United States and Israel withdraw from UNESCO, claim 'anti-Israel' bias

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington Wednesday

The United States says it is withdrawing from UNESCO, accusing the organization of "anti-Israel" bias.

Hours later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would quit too, calling the USA decision "brave and moral".

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said the decision makes "it clear that culture, history, world heritage isn't impt to [Trump], even if it is to Americans & world".

The U.S. withdrawal will take effect on December 31 2018, the State Department confirmed.

According to the State Department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, Washington would establish an "observer mission" to replace its representation at the Paris-based agency.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman also congratulated the USA decision: "This was an important moral and ethical move from our great ally towards an anti-Semitic and politically biased organization".

China will continue to actively participate in and support the work of UNESCO, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Friday. Since then, the USA has maintained a presence at UNESCO and lobbied behind the scenes.

Netanyahu "welcomes the decision by President (Donald) Trump to withdraw from UNESCO".

The US withdrawal was announced ahead of the election for the new Director-General of UNESCO.

Israel's Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan took to Twitter and called on the USA to stop funding the United Nations if the worldwide body publishes the so-called "blacklist" of companies that operate there.

In 2011 the USA cut its funding to the agency - slashing its budget by 22 percent - in protest at its decision to grant full membership to the Palestine.

State Department officials cited a 2012 decision not to expel Syria from its human rights committee after the civil war in that country began, and repeated resolutions that refer to Israel as an occupying power.

This seemed odd because UNESCO is such an inoffensive-seeming organization: Its most prominent function is designating and protecting official global landmarks, called World Heritage Sites - places like The Alamo and the Great Barrier Reef.

"At the time when the fight against violent extremism calls for renewed investment in education, in dialogue among cultures to prevent hatred, it is deeply regrettable that the United States should withdraw from the United Nations leading these issues", she said in a statement, calling it a "loss for multilateralism".

It had pulled out of UNESCO before in 1984 when the Reagan administration said that it viewed the agency as mismanaged, corrupt and used to advance Soviet interests.

The decision comes as a heavy blow to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), as the United States is meant to provide a fifth of funding to the program.

Mr Netanyahu condemned the agency this year for declaring the old city of Hebron in the West Bank a Palestinian World Heritage site.



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