US Announces Withdrawal from UNESCO, Accusing UN Agency of "Anti-Israel" Bias

UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova of Bulgaria

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel was preparing to pull out of UNESCO, the UN's cultural and educational agency, hours after the United States made a similar announcement.

"This truth has become even more evident today, at a time when the growth of extremism and terrorism calls for new long-term solutions for peace and freedom, in the context of combating racism and anti-Semitism, in combating ignorance and discrimination", she said.

Washington has already withheld its funding for UNESCO since 2011, when the body admitted Palestine as a full member. The U.S. now owes about $550 million in back payments.

While the United States withdrew from the group, the Trump administration said it wanted to continue providing American perspective and expertise to Unesco, but as a nonmember observer. It cited USA belief in "the need for fundamental reform in the organization".

"This is a courageous and moral decision", Netanyahu said in a statement, "because UNESCO has become a theatre of the absurd and because instead of preserving history, it distorts it".

And a year ago, Israel suspended cooperation with it after the agency adopted a controversial resolution which made no reference to Jewish ties to a key holy site in Jerusalem.

The United States has walked away once before under ex-president Ronald Reagan, who quit UNESCO in 1984 over alleged financial mismanagement and claims of anti-US bias in some of its policies.

Since 2011, United States arrears to the organization have reached about $600 million, Ms. Bokova said, but she had told members of Congress repeatedly that immediate payment was not an issue, only American political re-engagement in the organization, which she believes serves many American interests overseas.

USA officials said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made the decision and it was not discussed with other countries.

The U.S. move underscores the scepticism expressed by President Donald Trump about the need for the remain engaged in multi-lateral bodies.

The United States said Thursday that it was pulling out of the UN's culture and education body, accusing it of "anti-Israel bias" in a move that underlines Washington's drift away from global institutions.

Analysts said that actually withdrawing from the organization was a significant escalation by the United States in its criticism of United Nations bodies. It is perhaps best known for the World Heritage program, which helps preserve cultural sites of import around the globe. "It's not just about money, it's promoting ideals that are vital to countries like the United States, such as education and culture", a UNESCO-based diplomat said.

Michael Worbs, chairman of the UNESCO Executive Board, appreciated the Vietnamese' notable jump in the second round.

The pulling out of UNESCO. The U.S. rejoined in 2003 under then-President George W. Bush.

The withdrawal goes into effect at the end of 2018.

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres expressed deep regret over the U.S. decision to leave UNESCO, according to Deputy UN Spokesperson Farhan Haq.

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