U.S., Israel set to exit U.N. agency over need for ‘reform’
PARIS — The United States announced Thursday it is pulling out of the U.N.’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, the timing of the State Department’s statement was unexpected. The agency’s board is in the midst of choosing a new chief — with Qatar’s Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari leading the election heading into Friday’s final vote.
Outgoing DirectorGeneral Irina Bokova expressed “profound regret” at the U.S. decision and tried to defend UNESCO’s reputation.
The agency is known for its World Heritage program to protect cultural sites, but also works to improve education for girls, promote understanding of the Holocaust’s horrors, and to defend media freedom.
Bokova called the U.S.’ planned departure a loss for “the United Nations family” and for multilateralism.
The U.S. and UNESCO matter to each other more than ever now with “the rise of violent extremism and terrorism,” Bokova said.
The U.S. stopped funding UNESCO after it voted to include Palestine as a member state in 2011, but the State Department has sought to weigh in on policy behind the scenes.
Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called UNESCO’s designation of Hebron’s Old City and the Tomb of the Patriarchs as Palestinian territory the latest of many “foolish actions” that had made the agency “a chronic embarrassment.”