Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO, Carmel Shama-Hacohen, said Thursday that Israel should follow the US example and quit the organization.
Speaking Thursday after Washington announced it was withdrawing from the United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organization, citing financial considerations and the body’s “anti-Israel bias,” Shama-Hacohen said that in recent years UNESCO has become “an absurd organization that has lost its way in favor of the political considerations of certain countries” and that his “personal recommendation to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to follow suit and immediately withdraw [from UNESCO].”
Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, earlier praised Washington’s decision, saying UNESCO has become a forum for Israel-bashing and had forgotten its original purpose.
Danon said UNESCO was now “paying the price” for the “shameful” decisions it has adopted against Israel, citing “a new era” dawning at the UN in which “anti-Israel discrimination” has consequences.
Israel lost its voting rights at UNESCO in 2013, following its move to suspend dues to the organization over its decision to grant full membership to Palestine in 2011.
The US too lost its voting rights at the same time and has not paid some $80 million a year in dues since 2011.
The US previously withdrew from UNESCO in 1984 because Washington viewed it as mismanaged and used for political reasons, then rejoined it in 2003.
Israel this past year cited a UNESCO decision disputing Israel’s claim to Jerusalem as a reason to further reduce its the amount it pays annually to the United Nations. In May, Netanyahu said Israel would cut another $1 million from its payments to the UN, bringing the total cuts since December 2016 to $9 million.
It marked the third time in less than a year that Israel has reacted to UN resolutions it deems biased against it by announcing the slashing of its payments to the body. In December, after the Security Council passed Resolution 2334, Netanyahu ordered $6 million cut from Israel’s payment to the UN. And in March, after the Human Rights Council passed five anti-Israel resolutions, Netanyahu vowed to cut an additional $2 million.
UNESCO also delighted Palestinians in July when it declared the Old City of Hebron in the West Bank an endangered world heritage site.
Israeli officials have stepped up lobbying at the world body in recent years, charging it with passing one-sided resolutions that obsessively target Israel.
In a statement by the State Department on Thursday, spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Washington’s decision to leave UNESCO was “not taken lightly and reflects US concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform within the organization and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO.”
Nauert said Washington would establish an “observer mission” to replace its representation at the Paris-based agency.
The US withdrawal will take effect on December 31, 2018.
Agencies contributed to this report.