The United States and Israel announced on 12 October they were pulling out of the UN’s culture and education body. The double withdrawal comes as board members are voting to elect a new director-general, with Arab candidates from Qatar and Egypt vying with a French competitor. The US decision, announced in Washington, follows years of tension at the organisation which it accused of having an “anti-Israel bias.”
Already in 2011, the United States under president Barack Obama has cut off funds to Unesco as a punitive action after the Palestinian Authority was accepted into the UN agency as a full member in defiance of American, Israeli and European pressure. Within hours, the US announced it would withhold its huge contribution to Unesco’s budget as a result of the vote due to a 21-year-old law prohibiting the payment of funds to any UN body accepting the Palestinians as full members. The US contributes 22% of UNESCO’s annual budget.
The United States has walked out of the 195-member organisation once before under president Ronald Reagan, who quit in 1984 over alleged financial mismanagement and claims of anti-US bias in some of its policies. President George W. Bush announced America’s return in 2002.
Washington’s withdrawal is set to take effect on 21 December 2018, when it will establish an “observer mission” to replace its representation at the agency.