US Announces Withdrawal from UNESCO, Accusing UN Agency of "Anti-Israel" Bias

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington Wednesday

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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.

"This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects U.S. concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organisation, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO", she said in a statement.

The latest withdrawal takes effect December 31, 2018.

One of UNESCO's founding nations, the United States has had a rocky relationship with the Paris-based organization over the years. "Together, we have worked to protect humanity's shared cultural heritage in the face of terrorist attacks and to prevent violent extremism through education and media literacy". And in 2015, Unesco adopted a resolution that criticized Israel for mishandling heritage sites in Jerusalem and condemned "Israeli aggressions and illegal measures against freedom of worship".

She called the USA departure a loss for "the United Nations family" and for multilateralism, saying the US and UNESCO matter to each other more than ever now to better fight "the rise of violent extremism and terrorism".

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She said the USA and Unesco matter to each other more than ever now because "the rise of violent extremism and terrorism calls for new long-term responses for peace and security".

The US has long used UNESCO as a stage for political gestures: In 1984, the Ronald Reagan withdrew the US from UNESCO, accusing it of being pro-Soviet, anti-Israel, and anti-free market.

The U.S. stopped funding UNESCO after it voted to include Palestine as a member state in 2011, but the State Department has maintained a UNESCO office and sought to weigh in on policy behind the scenes.

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In a statement, Bokova said that "despite the withholding of funding, since 2011, we have deepened the partnership between the United States and UNESCO, which has never been so meaningful".

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Behind them in the secret ballot was an Egyptian career diplomat, Moushira Khattab, with 13 votes, and Tang Qian of China with five, according to results posted on Unesco's website.

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 worldwide commitments.

The 2016 resolution condemned Israel's "escalating aggressions" regarding a holy site in Jerusalem's Old City, known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif and to Jews as the Temple Mount.

"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".

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