The United States is withdrawing from the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the U.S. State Department announced on Thursday, citing concerns over “continuing anti-Israel bias” at the institution.
“The Department of State notified UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova of the U.S. decision to withdraw from the organization and to seek to establish a permanent observer mission to UNESCO,” government spokesperson Heather Nauert said.
“This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects US concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO,” she added.
UNESCO has been suffering from funding shortfalls since it accepted the Palestinian Authority’s request for membership in 2011. The U.S. administration cut $80 million a year from its UNESCO budget in response to the organization’s decision.
Over the past years, UNESCO has been making headlines due to their continuous anti-Israel bias. In October 2016, Israel suspended ties with the organization following a resolution that criticized Israel’s actions in and around Jerusalem’s holiest site and denied Jewish ties to the region’s holy sites.
In July, UNESCO declared the Old Town of Hebron and the Cave of the Patriarchs as a Palestinian World Heritage Site. In May 2017, UNESCO passed a series of resolutions that denied Israeli claims to Jerusalem as Israel celebrated its 69th Independence Day.
Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, reacted to the U.S. decision by saying that UNESCO had become a forum for Israel-hatred and had betrayed its original mandate. It was now “paying the price” for the “shameful” decisions it has adopted against Israel, he said, citing “a new era” at UN-linked institutions in which “anti-Israel discrimination” has consequences.
UNESCO member states, meanwhile, are voting on a new director-general, in a process marked by intense diplomatic tensions. Qatar’s former culture minister, who has disseminated anti-Semitic material, both in the course of his official duties and personally, is a leading candidate to succeed Irina Bokova as head of UNESCO, Ben Cohen reported for The Algemeiner on Monday.
The U.S. withdrawal from UNESCO will take effect on December 31, 2018.
[Photo: Cancilleria Ecuador/ Wikimedia Commons]