have a full tool box. We're missing our hammer."

The UNESCO tension has prompted new criticism of US laws that force an automatic funding cutoff for any UN agency with Palestine as a member. The official list of countries that lose their votes was expected to be read aloud on Saturday before the entire UNESCO general conference.

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