United States and Israel withdraw from UNESCO citing "anti-Israel" bias

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The State Department briefly outlined its reasoning in a press release: "This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects USA concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO".

The United States announced Thursday it is pulling out of the U.N.'s educational, scientific and cultural agency because of what Washington sees as its anti-Israel bias and a need for "fundamental reform" in the agency.

Hours after the USA announced its withdrawal, the Israel joined in, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying he had instructed his foreign ministry to begin preparations to leave.

"President Trump's decision is fearless and moral, because UNESCO has become a theatre of the absurd and because, rather than preserve history, it distorts it", the statement said.

Yet, the US State Department announced today (Oct. 12) that the United States would withdraw from UNESCO membership.

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

"And reflects U.S. concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO".

Hours later, Israel announced that it would also be leaving the United Nations body.

China will continue to actively participate in and support the work of UNESCO, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Friday.

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This isn't the first time the United States has pulled out of Unesco.

Although it's tempting to dismiss the withdrawal as another display of the Trump administration's United Nations -bashing, there's certainly room to criticize UNESCO.

Israel, meanwhile, remains a member of UNESCO.

The United States cancelled a significant budget contribution to the organization in 2011 in protest of a decision to grant full membership to the Palestinians.

Amid the vote for new Director-General, UNESCO delayed the latest vote on a pair of anti-Israel resolutions on Wednesday, marking the first time no anti-Israel resolutions were passed at a UNESCO session since 2011.

Its head, Irina Bokova, earlier called the United States withdrawal a matter of "profound regret".

UNESCO was once a low-profile United Nations agency best known for producing a list of World Heritage sites including tourist favourites such as the Grand Canyon or Cambodia's Angkor Wat, as well as running science, media and cultural programmes. Israel recalled its ambassador to the Paris-based organization past year after some governments supported a resolution that denounced Israel's policies on religious sites in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Under the Reagan Administration, the USA quit UNESCO in 1984, at the time accusing the agency of a pro- Soviet Union bias.

And in July, UNESCO declared the old city in Hebron, a West Bank town that includes the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a Palestinian World Heritage Site, a move Israel claims negates Judaism's links to the biblical town.

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