US to pull out of UNESCO over 'anti-Israel bias'

Eleanor Rose
Rex Tillerson is said to want to save cash by leaving UNESCO: EPA

The US will pull out of UNESCO to save money and also because of what the State Department called its "anti-Israel bias".

The State Department said in a statement on Thursday that it will withdraw from the United Nation's cultural and educational agency on December 31.

"This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects US concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO," the department said.

It added that the United States would seek to "remain engaged a non-member observer state in order to contribute US views, perspectives and expertise."

It is not the first time the US has pulled out of the international cultural body.

Ronald Reagan's administration withdrew from UNESCO in 1984 citing allegations of corruption and a pro-Soviet, anti-western slant. George W Bush led America to rejoin in 2002.

“America will participate fully in its mission to advance human rights, tolerance and learning,” said Bush at the time.

The US is in $500 million of arrears to UNESCO after it slashed its funding to the organisation by 22 per cent.

America made the cuts six years ago in protest at the acceptance of Palestine as a member.

Last year, Israel recalled its ambassador to UNESCO amid growing dissent at its practices in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

In July this year, the old town of Hebron in the West Bank was named a Palestinian UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Within hours of the US' announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu confirmed that Israel would also be withdrawing from Unesco.