Citing in part its "anti-Israel bias" and otherwise complaining of costs, the Trump administration announced Thursday that the US will withdraw from UNESCO, the United Nations agency focused on education, science, and culture.
Hours later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would quit too, calling the USA decision "brave and moral".
Yet, the US State Department announced today (Oct. 12) that the United States would withdraw from UNESCO membership.
In a statement, the State Department said the decision will take effect December 31, 2018, and that the US will seek a "permanent observer" status instead.
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Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman also congratulated the U.S. decision: "This was an important moral and ethical move from our great ally towards an anti-Semitic and politically biased organization". Implications for Education Worldwide had said that the withholding of U.S. dues would immediately affect UNESCO's ability to support countries in the often tremendous efforts they are making to provide universally accessible, relevant and transformative education. Since then, the US has maintained a presence at UNESCO and lobbied behind the scenes.
The withdrawal marks another decision by the Trump administration to distance itself from the global community.
As Haley alluded to, the withdrawal is also motivated by USA budget concerns.
As a result of US funding cuts, USA arrears have been swelling each year, surpassing $500 million that's owed to UNESCO. After UNESCO admitted Palestinians as full members in 2011, the New York Times reported that the Obama administration axed its funding. This is a loss to the United Nations family.
But in addition to the controversial decision to admit the Palestinians in 2011, it has been the scene of repeated diplomatic flare-ups after efforts led by Arab countries to pass resolutions critical of Israel.
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Irina Bokova, outgoing UNESCO director general, reacted to the development with "profound regret", calling "universality" key to its mission. Former President Ronald Reagan withdrew the USA from the organisation in 1984, and former President George W. Bush rejoined the cultural group in 2002.
The resolution also criticised Israel's activities at holy places in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.
The withdrawal of the United States, which is meant to provide a fifth of UNESCO's funding, is a major blow for the Paris-based organisation, founded after World War Two to help protect cultural and natural heritage around the world.
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.
The agency is in the process of choosing a new leader, with Qatari and French former ministers Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari and Audrey Azoulay neck-and-neck in the contest to replace Ms Bokova.
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