US, Israel exit ‘biased’ UNESCO
The US and Israel are quitting the United Nation’s cultural agency UNESCO after Washington accused it of anti-Israeli bias.
The withdrawal of the US, which is meant to provide a fifth of UNESCO’s funding, is a huge blow for the Paris-based organisation, founded after World War II to help protect cultural and natural heritage.
UNESCO is best known for designating World Heritage Sites such as the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria and the Grand Canyon National Park.
“This decision was not taken lightly and reflects US concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organisation and continuing anti-Israel bias,” the US State Department said.
Hours later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would quit, too, calling the US decision “brave and moral”.
UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova expressed her disappointment: “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,” she said.
Washington has withheld its funding for UNESCO since 2011, when the body admitted Palestine as a full member.
The US and Israel were among just 14 of 194 members that voted against admitting Palestine.
Washington’s arrears on its $US80 million annual dues are now more than $US500 million.
Recently, Israel has repeatedly complained about what it says is the body taking sides in disputes over heritage sites in Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories. “Today is a new day at the UN, where there is price to pay for discrimination against Israel,” Israel’s UN ambassador Danny Danon said.