United States authorities have informed the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, that it is withdrawing its membership after years of not paying dues.
Reasons cited for opting out of the world heritage body include its “continuing anti-Israel bias” and “mounting arrears,” according to The Guardian.
Israel mimicked the U.S. move, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announcing it too will pull out of the international body.
Irina Bokova, UNESCO's director general, confirmed that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had provided official notification that the United States is opting out of the U.N. agency. However, a State Department official stated that the United States would attempt to “remain engaged” with UNESCO as a “non-member observer state in order to contribute U.S. views, perspectives and expertise.”
Bokova, for her part, released a statement expressing “profound regret” over the decision by U.S. authorities, noting that “this is not just about world heritage." She described the withdrawal as “a loss to both the organization and the U.S.”
The United States officially discontinued paying its UNESCO dues back in 2011, after the agency voted in favor of including Palestine as an official member. However, the State Department, according to the LA Times, maintained an office at UNESCO's headquarters in Paris, attempting to discreetly influence decisions made through backdoor channels.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and other top U.S. officials have repeatedly showed their disapproval of resolutions made by UNESCO.
In July, Israel expressed outrage after UNESCO voted in favor of listing Hebron's Old City in the occupied West Bank as a Palestinian heritage site. The measure was passed with a 12-3 vote, with six abstaining.
After the poll at the organization's meeting in the Polish city of Krakow, Israel's ambassador to UNESCO, Carmel Shama-Hacohen, took a call on his cell phone and informed the committee: “It’s my plumber in my apartment in Paris. There is a huge problem in my toilet and it is much more important than the decision you just adopted” before reportedly storming out of the session.
Soon after, Israel announced it was pulling its funding from the U.N. body.
UNESCO members are currently involved in secret voting to decide who will lead the organization as Bokova's term as director is coming to an end. Qatar's Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari is currently leading the race.