U.S. Announces Departure From UNESCO Over anti-Israel Bias

Trump's decision is a loss to the 'United Nations family' and to multilateralism, UNESCO responds

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley (L) and U.S. President Donald Trump participate in a session on reforming the United Nations at UN Headquarters in New York, U.S., September 18, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON - The United States is withdrawing from UNESCO, the United Nation's cultural and educational agency, effective December 31, the U.S. State Department said in a statement on Thursday.

Following the announcement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed Israel's Foreign Ministry to lay the ground work for Israel's withdrawal from the UN body as well.

"This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects U.S. concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO," the department said, adding that the United States would seek to "remain engaged ...as a non-member observer state in order to contribute U.S. views, perspectives and expertise." 

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

"This is a brave and moral decision, because UNESCO has become a theatre of the absurd and instead of preserving history, it distorts it," Netanyahu said. 

A report Thursday in Foreign Policy claimed the Trump administration's decision may also be tied to attempts to cut funding to the cultural agency, which it owes some $500 million.

The Trump administration is not the first to take such a step. The Reagan administration quit the organization in the 1980s, and the U.S. rejoined it only two decades later, under the George W. Bush administration.

In 2011, under the Obama administration, the U.S. cut off most of its funding to UNESCO, this time over its acceptance of Palestine as a member-state. 

The Trump administration reportedly wants to exit the organization entirely, citing a number of recent resolutions that have targeted Israel and the settlements, including a resolution which declared the city of Hebron, in the occupied West Bank, as a Palestinian World Heritage Site, and a resolution from October 2016 which was sharply critical of Israel's policies in Jerusalem.