The US and Israel announced today they were quitting the UN’s cultural agency Unesco, after Washington accused it of anti-Israeli bias.
The withdrawal of the United States, which is meant to provide a fifth of Unesco’s funding, is a major blow for the Paris-based organisation, founded after World War Two to help protect cultural and natural heritage around the world.
Unesco is best known for designating World Heritage Sites such as the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria and the Grand Canyon National Park.
“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,” state department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.
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,” she said.
“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. Washington’s arrears on its $80 million annual dues since then are now over $500 million.