US, Israel quit United Nations heritage agency citing bias

Ebony Scott
October 15, 2017

Hours after the United States announced its withdrawal, the Israel joined in, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying he had instructed his foreign ministry to begin preparations to leave.

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".

Under UNESCO rules, the USA withdrawal will become effective as of the end of December 2018. US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, "As many of you know, we were in arrears to the tune of $550 million or so".

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". But the organization isn't almost as prominent or geopolitically significant as the UN Security Council, which sets binding worldwide law, or UN Peacekeeping, a body literally tasked with helping war-torn countries transition to peace.

While the USA announced its decision to withdraw from the group, the Trump administration said it wanted to continue to be engaged with Unesco to provide American perspective and expertise, but as a non-member observer.

This is not the first time that the United States has withdrawn from UNESCO.

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Washington is also reviewing its membership of the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council, which it also accuses of being anti-Israel.

The U.S. stopped making payments to the agency in 2011, but maintained an office at its Paris headquarters in the hopes of encouraging a change of course from behind the scenes.

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It's akin to the divorce of estranged partners, because the relationship between the U.S. and UNESCO has been strained since 2011 when Palestinian territories were admitted to the organisation as an independent member state called Palestine.

Amid the vote for new Director-General, UNESCO delayed the latest vote on a pair of anti-Israel resolutions on Wednesday, marking the first time no anti-Israel resolutions were passed at a UNESCO session since 2011.

UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova greeted the U.S. decision with "profound regret".

Currently, 23 places in the USA are on the UNESCO list of world heritage sites, though nothing American appears in the organization's list of "intangible cultural heritage".

Meanwhile, the head of UNESCO Irina Bokova has regret a decision by the United States to withdraw from the UN culture and education body which she called a "loss to multilateralism".

Israeli and United States media have reported that UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein is compiling a list of companies that operate in the West Bank, which was captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War.

The agency is in the process of choosing a new leader, with Qatari and French former ministers Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari and Audrey Azoulay neck-and-neck in the contest to replace Ms Bokova. Under the Reagan Administration, the United States quit UNESCO in 1984, at the time accusing the agency of a pro- Soviet Union bias.

What might have hastened this withdrawal decision was the July declaration of the ancient city of Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, with its Tomb of the Patriarchs, as an endangered World Heritage Site.

Other reports by GizPress

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