U.S. To Withdraw From UNESCO, Israel Follows Suit

US Israel UNESCO

United States on Thursday announced its exit from UNESCO, blaming bias against Israel at the U.N. organization for its exit.

Announcing U.S.’s decision to withdraw from UNESCO, the Department of State said Trump administration’s decision was conveyed to UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova. The U.S. wishes to remain a permanent observer. The withdrawal will become effective December 31, 2018.

“This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects U.S. concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO.”

The U.S. had stopped funding UNESCO, U.N.’s cultural and educational organization, in 2011 after Palestine was granted membership. American dues since then would amount to $ 550 million by end of this year, the Washington Post reports. Trump administration’s decision makes it the second time for the U.S. to walk out of UNESCO. The Reagan administration had pulled out in 1984 alleging pro-Soviet leanings at the UN organization. The U.S. resumed its membership in 2002.

Thursday’s decision comes at a time when UNESCO is voting to elect a replacement for Bokova. Concerns have been raised by Israel about the candidature of Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari, a Qatari diplomat and former minister, who is reportedly leading the fray. Kawari has been dubbed “anti-Semitic” by pro-Israeli groups.

UNESCO or United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization is popularly known for recognizing cultural and historical sites with the “World Heritage” tag. Its recent decision to designate a historic site in West Bank a “Palestinian Heritage Site in Danger,” prompting protest from Israel, which announced a further reduction in its share of funding.

In response to the U.S. announcement to leave, Bokova expressed regretted over the withdrawal.

“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. This is a loss to the United Nations family. This is a loss for multilateralism,” she said in an official statement according to RTE.

In the wake of the U.S. announcement to withdraw from UNESCO, Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly said Israel will walk the same path. Israel’s permanent representative to the U.N., Danny Dannon, hailed Trump administration’s decision.

Reuters termed U.S.’s withdrawal from the Paris-based organization a major blow for the latter. U.S. and Israel’s exit will leave the United National body with 192 members.

[Featured Image by Jacques Brinon/AP Images]