The US has announced it will be leaving UNESCO, the United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organization, alleging that the organisation is prejudiced against Israel. The state department said it was also concerned about increasing financial arrears at the agency and said it needed reforms.
The move appears to be influenced by a 2016 UNESCO resolution which had criticized Israel’s activities in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.
Heather Nauert, the US state department spokesperson, confirmed the controversial move on Thursday saying the US would establish an “observer mission” to replace its representation at the Paris-based agency.
The head of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, termed the withdrawal as a matter of “profound regret”. She admitted however that “politicisation” had “taken its toll” on the organisation lately. The withdrawal was a loss to the “UN family” and to multilateral-ism, Ms Bokova further said.
The US will remain a full member until the withdrawal becomes effective in December 2018 after which the US will set up an observer mission to replace its representation, the state department said.
UNESCO is responsible for coordinating international cooperation in areas like education, science, culture and communication, strengthening ties between nations and societies.
The agency also overseas designation and protection of World Heritage Sites such as Syria’s Palmyra and the US Grand Canyon, spreads awareness of the horrors of the Holocaust, and defends media freedom around the globe.
In another controversial move in August, the U.S. State Department officially informed the United Nations it will withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, but left the door open to re-engaging if the terms improved for the United States.
The US had already stopped funding UNESCO after the agency voted to recognize Palestine as a member in 2011, however it maintained an office at the UN agency’s Paris headquarters.
The United States previously pulled out of UNESCO in the 1980s over concerns that the agency was being used for political reasons. It had however resumed its membership back in 2003.