Israel to withdraw from UN cultural body along with US
A picture taken on October 12, 2017 shows the logo of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) headquarters in Paris. The United States said on October 12, 2017 that it was pulling out of the UN's culture and education body, accusing it of "anti-Israel bias" in a move that underlines Washington's drift away from international institutions. (JACQUES DEMARTHON / AFP)
(AFP) - Israel will withdraw from the UN's cultural and education body after a United States decision to do the same on accusations of bias against the Jewish state, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday.
"The prime minister instructed the foreign ministry to prepare Israel's withdrawal from the organisation alongside the United States," Netanyahu's office said in a statement.
Netanyahu "welcomes the decision by President (Donald) Trump to withdraw from UNESCO. This is a courageous and moral decision because UNESCO has become the theatre of the absurd and because instead of preserving history it distorts it."
The premier's decision came hours after the US State Department said the United States would pull out from the UN body, in part due to "continuing anti-Israel bias".
Washington's withdrawal is set to take effect on December 21, 2018, and Israel is expected to pull out at the same time.
Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman called the US move "an important, right, principled and moral step by our great ally, the United States".
UNESCO, he said in a statement, is "an anti-Semitic and politically biased organisation that has turned lying into a standard practice and lost its way and relevance".
Israel's UN ambassador, Danny Danon, said Washington's decision showed there was a "price to pay for discrimination against Israel" and marked "a new era" at the United Nations.
"Today's decision is a turning point for UNESCO. The organisation's absurd and shameful resolutions against Israel have consequences," he said in a statement.
"UNESCO has become a battlefield for Israel bashing and has disregarded its true role and purpose," he said.
UNESCO, which is best known for producing the list of World Heritage sites, infuriated Israel and the United States by granting full membership to Palestinians in 2011.
It has been the scene of diplomatic flare-ups in recent years after Arab countries succeeded in passing a number of resolutions critical of Israel.
In July, the UN body declared the Old City of Hebron in the occupied West Bank an endangered World Heritage site, delighting Palestinians and angering Israel.
Netanyahu announced a $1-million cut in funding to the United Nations, saying the UNESCO vote ignored Jewish ties to the site.
In May, Israel was infuriated by a resolution identifying it as "the occupying power" in the disputed city of Jerusalem and calling on it to rescind any move changing the city's "character and status".
The text denounced "all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying power, which have altered or purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem".
At the time, Netanyahu said the "absurd" vote denied the Jewish connection to the city.
Washington opposes any move by UN bodies to recognise the Palestinians as a state, believing that this must await a negotiated Middle East peace deal.
The Trump administration is reviewing many of its multilateral commitments, pursuing what he calls an "America First" policy.
© Agence France-Presse