US, Israel Withdraw From UNESCO

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The US has announced it will withdraw from the United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organization, accusing the body of “anti-Israel bias”.

Heather Nauert, US state department spokesperson, said on Thursday the US would establish an “observer mission” to replace its representation at the Paris-based agency.

Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s outgoing director-general, said she “deeply regrets” the decision and is convinced that “UNESC has never been so important for the US, or the US for UNESCO” given the rise of what she called violent extremism and terrorism in the world.

Mustafa Barghouti, secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative, told Al Jazeera the decision demonstrated Washington’s “complete and total bias” towards Israel.

“This behaviour is counter-productive and shameful,” he said, adding: “Sooner or later they will see Palestine in every UN agency, will the US respond to that by withdrawing from the WHO or the World Organisation of Intellectual Property? They will be hurting only themselves.”

“It is as if Israel is dictating US policy not only in the Middle East but also in international organisations.That’s going to have a very harmful effect on the idea that US is mediator between the Palestinians and the Israelis,” he continued.

The US was angered in 2011 when UNESCO members granted Palestine full membership of the body, despite opposition from its ally Israel.

That year the US stopped paying into UNESCO but did not officially withdraw.

The US opposes any move by UN bodies to recognise the Palestinians as a state, believing that this must await a negotiated Middle East peace deal.

UNESCO is best known for its work to preserve heritage, including maintaining a list of World Heritage sites, and programmes to promote education in developing countries.

Nauert said the state department had notified Bokova of their decision earlier on Thursday.

“This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects US concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organisation, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO,” she said in a statement.

Donald Trump’s administration is also reviewing many of its multilateral commitments, pursuing what he calls an “America First” foreign policy.

Meanwhile the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said on Thursday that his country would withdraw its membership from the UN cultural agency UNESCO.

“Netanyahu instructed the Foreign Ministry to prepare Israel’s withdrawal from the organisation in parallel with the U.S.,’’ the prime minister’s office said.

Netanyahu in a statement praised the U.S. decision earlier Thursday to pull out of UNESCO citing an “anti-Israel” bias.

“This is a courageous and moral decision, because UNESCO has become the theatre of the absurd and because, instead of preserving history, it distorts it,” he said.

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