The US decision to leave the UN’s cultural body, UNESCO, was met with praise from coalition and opposition politicians alike, citing an alleged 'anti-Israel bias' on Thursday.
The withdrawal of the United States, which is meant to provide a fifth of UNESCO's funding, is a major blow for the Paris-based organization, known for designating World Heritage Sites such as the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria and the Grand Canyon National Park.
A UNESCO resolution earlier this year labeled the ancient holy city of Hebron as solely a Palestinian heritage site, a move that some Israeli officials said erased Israeli and Jewish history. An Arab-backed UNESCO resolution last year condemned Israeli's policies at religious sites in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
"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," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.
UNESCO's Director-General, Irina Bokova, expressed dismay at the American decision, saying it was ''a loss to the United Nations family, a loss to multilateralism.''
However, in Israel, the US was lauded for its planned departure.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called President Donald Trump's decision to pull out of UNESCO a ''brave and moral choice, because UNESCO has become the theater of the absurd, where instead of preserving history, it is distorted.'' Netanyahu also instructed the Foreign Ministry to begin the process of withdrawing Israel from the organization as well.
Netanyahu blasted UNESCO during his speech to the UN General Assembly last month, holding the organization up as an example of the absurdities at the UN when it comes to Israel. During that speech, Netanyahu declared that the organization's decision in July to declare the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron a Palestinian World Heritage Site was “worse than fake news'' and called it ''fake history.”
One diplomatic source explained the rather peculiar wording of the PMO statement that the premier had directed the the Foreign Ministry to prepare for the withdrawal from the organization in parallel with the US as a way to retain some wiggle room in case a new leader which the organization is in the process of selecting will change the direction of UNESCO and the US will decide to remain a full member.
The source underlined that the US decision does not come into effect until the end of December 2018, meaning there is ample time for the organization to change direction.
Members of the coalition were similarly enthusiastic.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman lauded the ''important moral and moral step of our great ally the United States towards an antisemitic and politically biased organization'' that has ''lost its way and relevance.''
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads Israel's UNESCO commission, on Thursday applauded the American decision to leave the organization and called on the Israeli government to do the same and complete the process he started last year.
Justice Minister Ayalet Shaked expressed support for the Trump administration, saying that UNESCO ''harms the state of Israel'' and ''fuels the BDS campaign.''
"UNESCO has turned itself into a political puppet of Israel-haters. I congratulate the US Administration for standing by the truth. Israel needs to join them and withdraw too. As President of the Israel National Commission for UNESCO I announced one year ago the suspension of all professional work with the organization. That decision was fully implemented."
Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan also praised the US decision that proved "the depth" of its friendship with Israel.
"It is time to officially inform the United Nations that if it publishes the 'black list' of economically active companies in Judea and Samaria, the funding of the United Nations by the United States and Israel will cease altogether."
Danny Danon, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, took to Twitter to applaud the US. "Today is a new day at the UN,'' he wrote. "There is a price to pay for discrimination against Israel.''
Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Avi Dichter also called UNESCO antisemitic.
“The Western world is beginning to understand that the truth is an option, too,” Dichter quipped. “The fate of UNESCO’s lies is to be thrown in the trashcan of history. The Jewish People’s connection to holy places, which UNESCO undermined, is stronger than 1,000 decisions.”
Kulanu MK Michael Oren praised the US move in a Twitter post, writing that “by cutting ties with anti-Israel UNESCO that denied the Jewish ties to our two holiest cities, the US sends a moral message to the world.”
Much of the opposition was no less enthusiastic about America’s departure.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid wrote a Facebook post saying the departure from UNESCO was “justifiable,” and called for Israel to do the same, before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he instructed the Foreign Ministry to have Israel leave UNESCO.
Former Defense Minister Amir Peretz noted that ''there is hope that UNESCO will return its focus to cultural and educational activities, and that in light of the US withdrawal, it will not allow the further politicization of its actions.''
Avi Gabbay, the leader of the Labor Party, said that he ''welcomes the US decision to withdraw from its membership with UNESCO. UNESCO does not deal with culture, but rather with the distortion of Jewish history and the politics of symbols.''
Tzipi Livni, an MK with the Zionist Union and a former foreign minister, also addressed the move on social media, tweeting: ''Appreciate the American retirement from UNESCO because of its attitude toward Israel! They told the world that there is a price for politicization, unilateralism and distortion of history.'' Reuters contributed to this report.
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