The United States has announced it is withdrawing from UNESCO.

Today US Secretary Rex Tilerson, confirmed the withdrawal from the UN body will come into effect on 31 December.

The US State Department said in a statement: “This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects US concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organisation, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO.”

The statement said the US would try to “remain engaged as a non-member observer state in order to contribute US views, perspectives and expertise.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Netanyahu welcomed Trump’s ‘couragous and moral’ decision to pull out of UNESCO, saying Israel will begin preparations to do the same.

“The prime minister instructed the Foreign Ministry to prepare Israel’s withdrawal from the organization alongside the United States,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement, hours after the US said it is quitting the organization, citing its “anti-Israel bias” alongside financial considerations.

Netanyahu said he “welcomes the decision by President [Donald] Trump to withdraw from UNESCO. This is a courageous and moral decision because UNESCO has become the theater of the absurd and because, instead of preserving history, it distorts it.”

The US withdrawal is to take effect on 31 December, 2018.

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, earlier praised Washington’s decision, saying UNESCO has become a forum for Israel-bashing and had forgotten its original purpose.

Danon said UNESCO was now “paying the price” for the “shameful” decisions it has adopted against Israel, citing “a new era” dawning at the UN in which “anti-Israel discrimination” has consequences.

UNESCO, which is choosing a new director this week, said the US decision was a loss for multilateralism and for the UN.

Current UNESCO director general Irina Bokova said in a statement: “After receiving official notification by the United States Secretary of State, Mr Rex Tillerson, as UNESCO Director-General, I wish to express profound regret at the decision of the United States of America to withdraw from UNESCO.”

Anti-Israel bias

Each year UNESCO adopts around 10 resolutions criticising only Israel. UNESCO does not criticise any other UN member state in a country-specific resolution. This means 100% of all country specific resolutions are against Israel. There is only one exception to this rule; in 2013, under pressure from campaign groups, UNESCO adopted one resolution against Syria.

In May UNESCO voted in favour of a resolution denying Israel’s rights to its own capital, Jerusalem. The vote took place on Israel’s Independence Day. Twenty-two nations voted in favour of the resolution, compared to 10 which voted against it, including Britain and the United States. Twenty-three nations abstained.

The resolution declared that “all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, which have altered or purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and in particular the “basic law” on Jerusalem, are null and void and must be rescinded forthwith.”

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