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One month on, Israel has still not quit Unesco

Despite US exit and Netanyahu's instructions, UN cultural agency has not received an official notice of Israeli departure

    Unesco headquarters in Paris
    Unesco headquarters in Paris Getty Images

    A full month since saying it would follow the United States out of Unesco, the UN’s cultural agency, Israel has still not filed the paperwork.

    Benjamin Netanyahu said last month he had instructed his foreign ministry to prepare to pull Israel out of the organisation after the Trump administration said the US would be leaving.

    But Unesco’s communications director Vincent Defourney said that, while the United States’s withdrawal letter had arrived, Israel had sent nothing.

    “I don’t know what they have done but I know we haven’t received their letter,” Mr Defourney told the JC.

    “Israel is still a member State. It has never withdrawn from Unesco.”

    The organisation’s outgoing Director-General Irina Bokova had prepared a draft statement expressing her regret at Israel’s decision, but it was never released as Israel had not made its departure official.

    Ms Bokova’s replacement, Audrey Azoulay, was officially inaugurated in her role on Friday.

    The US withdrawal letter cites what it calls Unesco’s “anti-Israeli bias” as one of the reasons for its departure.

    Unesco has voted several resolutions and decisions on Jerusalem and Hebron which denounce Israel as an aggressive occupier. The organisation also drew Israeli anger when several holy sites sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians were classified as Palestinian sites and referred to them almost exclusively under their Islamic names.

    The US and Israel had earlier suspended their financial contributions to Unesco in 2011 when Palestine was accepted as a member state.

     “This act was premature, politicized and distracted from efforts to promote Middle East peace by seeking to prejudge issues that should be decided through negotiations between the parties” said US Charge d’Affaires Chris Hegadorn in his last General Conference address. Since 2011 the US has accumulated 550 million dollars in arrears which is the other reason it decided to leave Unesco.

    Ms Azoulay, 45, who has Moroccan Jewish origins, is a former French Minister of Culture in Francois Hollande’s government.

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