US and Israel withdraw from UNESCO, claim 'anti-Israel' bias

Published: 13 October 2017

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The US and close ally Israel have announced their withdrawal from the United Nation’s cultural and educational agency, accusing it of an anti-Israel bias.

The decision comes as a heavy blow to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), as the United States is meant to provide a fifth of funding to the program.

The Paris-based agency was founded after World War II to help preserve sites of important cultural and natural heritage, such as the Sydney Opera House, the Great Barrier Reef, and the Grand Canyon.

US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the agency need a ‘reform,’ while announcing America’s withdrawal.

“This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects US concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organisation, and continuing anti-Israel bias,” she said in a statement.

“[The US would] remain engaged… as a non-member observer state in order to contribute US views, perspectives and expertise.”

Hours later, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would leave the agency too, praising the US as “brave and moral.”

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova expressed regret over Israel and US’ departure.

“At the time when conflicts continue to tear apart societies across the world, it is deeply regrettable for the United States to withdraw from the United Nations agency promoting education for peace and protecting culture under attack,” she said.

“This is a loss to the United Nations family. This is a loss for multilateralism.”

Washington has withheld funding to the organisation since 2011, when the agency admitted Palestine as a full member.

In 2011 the US and Israel were two of only 14 nations out of 194 UN members who voted against the inclusion of Palestine.

America’s annual funding of $102 million to the organisation has now ballooned to more than $639 million owed to the organisation.

In recent years, Israel has complained repeatedly about UNESCO allegedly ‘taking sides’ over disputes in cultural heritage sites in Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories.

Prime Minister Netanyahu said last month that UNESCO was promoting a “fake history” after it designated Hebron and two shrines – the Jewish Tomb of the Patriarchs and the Muslim Ibrahimi Mosque – as a “Palestinian World Heritage Site in Danger.”

The US withdrawal will become effective at the end of December 2018.