U.S., Is­rael to exit agency over al­leged Mideast bias

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - WORLD - By Matthew Lee and Thomas Adam­son Matthew Lee and Thomas Adam­son are As­so­ci­ated Press writ­ers.

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 an­tiIs­rael bias and a need for “fun­da­men­tal re­form” in the agency.

Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu said Is­rael plans to fol­low suit.

Though the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion had been pre­par­ing for a likely with­drawal from UNESCO for months, the tim­ing of the State Depart­ment’s state­ment Thurs­day was un­ex­pected. The Paris-based agency is in the midst of a heated elec­tion to choose a new chief — with Qatar’s Ha­mad bin Ab­du­laziz al-Kawari in the lead as the ex­ec­u­tive board vote heads into a fi­nal bal­lot on Fri­day.

The out­go­ing UNESCO di­rec­tor-gen­eral, Irina Bokova, ex­pressed her “pro­found re­gret” at the U.S. 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.

She called the U.S. de­par­ture a loss for “the United Na­tions fam­ily” and for mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism, say­ing the U.S. and UNESCO mat­ter to each other more than ever now to bet­ter fight “the rise of vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism and ter­ror­ism.”

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 UNES- CO 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.

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.”

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

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