JERUSALEM (JTA) — The first Jewish director general of UNESCO confirmed that Israel has successfully notified the international body that it will leave the organization.
“I regret this deeply, as it is my conviction that it is inside UNESCO and not outside it that states can best seek to overcome differences in the organization’s fields of competence,” Audrey Azoulay, who took the helm of the organization in November, said in a statement.
Israel had been concerned that it would not be able to file the necessary papers in time to leave UNESCO at the end of 2018, the same time as the United States with whom it was resigning in solidarity, since the organization’s offices are closed until after the new year holiday.
It takes a year for the withdrawal to take effect.
Azoulay had agreed to view an email sent to her from the Israeli foreign ministry announcing the pullout effective before 2019, Carmel Shama-Hacohen was quoted as saying in an article published Friday by Haaretz.
The announcement that Israel would withdraw from the agency came earlier this month after the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution rejecting any recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in the wake of the pronouncement by President Donald Trump at the beginning of December.
“Israel has a rightful place inside the United Nations agency that is dedicated to education, culture and science,” Azoulay said. “Inside an institution committed to the defense of freedom of expression, the prevention of all forms of anti-Semitism and racism, which has developed a unique program of education about the Holocaust and the prevention of genocide.”
“I regret this deeply, as it is my conviction that it is inside UNESCO and not outside it that states can best seek to overcome differences in the organization’s fields of competence,” she also said.
Israel has nine cultural sites on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites, including Masada, Acre, the White City of Tel Aviv, and the Necropolis of Beit She’arim.
In October, the United States announced that it would leave UNESCO, citing “continuing anti-Israel bias.” Six years ago, the United States cut off more than $80 million a year, about 22 percent of its entire budget for UNESCO, in reprisal for its acceptance of Palestine as a member. Israel also suspended its funding at that time.
Israel and the United States will remain as observer states of UNESCO, whose full name is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
In recent years, UNESCO has passed resolutions rejecting Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, and placed the Cave of the Patriarchs and the Old City of Hebron in the State of Palestine on the list of world heritage sites in danger. It frequently refers to the Temple Mount only by its Arabic name, Al-Haram al-Sharif.
Between 2009-2014, UNESCO adopted 46 resolutions against Israel; 1 on Syria; and none on Iran, Sudan, North Korea, or any other country in the world.
In 2011, UNESCO elected Syria’s regime headed by Bashar Assad to its human rights committee.