US and Is­rael set to exit Unesco

Planned pull­out is over al­leged anti-Is­rael bias and need for agency’s ‘fun­da­men­tal re­form’

The Star Malaysia - - World -

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

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