Iowa City "City of Literature" status unaffected by U.S. withdrawal from UNESCO

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The U.S. is pulling out of the United Nations cultural organization known as UNESCO.

State Department officials cite continuing anti-Israel bias within the organization as the reason for this decision.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Department of State said in part:

"This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects U.S. concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO."

"The United States indicated to the Director General its desire to remain engaged with UNESCO as a non-member observer state in order to contribute U.S. views, perspectives and expertise on some of the important issues undertaken by the organization, including the protection of world heritage, advocating for press freedoms, and promoting scientific collaboration and education."

The U.S.'s status as a non-member observer means the U.S. will not have a financial obligation to support UNESCO. This withdrawal will take effect at the end of 2018.

UNESCO works with countries around the world in support of education, science, culture and communications, and gives special merit to cities meeting the organization's criteria.

In 2008, Iowa City earned status as a UNESCO City of Literature for the city's strong connection, commitment to literature.

Iowa City of Literature Executive Director John Kenyon said the city does not receive any funding from the organization for the recognition, so the city expects no major changes from this decision.

Kenyon said Iowa city's distinction as a UNESCO city of literature opened the door for more residents and visitors to care about literature.

"People who are in the literary community know Iowa city," he said. "What this has done is given them kind of a focal point, something in which we can create programming."

With UNESCO status, Iowa city also gained a network of over 69 "creative cities" to learn from.

"What that affords us is the opportunity to connect and collaborate with cities around the world," said Kenyon.

Commitment to programs, events and international connections with UNESCO member countries will not be in jeopardy, he said the U.S's reputation with the UN might.

"It sends a signal to the rest of the world about our commitment or lack thereof of being a player on the international stage," he said.

Back in 2011, the U.S. stopped funding UNESCO in response to the UN's decision to admit Palestine as a member.

"This may be the United States's way to basically put it's foot down," said Politics Associate Professor Tim Hagle.

Experts said Anti-Semitic behavior has since escalated by labeling Hebron, an important cultural city to the Israels in the West Bank, as a Palestinian world heritage site.

"[This is] maybe one way where the United States can say, 'Alright we've had enough of this, and so we're going to withdraw our full participation in this program,' at least," said Hagle.

Though, it is still unclear how this message will affect future sites seeking World Heritage recognition.

"I'm curious to see how that will all shake out," said Kenyon.

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