Oct. 12 (UPI) – The United States will withdraw from the U.N. cultural agency UNESCO, the State Department announced Thursday, prompting Israel to do the same.

A statement from State Department press secretary Heather Nauert cited the “fundamental need for reform in the organization and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO.” It added that the United States will remain a “non-member observer state in order to contribute U.S. views, perspectives and expertise.”

U.S. membership in the group, formally the United Nations Economic, Scientific and Cultural Organization, will end Dec. 31. The United States stopped funding UNESCO in 2011 to protest its decision to grant full membership to Palestine.

UNESCO chief Irina Bokova issued a statement expressing “profound regret at the decision of the United States of America to withdraw from UNESCO.”

“In 2011, when payment of membership contributions was suspended at the 36th session of the UNESCO General Conference, I said I was convinced UNESCO had never mattered as much for the United States, or the United States for UNESCO,” Bokova said.

Bokova’s statement included references to world heritage recognition, anti-religious bias programs and educational services in technology and the arts.

She added her belief that the “partnership between UNESCO and the United States has been deep, because it has drawn on shared values.”

President Donald Trump has criticized U.S. financial contributions to the United Nations, which accounts for 22 percent of the U.N. regular budget and 28 percent of its military peacekeeping budget.

After the U.S. announcement Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement praising Trump’s decision.

“I have instructed the Foreign Ministry to prepare Israel’s withdrawal from UNESCO in parallel with the United States,” he said. “This is a courageous and ethical decision because UNESCO has become a theater of the absurd and instead of preserving history, distorts it.”



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