US to exit UN agency over al­leged anti-Is­rael bias

Taranaki Daily News - - World -

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. –

PHOTOS: REUTERS

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.

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