Unesco confirms Israel's notice of withdrawal

PARIS • Israel has formally notified the United Nations' culture and education body of its withdrawal from the organisation, two months after it announced it would follow the US by walking out over resolutions critical of the Jewish state.

In a statement, Unesco chief Audrey Azoulay said she had been officially notified on Friday that Israel would leave on Dec 31 next year.

"I regret this deeply as it is my conviction that it is inside Unesco and not outside it that states can best seek to overcome differences in the organisation's fields of competence," she said.

The announcement by the United States in October that it was pulling out of the organisation underlined Washington's drift away from multilateral institutions under nationalist President Donald Trump.

The US, at the time, accused Unesco of having an "anti-Israel bias" - a sentiment echoed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who accused Unesco of becoming "the theatre of the absurd".

Their withdrawals followed two Arab-sponsored resolutions that were adopted by the Paris-based Unesco this year which were critical of Israel.

Tensions had been bubbling since Unesco controversially admitted Palestine as a member state in 2011, a move opposed by the US and Israel, which argue that any recognition of Palestinian statehood must await a negotiated Middle East peace deal.

The US cut funding to Unesco over the decision, depriving it of about a fifth of its budget.

The 195-member body is best known for producing a list of World Heritage Sites that have become tourist favourites.

Israel, which has been a member since 1949, has nine sites on the list, including the ancient Masada fortress next to the Dead Sea.

Unesco also runs science, educational and cultural programmes, including programmes to educate people about the Holocaust and promote intercultural dialogue.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 31, 2017, with the headline 'Unesco confirms Israel's notice of withdrawal'. Print Edition | Subscribe