The United States will leave UNESCO due to what Washington sees as an anti-Israel bias and need for reform. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said his country will also begin preparations to leave the UN cultural agency.
The United States on Thursday announced it will withdraw from UNESCO over what it said was an anti-Israel bias at the UN’s cultural and education agency.
"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," the State Department said in a statement.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said later on Thursday that his country will also begin preparations to leave the UN cultural agency. He called the US decision "brave and moral," according to a statement.
Israel's UN ambassador Danny Danon called the US withdrawal "a turning point."
"Today is a new day at the UN, where there is a price to pay for discrimination against Israel," he said in a statement, adding that UNESCO would now realize its "absurd and shameful resolutions against Israel have consequences."
The US stopped contributing funds to UNESCO in 2011 after it voted to include Palestine as a member and now owes about $550 million (€464) in back payments.
The UN agency also came under Israeli and US criticism late last year after it referred to East Jerusalem as "Occupied Palestine" and a criticized "aggression by the Israeli Occupation Authorities" over restrictions imposed at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, Islam's third holiest site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount.
US officials told the AP news agency that Washington was particularly angry over UNESCO resolutions denying Jewish ties to holy sites and references to Israel as an occupying power.
Critics of UNESCO say its views reflect that of Arab members and its allies, who can outvote pro-Israel members.
The State Department said it would retain a permanent non-member observer mission at the Paris-based body after the withdrawal officially goes into effect on December 31, 2018.
UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova in a statement expressed "profound regret" at the US decision.
The UN cultural body is best known for its World Heritage program. It also promotes education and culture.
The United States withdrew from UNESCO in the 1980s before rejoining in 2003.
cw/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters)