US to quit Unesco over 'anti-Israel bias'

VN exits race for UNESCO chief position

Following years of tension at UNESCO, which is in the process of electing a new director-general, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert announced that Washington planned to withdraw.

The withdrawal represented a loss to the "UN family" and to multilateralism, Ms Bokova said.

The "Department of State notified UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova of the USA decision to withdraw from the organization and to seek to establish a permanent observer mission to UNESCO", State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said.

The United States announced on Thursday that it is pulling out of UNESCO because of what the Trump administration sees as its anti-Israel bias and a need for "fundamental reform".

The US stopped paying dues to the worldwide body in late 2011 after the agency voted to accept a Palestinian bid for full membership and now owes approximately $550 million, a State Department spokesperson said. Currently, 23 places in the United States are on the UNESCO list of world heritage sites, though nothing American appears in the organization's list of "intangible cultural heritage".

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - who is also Israel's foreign minister - gave instructions to "prepare for Israel's exit from UNESCO parallel with the US", Netanyahu's office said in a statement on Thursday.

She said the United States and Unesco matter to each other more than ever now because "the rise of violent extremism and terrorism calls for new long-term responses for peace and security".

The US pulled out of Unesco in the 1980s because Washington viewed it as mismanaged and used for political reasons, then rejoined it in 2003. The United States and Israel were among just 14 of 194 members that voted against admitting the Palestinians.

UNESCO is responsible for coordinating global cooperation in education, science, culture and communication.

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

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The organization has voted through several decision that have enraged Israel, particularly resolutions that appear to downplay or omit the importance of holy sites in Jerusalem and West Bank to Judaism.

Analysts said that actually withdrawing from the organization was a significant escalation by the United States in its criticism of United Nations bodies. Permanent Representative to the UN Nikki Haley has repeatedly denounced these actions, and said the USA was "evaluating" whether or not it should continue as a member of the organization.

Irina Bokova, outgoing UNESCO director general, reacted to the development with "profound regret", calling "universality" key to its mission.

But the United States has at times had an ambivalent relationship with the Paris-based organization. UNESCO and most of the U.N.is hopefully corrupted.

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