US and Israel set to exit Unesco
Planned pullout is over alleged anti-Israel bias and need for agency’s ‘fundamental reform’
PARIS: The United States announced it is pulling out of the UN’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. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel plans to follow suit.
While the Trump administration had been preparing for a likely withdrawal from Unesco for months, the timing of the State Department’s statement was unexpected.
The Paris-based agency’s executive board is in the midst of choosing a new chief – with Qatar’s Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari (pic) leading the heated election heading into the final vote.
Outgoing Director-General Irina Bokova expressed “profound regret” at the US decision and tried to defend Unesco’s reputation. The organisation is best known for its World Heritage programme to protect cultural sites and traditions, but also works to improve education for girls, promote understanding of the Holocaust’s horrors, and to defend media freedom.
Bokova called the US’ planned departure a loss for “the United Nations family” and for multilateralism. The US and Unesco matter to each other more than ever now with “the rise of violent extremism and terrorism,” she said.
The United States stopped funding Unesco after it voted to include Palestine as a member state in 2011, but the State Department has maintained a Unesco office and sought to weigh in on policy behind the scenes.
The United States now owes about US$550mil (RM2.3bil) in back payments.
In a statement, the State Department said the decision will take effect Dec 31, 2018, and that the United States will seek a “permanent observer” status instead. It cited US belief in “the need for fundamental reform in the organisation”.
Netanyahu said on Thursday that Israel also plans to withdraw from the agency, saying it had become a “theatre of the absurd because instead of preserving history, it distorts it”.
Israel has been irked by resolutions that diminish its historical connection to the Holy Land and have instead named ancient Jewish sites as Palestinian heritage sites.
Praising Trump’s decision as “brave and moral”, Netanyahu said he has ordered Israeli diplomats to prepare for Israel’s withdrawal from the organisation in concert with the Americans.
Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, also praised Washington’s move as heralding “a new day at the UN, where there is a price to pay for discrimination against Israel”.
“The United States stands by Israel and is a true leader for change at the UN,” Danon said. “The alliance between our two countries is stronger than ever.” — AP
Nicaragua: A child dressed in indigenous attire riding a horse during a parade to commemorate Indigenous Resistance Day in San Juan de Oriente. — Reuters
Switzerland: Patrouille Suisse members in Swiss Air Force Northrop F-5E Tiger II fighter jets during a flight demonstration over the Axalp in the Bernese Oberland. — Reuters
Kenya: A politician from the National Super Alliance coalition reacting after a gas canister fired by policemen hits his car during a protest in Nairobi. — Reuters