U.S., Is­rael to leave UNESCO for al­leged bias against Is­rael

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - International - By Matthew Lee and Thomas Adam­son

As­so­ci­ated Press

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 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 Fri­day’s fi­nal vote.

Out­go­ing Di­rec­tor-Gen­eral Irina Bokova ex­pressed “pro­found re­gret” at the U.S. 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.

Ms. Bokova called the U.S.’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,” she said.

The U.S. 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 U.S. now owes about $550 mil­lion in back pay­ments.

In a state­ment, the State Depart­ment said the de­ci­sion will take ef­fect Dec. 31, 2018, and that the U.S. will seek a “per­ma­nent ob­server” sta­tus in­stead. It cited U.S. be­lief in “the need for fun­da­men­tal re­form in the or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

Mr. Ne­tanyahu said Is­rael also plans to with­draw from the agency, say­ing it had be­come a “the­ater of the ab­surd be­cause in­stead of pre­serv­ing his­tory, it dis­tort­sit.”

Is­rael has been irked by res­o­lu­tions that di­min­ish its his­tor­i­cal con­nec­tion to the Holy Land and have in­stead named an­cient Jewish sites asPales­tinian her­itage sites.

Prais­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s de­ci­sion as “brave and moral,” Mr. Ne­tanyahu said he has or­dered Is­raeli di­plo­mats to pre­pare for Is­rael’s with­drawal from the or­ga­ni­za­tion in con­cert with the Amer­i­cans.

Nikki Ha­ley, U.S. am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions, called UNESCO’s July 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.”

Ms. Ha­ley also crit­i­cized UNESCO for “keep­ing Syr­ian dic­ta­tor Bashar As­sad on a UNESCO hu­man rights com­mit­tee even af­ter his mur­der­ous crack­down on peace­ful pro­test­ers.”

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