The United States announced Thursday it is pulling out of the UN’s educational, scientific and cultural agency because of what Washington sees as its anti-Israel bias and a need for “fundamental reform” in the agency.
UNESCO is best known for its world heritage listings of outstanding cultural and natural sites but has often drawn the ire of Israel and the Trump administration for a series of decisions, including the listing of Hebron, a city in the southern part of the occupied Palestinian territories, as a Palestinian world heritage site.
The US withdrawal will become effective at the end of December 2018 – until then, the US will remain a full member.
The US will establish an observer mission at the Paris-based organization to replace its representation, the state department said.
The U.S. stopped funding UNESCO after it voted to include Palestine as a member state in 2011, but the State Department has maintained a UNESCO office. The U.S. now owes about $500 million in back payments.
The head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voiced “profound regret” on Thursday over the United States’ decision to withdraw from the agency.
“This is a loss to UNESCO. This is a loss to the United Nations family. This is a loss for multilateralism,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova in a statement.
Ms. Bokova recalled that in 2011, when the US suspended payment of its membership contributions, she was convinced that the UNESCO never mattered as much for the US or vice versa.
On the other hand, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the US decision as “brave and moral”, a statement said.
He also said Israel plans to follow US in the withdrawal. Netanyahu tweeted he had instructed his foreign ministry to “prepare Israel’s withdrawal… in parallel with the United States”.