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