USA withdraws from UNESCO, the UN's cultural organization, citing anti-Israel bias

15 October, 2017, 01:02 | Author: Darrell Lopez
  • Mont Saint Michel is an island commune in Normandy France

He says he has ordered Israeli diplomats to prepare Israel's withdrawal from the organization in concert with the Americans.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement that the USA would be pulling out of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation by the end of the year.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the decision to leave UNESCO "brave" and "moral". "UNESCO has turned into the theater of the absurd and instead of preserving history, it distorts it". With no sign that USA concerns would be addressed, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made a decision to pull out after December 31, 2017, when the unpaid balance will top $600 million. It will establish an observer mission at the Paris-based organisation to replace its representation, the state department said.

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

Hours later, Israel announced that it would also be leaving the United Nations body. Since then, the USA has maintained a presence at UNESCO and lobbied behind the scenes. This past July, UNESCO's decision to recognize the ancient city of Hebron (aka al-Khalīl), located in the West Bank, as a Palestinian World Heritage site drew sharp criticism from the Trump administration, particularly from Nikki Haley.

The US withdrawal was announced ahead of the election for the new Director-General of UNESCO.

The U.S. stopped making payments to the agency in 2011, but maintained an office at its Paris headquarters in the hopes of encouraging a change of course from behind the scenes.

Travelers are likely to be most familiar with Unesco through its world heritage sites such as the Grand Canyon National Park and Yellowstone National Park in the US. It extended membership to Palestine in 2011.

The decision arrived following a series of anti-Israel resolutions voted on favorably by the body.

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova in a Thursday statement expressed "profound regret" at the country's decision to withdraw from UNESCO.

"At the time when the fight against violent extremism calls for renewed investment in education, in dialogue among cultures to prevent hatred, it is deeply regrettable that the United States should withdraw from the United Nations leading these issues", she said in a statement, calling it a "loss for multilateralism".

The resolution also criticised Israel's activities at holy places in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. Under the Reagan Administration, the U.S. quit UNESCO in 1984, at the time accusing the agency of a pro- Soviet Union bias. Earlier this year, UNESCO designated the core area of the West Bank city of Hebron - home to the Cave of the Patriarchs, an important religious site for Jews and Muslims - as a Palestinian World Heritage Site, a symbolic slight of both the United States and Israel.


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