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The US Is Leaving UNESCO - Again

13 October 2017

UNESCO is a specialized agency in the United Nations that encourages global peace and security through education, science, culture and communication.

While the USA stopped funding Unesco after it voted to include Palestine as a member in 2011, the state department has maintained a Unesco office at its Paris headquarters and sought to weigh in on policy behind the scenes.

The State Department briefly outlined its reasoning in a press release: "This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects US concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO".

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel is also planning to withdraw from the body, according to a statement from the Prime Minister's office.

Netanyahu said Thursday that UNESCO has become a "theater of the absurd because instead of preserving history, it distorts it".

Tensions have flared again in recent years: in 2011, the United States stopped funding the agency after UNESCO voted to admit the Palestinian Authority as a full member; two years later, the USA lost its vote due to these financial cuts.

"The universal nature of UNESCO's activities is important in protecting peace and ensuring worldwide security in the face of violence and hatred", Bokova said in her statement. "Unfortunately, its extreme politicization has become a chronic embarrassment".

In addition to the actions in Hebron, Haley singled out "keeping Syrian dictator Bashar Assad on a UNESCO human rights committee even after his murderous crackdown on peaceful protesters".

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Israel, meanwhile, remains a member of UNESCO. The site is regarded as sacred by Jews, Christians and Muslims.

And previous year, Israel suspended cooperation with it after the agency adopted a controversial resolution which made no reference to Jewish ties to a key holy site in Jerusalem.

She called the USA departure a loss for "the United Nations family" and for multilateralism, saying the US and UNESCO matter to each other more than ever now to better fight "the rise of violent extremism and terrorism". Currently, 23 places in the U.S. are on the UNESCO list of world heritage sites, though nothing American appears in the organization's list of "intangible cultural heritage". The organization was established in 1945 with its headquarters in Paris.

"Among other efforts, UNESCO is committed to building the capacity of various individuals and stakeholders to develop and amplify innovative responses against extremism; all while promoting the protection of freedom of expression, privacy and other fundamental freedoms", Bokova wrote in a CNN op-ed in September.

The US has long used UNESCO as a stage for political gestures: In 1984, the Ronald Reagan withdrew the US from UNESCO, accusing it of being pro-Soviet, anti-Israel, and anti-free market. "This is a loss for multilateralism".

She said: "The United States will continue to evaluate all agencies within the United Nations system through the same lens".

Hegadorn said the USA would remain a force at the cultural agency in the same way as it was from 1984, when the country withdrew under then-President Ronald Reagan.

Nauert said the state department had notified Bokova of their decision earlier on Thursday.

The US Is Leaving UNESCO - Again