US to pull out of UN agency over alleged anti-Israel bias
PARIS — The United States said 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 need for “fundamental reform.”
While the Trump administration had been preparing for a likely withdrawal from UNESCO for months, the announcement by the State Department on Thursday rocked the agency’s Paris headquarters, where a heated election to choose a new chief is underway.
The outgoing UNESCO director-general expressed her “profound regret” at the decision and tried to defend the reputation of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, best known for its World Heritage program to protect cultural sites and traditions.
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 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.”
Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, praised Washington’s move as heralding “a new day at the U.N., where there is a price to pay for discrimination against Israel.”
“UNESCO has become a battlefield for Israel bashing and has disregarded its true role and purpose,” Danon said in a statement. The organization’s absurd and shameful resolutions against Israel have consequences.”
Several U.S. diplomats who were to have been posted to UNESCO this summer were told that their positions were on hold and advised to seek other jobs. In addition, the Trump administration’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year contains no provision for the possibility that UNESCO funding restrictions might be lifted.
The lack of staffing and funding plans for UNESCO by the U.S. have been accompanied by repeated denunciations of UNESCO by senior U.S. officials, including U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley. U.S. officials said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made the decision and that it was not discussed with other countries but was the result of an internal U.S. government deliberation.
The officials, who were not authorized to be publicly named discussing the issue, said the U.S. is notably angry over UNESCO resolutions denying Jewish connections to holy sites and references to Israel as an occupying power.