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  • A general view of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) headquarters is seen at dusk in Paris, France, October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

    A general view of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) headquarters is seen at dusk in Paris, France, October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer | Photo: Reuters

Published 1 January 2019

The U.S. and Israel departed the heritage agency, UNESCO on the stroke of midnight on New Year's Day, claiming the organization was anti-Israel.

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova expressed her disappointment in a statement to Reuters, saying “At the time when conflicts continue to tear apart societies across the world, it is deeply regrettable for the United States to withdraw from the United Nations agency promoting education for peace and protecting culture under attack.”

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Israel followed its political ally in quitting the heritage agency at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Day, in what Al Jazeera are calling "the culmination of a process triggered more than a year ago."

The withdrawal is mainly procedural yet serves a new blow to UNESCO, co-founded by the US after World War II to foster peace.

The Trump administration filed its notice to withdraw in October 2017 and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu followed suit, accusing the UN agency of anti-Israel bias.

The Paris-based organisation has previously criticised Israel's occupation of East Jerusalem and granted full membership to Palestine in 2011.

UNESCO is best known for its work to preserve heritage, including maintaining a list of World Heritage sites, and programmes to promote education in developing countries.

According to Al Jazeera, the withdrawals will not greatly affect UNESCO financially, as it had been dealing with financial issues with both the U.S. and Israel since 2011 when they both stopped paying dues in response to Palestine being voted in as a member state.

Officials estimate that the US ran-up $600m in unpaid dues, while Israel owes an estimated $10m.

The US has pulled out of UNESCO before. The Reagan administration did so in 1984 because it viewed the agency as mismanaged, corrupt, and used to advance Soviet interests. The US rejoined in 2003.

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova called the departures as "a loss to the United Nations family and a loss for multilateralism.”

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