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

The United States announced Thursday it is pulling out of the U.N.'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.

It says the withdrawal will take effect December 31, 2018.

Following years of tension at UNESCO, which is in the process of electing a new director-general, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert announced that Washington planned to withdraw.

Chris Hegadorn, the U.S. Charge d'Affaires and ranking U.S. representative to UNESCO, told The Associated Press on Thursday that the decision to pull out was linked to "the unfortunate politicization of the mandate of UNESCO, where anti-Israel bias has been a major factor and something the U.S. has been struggling to address".

The organization has voted through several decision that have enraged Israel, particularly resolutions that appear to downplay or omit the importance of holy sites in Jerusalem and West Bank to Judaism.

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At the time, Netanyahu said the "absurd" vote denied the Jewish connection to the city.

Bokova recalled that in 2011, when the USA suspended payment of its membership contributions, she was convinced that the UNESCO never mattered as much for the USA or vice versa.

The withdrawals are a severe blow for the Paris-based organisation which began work in 1946 and is known for designating World Heritage sites such as the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria and Sceilig MhichĂ­l in Co Kerry.

Bokova released a statement in light of the news.

The cultural aid agency - which seeks to coordinate global efforts in education, science and heritage remembrance - has been at odds with the USA since 2011, when it voted overwhelmingly to offer full membership to a state of Palestine.

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Praising Trump's decision as "brave and moral", Netanyahu said he has ordered Israeli diplomats to prepare for Israel's withdrawal from the organization in concert with the Americans. In the USA, listed sites include the Statue of Liberty and Independence Hall, as well as national parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite.

UNESCO regrets the decision of the United States, says Irina Bokova, the director general. After he was elected but before he became president, Mr. Trump made an extraordinary intervention on the world stage by criticizing the Obama administration's decision not to block a United Nations resolution criticizing Israeli settlements.

The U.S. rejoined UNESCO during President George W. Bush's first term.

Former president Ronald Reagan quit the organization altogether in the 1980's.

"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", Bokova said.

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