US to exit UN agency over alleged anti-Israel bias
FRANCE: The United States announced yesterday it is pulling out of the United Nation Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation 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 leading the heated election heading into today’s 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 planned departure by the US 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 US 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 US now owes about US$550 million in back payments.
In a statement, the State Department said the decision will take effect December 31, 2018, and that the US will seek a ‘‘permanent observer’' status instead. It cited US belief in ‘‘the need for fundamental reform in the organisation’’.
Netanyahu said yesterday that Israel also planned 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. –
Irina Bokova, director general of Unesco, speaking to reporters at the organisation’s headquarters in Paris, said the planned departure of the US was a loss for ‘’the United Nations family’' and for multilateralism.