From Hillel Neuer (in a recent Twitter Moment):
- In 2009-2014, UNESCO adopted:
46 resolutions against Israel
1 on Syria
0 on Iran, North Korea, Sudan or any other country in the world
Is this statistic true?
Skeptics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for scientific skepticism. It only takes a minute to sign up.Sign up to join this community
This is a very subjective way of classifying UNESCO resolutions. No resolution is officially against any country and the count of '46' is pretty dishonest as it considers resolutions and decisions of very different nature, and with more or less links to the state of Israel.
Meanwhile, Unesco has often criticized other countries' cultural policies.
However, some recent resolutions of Unesco are indeed not very pleasant for Israel, and use formulation that may sound harsher than for other countries.
The second part of the claim, about "only 1 resolution against another country" than Israel between 2009 and 2014, is blatantly false.
The "46 anti-Israel" resolutions seems to come from this partisan website.
Newspapers provide a more credible source on Israeli complaints about Unesco.
Nature of Unesco
is to contribute to peace and security by promoting international collaboration through educational, scientific, and cultural reforms in order to increase universal respect for justice, the rule of law, and human rights along with fundamental freedom proclaimed in the United Nations Charter.
It has no political purpose. As a consequence, there is no official stand "against" any country as a whole in its resolutions. At most, Unesco will express praise or objections for or against specific cultural or educational programs of a given country.
But it also means that the tweeter would be legitimate in their criticism if Unesco was to discriminate against Israel (or whomever) or to take political stands.
Some examples of Unesco policies criticized in Israel
"The People, The Book, The Land: The 3,500-year relationship between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel."
Initially scheduled in January, this exhibition has been postponed by five months, officially by fear it would "harm the peace process". This postponement is criticized in the links in the "Claim" section above.
Subjective interpretation: As pointed out by Skliwz in a comment, it takes a a very biased point of view to consider these resolutions to be "Anti-Israel"
In 2012, UNESCO decided to establish a chair at the Islamic University of Gaza in the field of astronomy, astrophysics, and space sciences, (...). Israel's foreign ministry criticized the move and stated the university supported Hamas and housed bomb laboratories for the organization. (...) Israeli ambassador to UNESCO Nimrod Barkan planned to submit a letter of protest with information about the university's ties to Hamas.
I've found no evidence that that letter of protest has actually been submitted, nor of the information it was supposed to reveal. On the other hand, two wars have been fought meanwhile in the Gaza bank, so I'm not sure about the fate of the University and its alleged terrorist laboratories.
A lot of criticism comes from Unesco allegedly "censoring" Israel. But such "censorship" doesn't appear in any resolution. As far as I understand, it would rather happen during the process of negotiating each resolution, which process can displease each country once in a while. It is very hard to document whether or not Israel has been discriminated in that respect.
Three sites in Cisjordania, and one in East Jerusalem, have been classified as "World Heritage Sites". It is also true for 12 sites in Israel.
subjective comment: I personally don't see why classifying Hebron would be more "anti-Israeli" than classifying Acre or Haifa "anti-Arab".
While the text acknowledged the "importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its walls for the three monotheistic religions", it referred to the sacred hilltop compound in Jerusalem's Old City only by its Muslim name "Al-Haram al-Sharif", rather than using more neutral and inclusive vocabulary.
The resolution was also heavily criticized for its apparent demonization of Israel, an example being the condemnation of Israel for preventing further construction on the grounds of the Temple Mount in order to prevent damage
subjective comment: While the resolution is about culture and not politics, all parties negotiating its wording knew the political implications and they could not ignore that referring to a site that is holy for both parts with only the denomination of one of them would be considered as an offence by Israel.
Examples of criticism of other states by Unesco
During the 2009-2014 period
Dresden was deleted from the World Heritage List to protest about Germans building a four-lane bridge.
Urban development is also an issue in Panama.
"Madagascar continues to provide export permits for illegally logged timber."
Bolivia was criticized in 2014 for failing to protect the city of Potosi.
Urbanism plans are citicized in Vienna
Unesco seems to have been active in prosecuting a Yugoslav (later, Serbian) general
Only a few countries recognized Taliban Afghanistan as a state in 2001. Unesco condemnation for destroying the Bamiyan Buddhas should therefore not count as condemnation of a state.
Update september 2023
The neolithic site of Tell es Sultan, near Jericho, has just been added to the UNesco's World Heritage list. The politic reactions show how sensitive Israeli and Palestinian authorities still are about international recognition of the (very distant) past of Levant.
Prof. Eugene Kontorovich, director of international law at the Jerusalem-based Kohelet Policy Forum, said in response that the UNESCO decision “ethnically cleanses Jews from the history of ancient Jericho (...). The UN agency voted to recognize a Palestinian Authority proposal to recognize Ancient Jericho as a historic site while completely erasing Jews (and Jesus) from its historical record.”
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said the decision to inscribe Tell es-Sultan is “a matter of great importance and evidence of the authenticity and history of the Palestinian people,”
Both claims are absurd : the classified Neolithic site was build and occupied by prehistorical cultures, notably the Natufian culture, millenia before Jewish, Hebrew or Palestinian (or even proto-Canaanite) people appeared.
UNWatch have their facts straight, but their interpretation can be debated.
The number 46 seems correct. But whether the decisions are "against Israel", and whether this indicates an anti-Israeli bias is a matter of opinion.
I'll ignore, in this section, the question whether these resolutions are against Israel.
UNWatch's fact sheet, provides this data, with references to the actual resolutions - 10 decisions in 2009, 10 in 2010, 12 in 2011, 8 in 2012 and 6 in 2013. This adds up to 46 (without 2014).
Since they provide references, you can verify these numbers.
For example, the fact sheet claims that 8 such decisions were taken in the 181st session and 182nd session. The 181st session's sections 5.III, 12, 47 and 59, as well as the 182nd session's sections 5.II, 15, 54 and 55, discuss Jerusalem, Gaza and/or Palestine - my count matches the claim.
In addition, 182ex section 52 is about accepting Palestine as a member, and 181ex section 17.I is about establishing a BIOmics training center in Israel (part of a list of different centers to be established aoround the world). These aren't counted among the 46.
I did not check all of the data, readers are welcome to verify further.
Here it becomes a matter of opinion, not fact.
The language used in UNESCO resolution uses many words to say very little.
For some resolutions, it's hard to say if they're against Israel:
One may assume that since Israel controls Jerusalem, it has the power to do either good or bad, so concerns are probably meant toward it. But that's reading between the lines.
In some cases they criticize Israel more directly:
In a more recent decision you can find blunt Anti-Israeli claims, with expressions such as continuous storming of Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif by Israeli right-wing extremists and uniformed forces. I think this claim is Anti-Israeli whether or not it's correct (they could use neutral language, such as "repeated entries by Israeli citizens, despite the Waqf's objection, accompanied by Israeli security forces").
The resolutions contain many references to other documents. Perhaps reading those can reveal the intention behind the vague texts, and whether they blame Israel.
UNWatch claims that in this period, only one resolution was made against another country (Syria). It's much easier to verify the existence of resolutions than their absence. In the resolutions I read, very few refer to a specific country, and I found no criticism in any of them (admittedly, the way the resolutions are written makes it hard to spot criticism).
It does seem that UNESCO deals with Israel/Palestine disproportionately - much more than countries that are larger and suffer from more severe crisis.