WASHINGTON/JERUSALEM — The United States’ decision to pull out of the United Nations cultural body, Unesco, has sent ripples through the struggling organisation and rattled member countries which worry others might follow suit.
Hours after the US announced it was walking away from the 195-member organisation, best known for inscribing World Heritage Sites such as the Great Wall of China, Cambodia’s Angkor Wat and the Singapore Botanic Gardens, its ally Israel said it was withdrawing from it too.
The twin move comes after years of bickering at the organisation over the US’ claim of “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 spokesman Heather Nauert said.
In 2011, then US President Barack Obama withdrew funding for Unesco amounting to about 22 percent of its annual budget, over its acceptance of Palestine as a member. Washington is against any UN organisation that recognises the Palestinian territories as a state before a negotiated Middle East peace deal is struck.
In July, Unesco declared the Old City of Hebron in the occupied West Bank an endangered World Heritage Site, angering Israel which announced a US$1 million (S$1.35 million) cut in funding to the UN, accusing the cultural organisation of ignoring Jewish ties to the site.
Two months earlier, a Unesco resolution pointing to Israel as “the occupying power” in the city of Jerusalem, and urging it to refrain from changing the city’s “character and status”, also riled the Israelis. — BBC