UNESCO: The UN's educational, scientific, cultural agency

Ambassador Phạm Sanh Châu the Vietnamese candidate for the position of UNESCO Director-General. — VNA  VNS

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova in a Thursday statement expressed "profound regret" at the country's decision to withdraw from UNESCO.

The United States plans to formally withdraw from UNESCO, the U.N.'s Paris-based cultural, scientific and educational organization, to save money and protest what it views as the organization's anti-Israel bias.

The government said it had to cut funds because a 1990s law prevents the US from funding any United Nations agencies recognizing Palestine as a state. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was then a presidential candidate, said at the time it was "disappointing and wrong" that UNESCO was "considering a resolution on Jerusalem that fails to recognize and respect the deep and historic ties of the Jewish people to Jerusalem and its holy sites".

The Reagan administration pulled the US out of UNESCO in 1983 over what it saw as a politicized left-wing cultural and economic agenda promoted by the Soviet Union. Nearly 200 states are now members of UNESCO. "The US deliberately confuses criticism of Israel, the occupying Power, for its documented violations of the regulations and principles of global law with hostility and prejudice, which is not true in the case of Israel".

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The US also called for a permanent observer mission to UNESCO, indicating to the organization's Director General that it wants to stay on as a non-member observer state. For more than half a century The Met and countless other museums have successfully partnered with UNESCO, an organization that has earned the respect of nations and communities worldwide for bringing together curators, conservators, and a range of other scholars to educate, preserve, protect, and support the intellectual and artistic traditions of our shared cultural heritage.

Again, there's complexity here that we're skimming over - Barack Obama and others in the U.S. have still frequently criticised Israel's settler expansion, and expressed support for a two-state solution amenable to both Israel and Palestine (much, much easier said than done). The US's accumulated debt to UNESCO is over US$500 million now, and its withdrawal means its repayment of that debt will halt.

The country accused the body of "anti-Israel bias".

During the Republican administration of George W. Bush, the United States stopped providing funds for UNESCO right after the organization voted to give Palestine official membership in 2011. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, applauded Trump's decision to withdraw from UNESCO. It not only wins Egypt's praise, but will surely cast China in a favorable light among Arab states in UNESCO at the same time the USA withdrawal, tied to its support of Israel, will add to tension between the US and the Arab states of the Middle East. To date, UNESCO has recognised three Palestinian world heritage sites - most recently, it recognised the old city of Hebron in the West Bank as a Palestinian heritage site in July.

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