Israel to withdraw from UNESCO following U.S, Netanyahu says

Tel Aviv –   Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said on Thursday that his country would withdraw its membership from the UN cultural agency UNESCO.

“Netanyahu instructed the Foreign Ministry to prepare Israel’s withdrawal from the organisation in parallel with the U.S.,’’ the prime minister’s office said.

Netanyahu in a statement praised the U.S. decision earlier Thursday to pull out of UNESCO citing an “anti-Israel” bias.

“This is a courageous and moral decision, because UNESCO has become the theatre of the absurd and because, instead of preserving history, it distorts it,” he said.

Also, the U.S. withdrawal from UNESCO is the “price to pay for discrimination against Israel,” Israel’s UN Ambassador, Danny Danon, said in a statement in New York.

“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 organisation’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 U.S. stands by Israel and is a true leader for change at the UN. The alliance between our two countries is stronger than ever.”

Washington has already withheld its funding for UNESCO since 2011, when the body admitted Palestine as a full member.

The U.S. and Israel were among just 14 of 194 members that voted against admitting the Palestinians. Washington’s arrears on its 80 million dollars annual dues since then are now over 500 million dollars.

Although Washington supports a future independent Palestinian state, it says this should emerge out of peace talks and it considers it unhelpful for international organisations to admit Palestine until negotiations are complete.

In recent years, Israel has repeatedly complained about what it says is the body taking sides in disputes over cultural heritage sites in Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories.

Netanyahu told world leaders at the UN General Assembly in September that UNESCO was promoting “fake history” after it designated Hebron and the two adjoined shrines at its heart – the Jewish Tomb of the Patriarchs and the Muslim Ibrahimi Mosque – as a “Palestinian World Heritage Site in Danger.”

An Arab-backed UNESCO resolution in 2016 condemned Israeli’s policies at religious sites in East Jerusalam and the West Bank.

Under UNESCO rules, the U.S. withdrawal will become effective as of the end of December 2018.

The U.S. move underscores the skepticism expressed by President Donald Trump about the need for the U.S. to remain engaged in multi-lateral bodies.

The president has touted an “America First” policy, which puts U.S. economic and national interests ahead of international commitments.

Since Trump took office, the U.S. has abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks and withdrawn from the Paris climate deal.

Washington is also reviewing its membership of the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, which it also accuses of being anti-Israel.

“The absence of the U.S. or any large country with a lot of power is a loss. It’s not just about money, it’s promoting ideals that are vital to countries like the U.S., such as education and culture,” a UNESCO-based diplomat said, warning that others could follow.

Russia’s former envoy to UNESCO told RIA news agency the agency was better off without the Americans.

“In recent years, they’ve been of no use for this organisation,” Eleanora Mitrofanova said. (dpa/NAN)

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