Russia: Israel following ‘bad example’ of US in UNESCO pullout

Moscow’s foreign ministry says Israeli preparation to quit UN’s culture and education body ‘only causes regret’

A picture taken on October 12, 2017, shows the logo of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) headquarters in Paris. (AFP/Jacques Demarthon)
A picture taken on October 12, 2017, shows the logo of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) headquarters in Paris. (AFP/Jacques Demarthon)

Russia’s foreign ministry said Friday Israel’s decision to prepare to pull out of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization follows “the bad example of the US.”

“The decision made by the Israeli authorities, who chose to follow the bad example of the US, only causes regret,” ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel would begin preparations to withdraw from UNESCO after the United States made its decision to do the same hours earlier.

The US cited the UN body’s “anti-Israel bias” alongside financial considerations in explaining its decision.

Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova (screen capture via YouTube)

Netanyahu said he “welcomes the decision by President [Donald] Trump to withdraw from UNESCO. This is a courageous and moral decision because UNESCO has become the theater of the absurd and because, instead of preserving history, it distorts it.”

The US withdrawal is to take effect on December 31, 2018.

The American ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said in a statement Thursday following the US announcement to withdraw that “the purpose of UNESCO is a good one,” but “unfortunately, its extreme politicization has become a chronic embarrassment.”

Also on Friday, France’s former culture minister Audrey Azoulay was elected to head UNESCO in a cliffhanger vote.

By a margin of 30-28 votes, Azoulay narrowly defeated Qatari candidate Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari, who had been the frontrunner throughout the week’s voting.

Azoulay, 45, came from behind after six rounds of voting to defeat Al-Kawari, also a former culture minister, after he failed to pick up support from other Gulf states that are part of a Saudi-led coalition blockading Qatar.

Azoulay, who is Jewish, is the daughter of André Azoulay, adviser to King Mohammed VI of Morocco. She grew up in Morocco and France.

French former culture minister and newly elected head of UNESCO Audrey Azoulay (C) arrives to address a press conference following her election on October 13, 2017 at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. (AFP/Thomas Samson)

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 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.

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