US, Is­rael to exit UNESCO over its ‘anti-Is­rael bias’

The Freeman - - WORLD -

PARIS — The United States an­nounced yes­ter­day 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 Paris­based 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 yes­ter­day's fi­nal vote.

Out­go­ing Di­rec­tor-Gen­eral Irina Bokova ex­pressed "pro­found re­gret" at the US de­ci­sion and tried to de­fend UNESCO's rep­u­ta­tion. The or­ga­ni­za­tion is best known for its World Her­itage pro­gram 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's 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 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 $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 or­ga­ni­za­tion."

Ne­tanyahu said Thurs­day that Is­rael also plans to with­draw from the agency, say­ing it had be­come a "theater of the ab­surd be­cause in­stead of pre­serv­ing his­tory, it dis­torts it."

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

US Charge d’Af­faires to the UNESCO Chris He­gadorn speaks to the As­so­ci­ated-Press dur­ing an in­ter­view at the UNESCO head­quar­ters in Paris, France.

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