USA pulls out of United Nations cultural body, citing 'anti-Israel' bias

Violet Powell
October 13, 2017

Under UNESCO rules, the withdrawal will become effective as of the end of December 2018.

The US is withdrawing from the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, the US State Department announced on Thursday, citing anti-Israel bias and mounting membership dues owed to the worldwide body.

"This is a loss to UNESCO", she added.

The state department said it would establish an observer mission at the Paris-based organisation to replace its representation.

The US has a long history of contradictions with UNESCO, an global body that is aimed at promoting a respect for the rule of law and human rights through cultural and scientific collaboration.

And senior Trump administration officials - including U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley - have been critical of the organization. It extended membership to Palestine in 2011.

UNESCO, which is best known for producing the list of World Heritage sites that includes the Grand Canyon and other United States attractions, has been the scene of diplomatic flare-ups in recent years after Arab countries succeeded in passing a number of resolutions critical of Israel.

A statement released by the PM's office said that Netanyahu had instructed the Foreign Ministry to prepare Israel's withdrawal from UNESCO.

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She paid tribute to what she said had been a meaningful relationship between UNESCO and the USA, saying: "since 2011, we have deepened the partnership between the United States and UNESCO, which has never been so meaningful".

In the run-up to selecting a candidate for the director-general position of UNESCO, most countries will pull out of the race if their candidate fails to secure 10 or more votes in two rounds.

The organization has a long history of taking anti-Israel measures, and supporting resolutions against the Jewish state.

Bokova spelled out her belief that the American people support UNESCO's actions to harness new learning technologies; enhance scientific cooperation, for ocean sustainability; promote freedom of expression, defend journalists' safety; empower girls and women as change-makers and peacebuilders; bolster societies facing emergencies, disasters and conflicts; and advance literacy and quality education. The officials, who were not authorized to be publicly named discussing the issue, said the USA was notably angry over UNESCO resolutions denying Jewish connections to holy sites and references to Israel as an occupying power.

Analysts said that actually withdrawing from the organization was a significant escalation by the United States in its criticism of United Nations bodies.

"Today is a new day at the U.N., where there is price to pay for discrimination against Israel", Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon said. The U.S. rejoined it in 2003.

Irina Bokova, outgoing UNESCO director general, reacted to the development with "profound regret", calling "universality" key to its mission.

The Israel controversy re-ignited this summer after UNESCO named Hebron's city center a Palestinian World Heritage Site.

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