US, Israel quit UNESCO over 'anti-Israel bias'

  • 13/10/2017
UNESCO headquarters in Paris.
UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Photo credit: Getty

The United States is withdrawing from UNESCO, the United Nation's cultural and educational agency from December 31, the US State Department says in a statement.

"This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects US concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organisation, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO," the department said on Thursday.

The statement added the US would seek to "remain engaged... as a non-member observer state in order to contribute US views, perspectives and expertise".

UNESCO describes itself as "responsible for coordinating international cooperation in education, science, culture and communication".

Hours later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would quit too, calling the US decision "brave and moral".

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."

"This is a loss to the United Nations family. This is a loss for multilateralism."

Washington has already withheld its funding for UNESCO since 2011, when the body admitted Palestine as a full member. The United States and Israel were among just 14 of 194 members that voted against admitting the Palestinians. 

France, which houses UNESCO's headquarters, said the withdrawal was regrettable.

"France is attached to UNESCO's critical action and to its areas of expertise, especially in the priority areas of education, the prevention of radicalisation and the protection of endangered heritage. Its activities contribute to achieving the shared UN goal of peace."

Reuters / Newshub.