USA withdraws from UNESCO over "anti-Israel bias"

Netanyahu announced a US$1 million (S$1.3 million) cut in funding to the United Nations, saying the Unesco vote ignored Jewish ties to the site.

The damaged Roman amphitheatre, in the ancient city of Palmyra in central Syria, is a UNESCO world heritage site.

Commenting on the move, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed it as "a courageous and moral decision".

Still, she noted the Trump administration wants the U.S.to remain engaged with the United Nations agency "as a non-member observer state in order to contribute US views, perspectives and expertise on some of the important issues undertaken by the organization, including the protection of world heritage, advocating for press freedoms, and promoting scientific collaboration and education".

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

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova expressed her disappointment: "At the time when conflicts continue to tear apart societies across the world, it is deeply regrettable for the United States to withdraw from the United Nations agency promoting education for peace and protecting culture under attack", she said.

Some of the United States's closest allies are among UNESCO's 195 members.

In a statement, the State Department said the decision will take effect December 31, 2018, and that the US will seek a "permanent observer" status instead.

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The statement added that Mr Netanyahu had instructed his Foreign Ministry to begin preparations for leaving the organisation as well. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has "instructed the Israeli Foreign Ministry to prepare for Israel to leave UNESCO in parallel with the USA", according to his office.

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.

The organisation, which employs around 2,000 people worldwide, a lot of them based in Paris, has always been the object of criticism over its use of resources and resolutions that have been perceived by Israel and other countries as biased.

An Arab-backed UNESCO resolution previous year condemned Israeli's policies at religious sites in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Earlier this year, UNESCO triggered Israel's anger after it listed Hebron, a city in the occupied West Bank, as a world heritage site in the "State of Palestine". Trump has also criticized America's contributions to United Nations institutions as disproportionate - not only 22% of the UN's regular budget but also 28% of its peacekeeping. The US funds 22 percent of the UN's regular budget and 28 percent of United Nations peacekeeping. Washington is also reviewing its membership of the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council, which it also accuses of being anti-Israel.

Hegadorn said the USA would remain a force at the cultural agency in the same way as it was from 1984, when the country withdrew under then-President Ronald Reagan.

Bokova released a statement in light of the news.


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