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US to Leave UNESCO over Anti-Israel Bias


A general view shows the headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris, France, Oct. 4, 2017.

The United States is pulling out of UNESCO, the United Nations organization that encourages worldwide cooperation in education, science, and culture.

In a statement on Thursday, the U.S. State Department says a “need for fundamental reform” and “anti-Israel bias” are reasons for the withdrawal. The decision will take effect Dec. 31, 2018. The U.S. will seek a “permanent observer” status instead.

The United States stopped funding UNESCO after it voted to include Palestine as a member in 2011. But it has kept an office at UNESCO and owes about $550 million in back payments.

U.S. officials said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made the decision. The officials, who remained unnamed, said the United States is angry over UNESCO resolutions denying Jewish connection to holy sites and Israel’s rights to Jerusalem.

Hours later, Israel said that it would also be leaving the UN agency. The office of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the U.S. withdrawal “a courageous and moral decision.”

The announcement came as the cultural organization is choosing a new director. The outgoing UNESCO chief, Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, called the U.S. withdrawal a loss for “the United Nations family.”

She also noted UNESCO efforts to support Holocaust education and train teachers to fight anti-Semitism. She added that the Statue of Liberty is among the many World Heritage sites protected by the organization.

It is not the first time that the United States has withdrawn from UNESCO. In the 1980s, it left because it viewed the organization as poorly managed, corrupt and used to advance Soviet interests.

The U.S. rejoined in 2003.

Other UNESCO members did not immediately comment on the U.S. withdrawal.

Hai Do adapted this story for Learning English based on AP news reports. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

anti-Semitism - n. hatred of Jewish people

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