U.S. to withdraw from Unesco over 'anti-Israel bias'

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U.S. to withdraw from Unesco over 'anti-Israel bias'

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce said the move was "unfortunate but appropriate given UNESCO's mismanagement and disturbing anti-Israel bias" in a statement Thursday.

UNESCO has designated 11 Cities of Literature around the globe.

The State Department announced the move on Thursday, saying, "This decision was not taken lightly and reflects US concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO".

In the US, listed sites include the Statue of Liberty and Independence Hall, as well as national parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite.

UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova greeted the United States decision with "profound regret". "Unfortunately, its extreme politicization has become a chronic embarrassment", she said in a statement.

"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 added.

"Non-Western countries are already a powerful bloc in UNESCO, and their influence will increase further [after U.S. withdrawal]", says Gowan.

The Department said it would establish an observer mission at the Paris-based organisation to replace its representation.

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

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".

France said the move pointed to the need for UNESCO to overcome political divisions, describing it as regrettable "at a time when the global community's support for this organization is vital".

The State Department informed Bokova it intends to stay engaged at UNESCO as a non-member "observer state" on "non-politicized" issues, including the protection of World Heritage sites, advocating for press freedoms and promoting scientific collaboration and education.

The resolution also criticised Israel's activities at holy places in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. Earlier this year, UNESCO designated the core area of the West Bank city of Hebron - home to the Cave of the Patriarchs, an important religious site for Jews and Muslims - as a Palestinian World Heritage Site, a symbolic slight of both the U.S. and Israel.

He accused it of ignoring Judaism's ancient connection to the city, which includes the crypt where its matriarchs and patriarchs are buried.

The US also withdrew its funding to the organization in 2011.

Mr Trump has criticised what he sees as a disproportionate contribution by the U.S. to United Nations institutions.

But six years ago, the United States cut off more than $80 million a year, about 22 percent of its entire budget for UNESCO, in reprisal for its acceptance of Palestine as a member.

"The continued retrenchment of the USA administration from active participation in worldwide diplomacy efforts and dialogue is deeply concerning to the scientific community", said Rush Holt, head of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

For instance, in 1984, the Reagan administration took out its frustration with the United Nations on UNESCO over accusations of anti-US, pro-Soviet bias at the United Nations (it took until 2002 for the US to rejoin).

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