Israel has strongly criticized a number of moves by the UN’s cultural body

The United States withdrew from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on Thursday, with the State Department citing among other issues a “continuing anti-Israel bias”.

The move followed reports that the Trump administration’s sought to slash its funding to the organization, which it owes some $500 million.

A State Department statement said the decision to withdraw reflected “concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO.

“The organization has voted through several decision that have enraged Israel, particularly resolutions that appear to downplay or omit the importance of holy sites in Jerusalem and West Bank to Judaism.Among these was a resolution declaring the Old City of Hebron to be Palestinian territory and a world heritage site.

Hebron is home to the imposing Tomb of the Patriarchs, the resting place of the Biblical figures Jacob, Isaac and Abraham and an important religious site to Muslims and Jews alike.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley at the time called the decision an “affront to history” and announced that Washington would evaluate “the appropriate level of its continued engagement at UNESCO.”

The head of UNESCO, Irina Bokova voiced, “profound regret” on Thursday over the withdrawal, which she called a “loss to multilateralism”.

“I wish to express profound regret at the decision of the United States of America to withdraw from UNESCO,” Bokova said in a statement.

Trump is not the first US President to withdraw support from UNESCO.

Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama slashed US funding to the organization in 2011 after it voted to accept Palestine as a full member-state.

Former president Ronald Reagan quit the organization altogether in the 1980’s. The US only rejoined under the administration of President George W. Bush some two decades later.

The global heritage and conservation body is currently in the midst of electing a new head, with Qatari candidate Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al- Kawari and French-Jewish candidate Audrey Azoulay currently leading the field.

None of the candidates expressly mentioned the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in their pitches for the body’s helm, but many are indeed focused on what they see as the organization’s politicization.

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