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Israel to join US in withdrawing from UNESCO over 'bias'

Le siège de l'Unesco, à Paris, le 31 octobre 2011
AFP
UN's cultural body has passed a number of resolutions criticized by Israel

The United States announced its withdrawal from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on Thursday, with the State Department citing among other issues a "continuing anti-Israel bias", prompting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to order the Foreign Ministry to prepare its own withdrawal and Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon to hail "a new era in the UN".

A US State Department statement said the decision to withdraw reflected "concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO."

Danon praised the move, saying it showed there was "a price to anti-Israel discrimination".

Netanyahu called the US withdrawal "brave and moral", adding that UNESCO, "distorts" history instead of preserving it.

The organization has voted through several decision that have enraged Israel, particularly resolutions that appear to downplay or omit the importance of holy sites in Jerusalem and West Bank to Judaism.

Among these was a resolution declaring the Old City of Hebron to be Palestinian territory and a world heritage site.

Hebron is home to the imposing Tomb of the Patriarchs, the resting place of the Biblical figures Jacob, Isaac and Abraham and an important religious site to Muslims and Jews alike.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley at the time called the decision an "affront to history" and announced that Washington would evaluate "the appropriate level of its continued engagement at UNESCO."

In May, Israel was infuriated by a resolution identifying it as "the occupying power" in Jerusalem's Old City and calling on it to rescind any move changing the city's "character and status".

The text denounced "all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying power, which have altered or purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem".

The head of UNESCO, Irina Bokova voiced, "profound regret" on Thursday over the withdrawal, which she called a "loss to multilateralism".

"I wish to express profound regret at the decision of the United States of America to withdraw from UNESCO," Bokova said in a statement.

TIMOTHY A. CLARY (AFP)

Trump is not the first US President to withdraw support from UNESCO.

Trump's predecessor Barack Obama slashed US funding to the organization in 2011 after it voted to accept Palestine as a full member-state.

Former president Ronald Reagan quit the organization altogether in the 1980's. The US only rejoined under the administration of President George W. Bush some two decades later.

The global heritage and conservation body is currently in the midst of electing a new head, with Qatari candidate Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al- Kawari and French-Jewish candidate Audrey Azoulay currently leading the field.

None of the candidates expressly mentioned the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in their pitches for the body's helm, but many are indeed focused on what they see as the organization's politicization.

See also:

A critical history of UNESCO-Israel relations

Who will be the next leader of a troubled UNESCO?

UNESCO will delay vote on anti-Israel resolutions at upcoming summit

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