Israel to withdraw from United Nations cultural body Unesco along with US

The United States will remain a member, however, until the withdrawal takes effect on December 31, 2018.

The US move underscores the scepticism expressed by President Donald Trump about the need for the United States to remain engaged in multi-lateral bodies.

Mr Netanyahu said on Thursday that Israel will also withdraw from the agency, which had become a "theatre of the absurd because instead of preserving history, it distorts it".

While the United States withdrew from the group, the Trump administration said it wanted to continue providing American perspective and expertise to Unesco, but as a nonmember observer.

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres expressed deep regret over the U.S. decision to leave UNESCO, according to Deputy UN Spokesperson Farhan Haq.

The Tomb of the Patriarchs, along with the Hebron's Old City, were designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in July, despite opposition from the United States and Israel.

"This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects United States concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO", she added.

Israel accused UNESCO of denying the Jewish link to the Temple Mount, a historic site destroyed in 70 A.D. and is nowadays a Muslim holy site called the Noble Sanctuary.

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".

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel was preparing to pull out of UNESCO, the UN's cultural and educational agency, hours after the United States made a similar announcement.

In recent years, Israel has repeatedly complained about what it says is the body taking sides in disputes over cultural heritage sites in Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories.

Francois Heisbourg, chairman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the decision was probably motivated by Trump's desire to send a message of support to Israel and underlined his "America First" policies.

Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, also praised Washington's move as heralding "a new day at the U.N., where there is a price to pay for discrimination against Israel". In the US, listed sites include the Statue of Liberty and Independence Hall, as well as national parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite. "Partnership between UNESCO and the United States was so deep and strong because it was based on shared values", she said.

Citing lines in UNESCO's 1945 Constitution by US Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish - "since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed" ¬- she said this vision has never been more relevant, and added that the US helped inspire the 1972 UNESCO World Heritage Convention.

  • Joey Payne