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US, Israel withdraw from UNESCO over 'anti-Israel bias'

Oct. 13, 2017 2:13 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 14, 2017 3:03 P.M.)
UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova (File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The US and Israel announced on Thursday that the two countries would be withdrawing from the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization’s (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee for “anti-Israel bias.”

According to reports, the US made its announcement first, with the Trump administration officially notifying the organization that it would be withdrawing its membership and establish an observer mission to replace its representation at the agency.

Shortly after the Trump administration’s announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said it would be following the US’ move, which it called “a brave and moral decision” in a statement.

“UNESCO has become a theatre of absurd. Instead of preserving history, it distorts it,” Netanyahu said.

In response to the US decision, UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova released a statement expressing her “profound regret,” saying that “universality is critical to UNESCO’s mission to strengthen international peace and security in the face of hatred and violence, to defend human rights and dignity.”

“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,” Bokova said.

The US and Israel’s relationship with UNESCO has been tense for years, long before Trump took office. The US stopped paying its dues to the organization in 2011 when UNESCO members granted Palestine full membership of the body, despite heavy opposition from Israel.

In July, Israel decided to withhold a further $1 million in membership dues to UNESCO following the organization’s vote to inscribe Hebron’s Old City and Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque in the occupied West Bank on the World Heritage in Danger list.

According to The Times of Israel, the cut in Israeli funding to the UN was the fourth since December 2016 -- when the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2334 condemning Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise in the occupied Palestinian territory -- with Israel only paying $1.7 million out of $11.7 million in required dues, over its claims of anti-Israel bias in the international body.

Both Israel and Trump’s administration have regularly criticized the UN for what they deem is the unfair targeting of Israel over its breaches of international law, particularly its illegal settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian territory.

Since the Trump Administration’s advent to power, and with the help of his ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, Washington and Israel have waged a war against the UN, using intimidation and the threats of withholding funds.

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