U.S. pulls out of United Nations cultural body, cites 'anti-Israel' bias

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UNESCO pursues its objectives through five major programs: education, natural sciences, social/human sciences, culture and communication/information.

Israel on Thursday welcomed US pulling out of the UN's cultural organization, announcing the Jewish state was considering a similar move due to the body's "anti-Israel" bias.

The U.S. would seek to "remain engaged with UNESCO as a non-member observer state", the statement added.

Citing in part its "anti-Israel bias" and otherwise complaining of costs, the Trump administration announced Thursday that the USA will withdraw from UNESCO, the United Nations agency focused on education, science, and culture. Under the Reagan Administration, the USA quit UNESCO in 1984, at the time accusing the agency of a pro- Soviet Union bias.

Ms Bokova's two terms as director have been deeply scarred by the 2011 Unesco vote to include Palestine as a member, funding troubles and repeated resolutions seen as anti-Israel.

Washington opposes any move by United Nations bodies to recognise the Palestinian territories as a state, believing that this must await a negotiated Middle East peace deal.

"UNESCO is about promoting our ideals and values through culture, education and science", France's United Nations ambassador Francois Delattre told reporters in NY, adding that "we need an America that stays committed to world affairs".

Bokova spelled out her belief that the American people support UNESCO's actions to harness new learning technologies; enhance scientific cooperation, for ocean sustainability; promote freedom of expression, defend journalists' safety; empower girls and women as change-makers and peacebuilders; bolster societies facing emergencies, disasters and conflicts; and advance literacy and quality education.

The US decision, first reported by Foreign Policy magazine, comes as European powers face another setback in their efforts to lobby Trump to respect Washington's global commitments.

"At the time when the fight against violent extremism calls for renewed investment in education, in dialogue among cultures to prevent hatred, it is deeply regrettable that the United States should withdraw from the United Nations agency leading these issues", she stated. Its declared goal is to contribute to peace and security by promoting worldwide collaboration through educational, scientific, and cultural reforms to increase universal respect for justice, the rule of law, and human rights along with fundamental freedom proclaimed in the United Nations Charter.

But in addition to the decision to admit the Palestinians in 2011, it has been the scene of repeated diplomatic flare-ups after Arab countries succeeded in passing a number of resolutions critical of Israel.

The Israel controversy re-ignited this summer after UNESCO named Hebron's city center a Palestinian World Heritage Site. The Paris-based agency is in the midst of a heated election to choose a new chief — with Qatar's Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari in the lead as the Executive Board vote heads into a final ballot on Friday.

While the USA stopped funding Unesco after it voted to include Palestine as a member in 2011, the state department has maintained a Unesco office at its Paris headquarters and sought to weigh in on policy behind the scenes. "We'll be voting this evening".

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