The United States has formally notified the UN’s world heritage body Unesco that it is withdrawing its membership of the organisation citing “continuing anti-Israel bias”, reports The Guardian.
The announcement by the Trump administration was followed a few hours later by news that Israel was also planning to quit the financially struggling cultural and educational agency.
In a statement Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, welcomed the US move saying: “This is a brave and moral decision, because Unesco has become a theatre of absurd. Instead of preserving history, it distorts it.”
The body is best known for its world heritage listings of outstanding cultural and natural sites but has often drawn the ire of Israel and the Trump administration for a series of decisions, including the listing of Hebron, a city in the southern part of the occupied Palestinian territories, as a Palestinian world heritage site.
Unesco’s director general, Irina Bokova, expressed her “profound regret” over the US decision. “This is not just about World Heritage,” she said, describing the withdrawal as “a loss to both the organisation and the US”.
“At the time when conflicts continue to tear apart societies across the world, it is deeply regrettable for the United States to withdraw from the United Nations agency promoting education for peace and protecting culture under attack.” she added. “This is a loss to the United Nations family. This is a loss for multilateralism.”
Disclosing the US government’s decision, the state department said in a statement it would seek to “remain engaged … as a non-member observer state in order to contribute US views, perspectives and expertise”.