The US and Israel announced their intention to withdraw from the United Nations Education and Cultural Organization(UNESCO). The announcement was made on Thursday.

On its part, the US State Department through Spokesperson Heather Nuart cited the issue of mounting membership dues and the body's anti-Israel bias, as the main reasons for US withdrawal, New York Times reported.

The State Department said it had notified UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova of the intended move, and its intention to establish a permanent observer mission to the cultural body, as a non-member.

Need for reforms

Nuart added that the decision to quit the body had not been "taken lightly" but the mounting arrears the US owed UNESCO was a huge concern.

The State Department also brought into focus the need for reforms, especially when it came to the continued anti-Israel bias that had been witnessed at the organization.

A statement from the office of Israel's Prime Minister hailed the US move as 'courageous' and termed it 'a moral decision,' as UNESCO had been turned into 'a theatre of the absurd' which instead of preserving history, had decided to "twist" it.

The statement went further to say that Israel was withdrawing from UNESCO as well.

Membership payments

In 2011, the US halted its payments to UNESCO after the organization voted to include Palestine as a full member of the cultural body.

The US currently owes UNESCO around $550 million in membership fees, according to the New York Times.

US Ambassador to the United Nations, Niki Haley, in a statement, said the mission and objectives that UNESCO was founded on were very good but with time, the body's 'extreme politicization' had become a 'chronic embarrassment.'

Haley observed that a decision by the organization to classify the Tomb of Patriarchs and Hebron's Old City as UNESCO Heritage sites, in July, despite protests from Israel and the US, was ill-advised.

The sites, which are regarded as sacred by Muslims, Jews, and Christians, prompted Israel to accuse the UN-affiliated body of making a political decision aimed at denying Jews important sites in the Holy Land.

Another 'foolish' decision that UNESCO made, according to Haley, was keeping Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, on the organizations Human Rights Committee, despite his 'murderous' actions towards Syrian protestors.

Regrets over decision

Deputy UN Spokesperson Farhan Haq said that both UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and UN General Assembly President Miroslav Lajcak, "deeply regretted" the decision by the US. The two UN heads feared it would have a negative effect on the important work UNESCO was doing.

The withdrawal takes effect from the end of 2018, but US officials have pointed out the decision can be reconsidered if the need arises.