US pulls out of Unesco in Is­rael res­o­lu­tions row

Western Mail - - NEWS - Matthew Lee and An­gela Charl­ton news­desk@waleson­line.co.uk

THE United States is pulling out of Unesco after re­peated crit­i­cism of res­o­lu­tions by the UN cul­tural agency that Wash­ing­ton sees as anti-Is­rael.

While the US stopped fund­ing Unesco after it voted to in­clude Pales­tine as a mem­ber in 2011, the State Depart­ment has main­tained a Unesco of­fice at its Paris head­quar­ters and sought to weigh in on pol­icy be­hind the scenes.

The with­drawal was con­firmed yes­ter­day by US of­fi­cials.

Unesco di­rec­tor-gen­eral Irina Bokova, who is Bul­gar­ian, ex­pressed “pro­found re­gret” at the de­ci­sion and said the de­par­ture was a loss for “the United Na­tions fam­ily” and for mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism.

She said the US and Unesco mat­ter to each other more than ever now be­cause “the rise of vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism and ter­ror­ism calls for new longterm re­sponses for peace and se­cu­rity”.

Ms Bokova de­fended Unesco’s rep­u­ta­tion, not­ing its ef­forts to sup­port Holo­caust ed­u­ca­tion and train teach­ers to fight anti-Semitism.

She traced the decades-long US ties with Unesco, and noted that the Statue of Lib­erty is among the many World Her­itage sites pro­tected by the UN agency.

Ms Bokova’s two terms as di­rec­tor have been deeply scarred by the 2011 Unesco vote to in­clude Pales­tine as a mem­ber, fund­ing trou­bles and re­peated res­o­lu­tions seen as anti-Is­rael.

Many saw the vote to in­clude Pales­tine as ev­i­dence of long-run­ning, in­grained anti-Is­rael bias within the United Na­tions, where Is­rael and its al­lies are far out­num­bered by Arab coun­tries and their sup­port­ers.

Unesco is best known for its World Her­itage pro­gramme to pro­tect cul­tural sites and tra­di­tions around the world.

The agency also works to im­prove ed­u­ca­tion for girls in des­per­ately poor coun­tries and in sci­en­tific fields to pro­mote bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the Holo­caust and to de­fend me­dia free­dom, among other ac­tiv­i­ties.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has been pre­par­ing for a likely with­drawal for months, ac­cord­ing to US of­fi­cials. Sev­eral diplo­mats who were to have been posted to the mis­sion in the sum­mer were told that their po­si­tions were on hold and ad­vised to seek other jobs.

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