Israel on Friday followed its ally the US in quitting the UN’s culture and education body, in a move that underlined Washington’s drift away from international institutions.
The US decision, announced in Washington late on Thursday, follows years of tension at the organisation which the US accused of having an “anti-Israel bias”.
“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,” US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.
The US walked out of the 195-member organisation once before, under Ronald Reagan, who quit the body in 1984 over financial mismanagement and claims of anti-US bias in some of its policies.
President George W. Bush announced America’s return in 2002, but relations soured again in 2011 when Barack Obama pulled the plug on funding to the body after its members voted to admit Palestine as a full member. Washington opposes any move by UN bodies to recognise the Palestinian territories as a state, believing this must await a negotiated Middle East peace deal.
Israel called the Trump administration’s decision “courageous and moral”, accusing the UN body of becoming a “theatre of the absurd” after a series of resolutions condemning the Jewish state.
In May, Israel was infuriated by a resolution identifying Israel as “the occupying power” in the divided city of Jerusalem and calling on it to rescind any move that would change the city’s “character and status”.
In July, another resolution declared the Old City of Hebron in the occupied West Bank an endangered World Heritage site.