USA pulls out of United Nations cultural body, citing 'anti-Israel' bias

Al-Kuwari in final round of Unesco election

The outgoing head of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, called the U.S. withdrawal a "loss to multilateralism", while UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said through a spokesman that he "regrets this development deeply".

The agency's board members are set to vote this week to elect a new director-general, with Arab candidates from Qatar and Egypt vying with a French competitor. The U.S. now owes about $550 million in back payments.

The organisation, which employs around 2,000 people worldwide, majority based in Paris, has always been the object of criticism over its use of resources and resolutions that have been perceived by Israel and other countries as biased.

Netanyahu announced a US$1 million (S$1.3 million) cut in funding to the United Nations, saying the Unesco vote ignored Jewish ties to the site.

Al-Kuwari in final round of Unesco election
USA pulls out of United Nations cultural body, citing 'anti-Israel' bias

Haley called the decision to classify the Tomb of the Patriarchs as a UNESCO World Heritage Site "just the latest in a long line of foolish actions, which includes keeping Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad on a UNESCO human rights committee even after his murderous crackdown on peaceful protestors".

Netanyahu accused UNESCO of "becoming a Theater of Absurd because instead of preserving history, it twists it".

Washington's withdrawal is set to take effect on December 21, 2018, when it will establish an "observer mission" to replace its representation at the agency.

But according to Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, the Trump administration found it to be a step too far when the agency decided this summer to designate "the Old City of Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs as part of Palestinian territory". Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has "instructed the Israeli Foreign Ministry to prepare for Israel to leave UNESCO in parallel with the US", according to his office.

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UNESCO is best known for designating World Heritage Sites such as the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria and the Grand Canyon National Park.

Praising Trump's decision as "brave and moral", Netanyahu said he has ordered Israeli diplomats to prepare for Israel's withdrawal from the organization in concert with the Americans. This is a loss to the United Nations family. In the US, listed sites include the Statue of Liberty and Independence Hall, as well as national parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite. She called Washington's step a "loss to multilateralism". The Reagan administration withdrew from the organisation in 1984 - accusing the agency of corruption and an ideological bias towards the then Soviet Union - but the U.S. rejoined in 2002.

The U.S. rejoined UNESCO during President George W. Bush's first term.

UNESCO is a specialized agency in the United Nations that encourages global peace and security through education, science, culture and communication.

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It's worth noting that when the US withdraws from UNESCO, as pledged, it will not be for the first time.

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