United States drops out of Unesco over arrears, 'anti-Israel bias'

Ambassador Phạm Sanh Châu the Vietnamese candidate for the position of UNESCO Director-General. — VNA  VNS

"This decision was not taken lightly", according to a State Department statement on Thursday.

"This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects USA concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO", the Department of State's press release said.

The United States will remain a member, however, until the withdrawal takes effect on December 31, 2018. The withdrawal goes into effect at the end of 2018.

Unesco said the withdrawal was a loss to the "UN family" and to multilateralism.

"Universality is critical to UNESCO's mission to strengthen global peace and security in the face of hatred and violence, to defend human rights and dignity", she added, noting that UNESCO would continue to build a more just, peaceful, equitable 21st century.

Haley says the U.S.'s view from 1984 when President Ronald Reagan also withdrew from UNESCO holds true today: "U.S. taxpayers should no longer be on the hook to pay for policies that are hostile to our values and make a mockery of justice and common sense".

It's not the first time the USA has pulled out of UNESCO: Washington did the same thing in the 1980s because it viewed the agency as mismanaged, corrupt and used to advance Soviet interests. "We deeply regret that the United States chose to leave UNESCO", the communique said.

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"The goal of UNESCO is a good one", US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said in a statement. "It's very, very regrettable".

The third round saw the breakthrough of French candidate Audrey Azouley, who secured 18 out of 58 votes of the UNESCO Executive Board, sharing top spot with Qatari candidate Hammad bin Al-Kawari. "Together, we have worked to protect humanity's shared cultural heritage in the face of terrorist attacks and to prevent violent extremism through education and media literacy".

Ms Bokova defended Unesco's reputation, noting its efforts to support Holocaust education and train teachers to fight anti-Semitism. The decision to withdraw is actually not unprecedented.

She said the US pulling out is a loss for the United Nations and for worldwide alliances. It might be alluding to the fact that Palestine, which has not been granted full membership to the United Nations, is a UNESCO member, and that the West Bank city of Hebron was recently named an official world heritage site in a UNESCO statement that also called Israeli occupation of the territory illegal.

The country plans to become "a non-member observer state in order to contribute U.S. 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".

The United Nation's education, cultural and scientific agency has passed several resolutions against Israel. Mr. Trump has pledged to move the United States Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv and selected a pro-settlement ambassador.

Israel says it will join the U.S. in pulling out of the UN's cultural organisation after USA officials cited "anti-Israel bias". "The organisation's absurd and shameful resolutions against Israel have consequences". The site is regarded as sacred by Jews, Christians and Muslims.

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