The Cable

Israel to Withdraw from UNESCO, Following United States

Tensions have built since the U.N. agency recognized Palestine in 2011.

The Palestinian Rehabilitation Committee raised the UNESCO flag next to the national Palestinian flag in front of Hebron's Ibrahimi Mosque or the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the southern West Bank city's old quarter on December 13, 2011, as the Palestinian flag was hoisted at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, a month after the Palestinians' admission to the UN cultural agency sparked anger and reprisals from the United States and Israel. AFP PHOTO / HAZEM BADER (Photo credit should read HAZEM BADER/AFP/Getty Images)
The Palestinian Rehabilitation Committee raised the UNESCO flag next to the national Palestinian flag in front of Hebron's Ibrahimi Mosque or the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the southern West Bank city's old quarter on December 13, 2011, as the Palestinian flag was hoisted at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, a month after the Palestinians' admission to the UN cultural agency sparked anger and reprisals from the United States and Israel. AFP PHOTO / HAZEM BADER (Photo credit should read HAZEM BADER/AFP/Getty Images)

Hours after the United States announced its decision to withdraw from UNESCO, Israel followed suit, declaring that it, too, was resigning from the cultural, scientific, and educational organization.

In a statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the U.S. decision as “brave and moral” and stated that Israel would begin preparations to follow suit.

Tensions between Israel and UNESCO have been building for years. In 2011, the United Nations agency voted to accept the Palestinian Authority as a full member state over U.S. and Israeli objections. The United States immediately cut off over $80 million in funding for the agency, and Israel briefly withheld $100 million intended for the Palestinian Authority.

Repeated incidents this year have brought the relationship to a boiling point. In May, UNESCO passed a resolution that classified Israel as an “occupying power.” Israel accused Germany of not blocking the resolution and summoned the Swedish ambassador over Sweden’s support for the resolution.

Israel also condemned UNESCO’s decision in July to designate Hebron’s Old City and the Tomb of the Patriarchs, both located in the West Bank, as Palestinian heritage sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman called UNESCO an “irrelevant organization,” saying, “I hope that with the help of our great friend, the United States, this organization is defunded.”

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson decided several weeks ago to withdraw from the organization, as Foreign Policy reported on Oct. 11.

“This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects U.S. concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO,” read a statement from the U.S. State Department Thursday announcing the decision.

This isn’t the first time the United States has pulled out of UNESCO. President Ronald Reagan withdrew in 1984, accusing the organization of pro-Soviet bias and graft. The United States rejoined under George W. Bush in 2002.

Hazem Bader/AFP/Getty Images

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian is a contributing writer at Foreign Policy. @BethanyAllenEbr

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