Israel says it plans to pull out of the United Nations cultural and education agency, UNESCO, hours after the US announced its decision to do the same, accusing the body of “anti-Israel bias.”
According to a statement released by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office on Thursday, the premier “instructed the foreign ministry to prepare Israel’s withdrawal from the organization alongside the United States.”
Tel Aviv’s move came just a few hours after US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert announced that the White House would withdraw from the Paris-based agency, citing growing “arrears” at UNESCO, the need for “fundamental” reform in it and its “continuing anti-Israel bias.”
Nauert added that the US withdrawal would take effect on December 31 this year.
The Israeli premier’s office further said that Netanyahu welcomed “the decision by US President (Donald) Trump to withdraw from UNESCO.” It described the move as a “courageous and moral decision because UNESCO has become the theater of the absurd and because instead of preserving history it distorts it.”
UNESCO, which has 195 member states, is known for designating world heritage sites such as Syria’s Palmyra, the Grand Canyon in the US state of Arizona and twenty-two sites in Iran.
Meanwhile, the head of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, voiced “profound regret” over the US decision, calling it a “loss to multilateralism.”
The US also pulled out of the agency in 1984 during the administration of US president Ronald Regan, accusing it of being biased in favor of the former Soviet Union. Former US President George W. Bush rejoined UNESCO in 2003.
However, Washington stopped funding the body in 2011, after the organization recognized Palestine as a full member. The US and Israel at the time were among just 14 of 194 members that opposed the membership of Palestine in the international organization.