USA to withdraw from Unesco over 'anti-Israel bias'

Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization logo is at UNESCO's headquarters in Paris France

Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization logo is at UNESCO's headquarters in Paris France. Francois Mori AP

The United States says it is withdrawing from UNESCO, accusing the organization of "anti-Israel" bias.

Similarly, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, also said his country will withdraw from UNESCO after United States decision to do the same.

Netanyahu told world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly last month that UNESCO was promoting "fake history" after it designated Hebron and the two adjoined shrines at its heart - the Jewish Tomb of the Patriarchs and the Muslim Ibrahimi Mosque - as a "Palestinian World Heritage Site in Danger". With that mechanism, Washington plans to "contribute US views, perspectives and expertise on some of the important issues undertaken by the organization".

"It sends a strong message that we need to see fundamental reform in the organization, and it raises everyone's awareness about continued anti-Israel bias", said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity under department ground rules.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman also congratulated the U.S. decision: "This was an important moral and ethical move from our great ally towards an anti-Semitic and politically biased organization". "The Foreign Affairs Committee will continue to be engaged in this important fight". According to Foreign Policy, the United States pays tens of millions in annual dues to UNESCO and also owes the agency over $500 million as a result of its 2011 funding cuts. US President Donald Trump's Administration also had no provisions in next year's budget for this objective, The Time wrote.

The US withdrawal comes as French, Qatari and Egyptian candidates vie to succeed Bokova ahead of a final vote of the UNESCO executive board on Friday.

The U.S. will remain as an observer.

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

An Arab-backed UNESCO resolution a year ago condemned Israeli's policies at religious sites in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Well known for designating and protecting worldwide landmarks called World Heritage Sites, UNESCO was founded after World War Two on the broader principles of confronting extremism and promoting peace around the flow of ideas and culture. It extended membership to Palestine in 2011. "Unfortunately, its extreme politicization has become a chronic embarrassment", she said in a statement.

"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, warning that others could follow.

Israeli and U.S. media have reported that UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein is compiling a list of companies that operate in the West Bank, which was captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War. It also withdrew under the Reagan administration in 1984, and rejoined in 2002 under President George W. Bush.

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