The US announced its decision to pull out of UNESCO, citing the UN cultural agency’s “continuing anti-Israel bias” and the need for fundamental reform as the reasons.

Photo credit: Serge Attal, Flash 90/Channel 2 News

The US announced Thursday it is pulling out of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) over its “continuing anti-Israel bias” and the need for the agency to be “reformed,” confirming earlier reports of the anticipated move.

“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 at UNESCO,” Heather Nauert, a spokesperson for the State Department, said in a statement.

The US, she added, would seek to “remain engaged … as a non-member observer state in order to contribute US views, perspectives and expertise.”

Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO, expressed “profound regret” over the US decision. “This is not just about World Heritage,” she said. “This is a loss to both the organization and the US.”

“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,” Bokova added.

Danny Danon, Israel’s envoy to the UN, said, “Over the past several years, UNESCO has become an anti-Israel arena and forgot about its original purpose.”