US, Israel to quit UNESCO

Citing in part its "anti-Israel bias" and otherwise complaining of costs, the Trump administration announced Thursday that the USA will withdraw from UNESCO, the United Nations agency focused on education, science, and culture.

The US withdrawal was also motivated by a desire to stop accruing arrears to the agency, Foreign Policy magazine reported.

Netanyahu said Thursday that UNESCO has become a "theater of the absurd because instead of preserving history, it distorts it".

The decision to withdraw from UNESCO, which the United States helped found, was announced Thursday morning by the State Department, which said the United States would remain involved as a nonmember observer.

Israel has also announced today that they will be quitting the United Nations agency, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the decision by the USA "brave and moral".

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Many saw the 2011 UNESCO vote to include Palestine as evidence of long-running, ingrained anti-Israel bias within the United Nations, where Israel and its allies are far outnumbered by Arab countries and their supporters.

And past year, Israel suspended cooperation with it after the agency adopted a controversial resolution which made no reference to Jewish ties to a key holy site in Jerusalem.

Behind them in the secret ballot was an Egyptian career diplomat, Moushira Khattab, with 13 votes, and Tang Qian of China with five, according to results posted on Unesco's website.

UNESCO was once a low-profile United Nations agency best known for producing a list of World Heritage sites such as the Grand Canyon or Cambodia's Angkor Wat, as well as running science, media and cultural programmes internationally.

President George W. Bush announced America's return in 2002, but relations soured again in 2011 when Washington pulled the plug on funding to the body after its members voted to admit Palestine as a full member.

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Unesco director-general Irina Bokova, who is Bulgarian, expressed "profound regret" at the decision and said the departure was a loss for "the United Nations family" and for multilateralism.

Bokova spelled out her belief that the American people support UNESCO's actions to harness new learning technologies; enhance scientific cooperation, for ocean sustainability; promote freedom of expression, defend journalists' safety; empower girls and women as change-makers and peacebuilders; bolster societies facing emergencies, disasters and conflicts; and advance literacy and quality education.

"This is a loss to UNESCO".

The United Nation's education, cultural and scientific agency has passed several resolutions against Israel. The U.S. rejoined it in 2003. But, in 1984, then-President Ronald Reagan withdrew the country from the organization, citing corruption.

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  • Ryan Wade