The U.S. announced Thursday that it is withdrawing from the UN’s educational, cultural and scientific body, citing long-standing concerns of significant anti-Israel bias at the body — part of a broader crackdown by the Trump administration against the bias that it sees as present throughout the UN.
“This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects U.S. concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO,” the State Department said in a statement.
The decision comes after a series of anti-Israel decisions by the body, including accepting Palestine as a permanent member in 2011 and most recently in July declaring the Tomb of the Patriarchs – considered the second holiest site in Judaism after the Temple Mount – to be a Palestinian world heritage site in danger.
Another UNESCO decision recently disavowed Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem.
“The purpose of UNESCO is a good one. Unfortunately, its extreme politicization has become a chronic embarrassment,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said in a statement. “Just as we said in 1984 when President Reagan withdrew from UNESCO, U.S. taxpayers should no longer be on the hook to pay for policies that are hostile to our values and make a mockery of justice and common sense.”
Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Danny Danon hailed the move as a “turning point” for UNESCO:
UNESCO has become a battlefield for Israel bashing and has disregarded its true role and purpose. Today’s decision is a turning point for UNESCO. The organization’s absurd and shameful resolutions against Israel have consequences. Today is a new day at the UN, where there is price to pay for discrimination against Israel. The United States stands by Israel and is a true leader for change at the UN. The alliance between our two countries is stronger than ever.
Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO, expressed “profound regret” at the U.S. decision.
“At the time when the fight against violent extremism calls for renewed investment in education, in dialogue among cultures to prevent hatred, it is deeply regrettable that the United States should withdraw from the United Nations agency leading these issues,” Bokova said at the end of a lengthy statement.
It isn’t the first time the U.S. has quit UNESCO. The U.S. left the body under President Ronald Reagan in 1984 over claims the body had a pro-Soviet bias. The U.S. re-entered in 2002 during the Bush administration but later cut its funding to the body in 2011 over the decision to admit “Palestine,” which is not a state.
The State Department said that it wishes to establish a permanent observer mission to UNESCO:
The United States indicated to the Director General its desire to remain engaged with UNESCO as a non-member observer state in order to contribute U.S. views, perspectives and expertise on some of the important issues undertaken by the organization, including the protection of world heritage, advocating for press freedoms, and promoting scientific collaboration and education.
Haley has focused much of her time as ambassador on combating anti-Israel bias, calling out both members of the Security Council and also the Human Rights Council for instances of perceived bias against Israel.
Adam Shaw is a Breitbart News politics reporter based in New York. Follow Adam on Twitter: @AdamShawNY