The United States will withdraw from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation on December 31, 2017, the US State Department said in a statement on Thursday.

“This decision was not taken lightly and reflects US concerns with mounting arrears at Unesco, the need for fundamental reform in the organisation, and continuing anti-Israel bias at Unesco,” the department said, adding that the US will, instead, seek to establish a permanent observer mission to Unesco.

Unesco Director-General Irina Bokova expressed “profound regret” at the US’ decision, Reuters reported. “After receiving official notification by the United States Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, as Unesco director-general, I wish to express profound regret at the decision of the United States of America to withdraw from Unesco,” she said. Bokova said the withdrawal was a loss for multi-lateralism and the United Nations family.

The US, under the Barack Obama administration, had cancelled a substantial percentage of its budget contribution to the Unesco in 2011 to protest against the organisation granting Palestine full membership. The US had withdrawn from the Unesco once before, in 1984, to protest what it called an “anti-Western bias”, and rejoined in 2003.

Israel follows the United States out of Unesco

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon said on Thursday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had asked the country’s foreign ministry to prepare to leave Unesco along with the US. “Unesco, as it is now, is biased and distorts history,” he said. Netanyahu on Thursday described the US’ decision to quit Unesco as “brave and moral”.

The Israeli prime minister had cut $1 million (Rs 6.5 crore) from the country’s Unesco budget on July 7 after the global cultural body declared the Old City of Hebron in the West Bank an endangered Palestinian world heritage site.