The United States has decided to withdraw from UNESCO after having regularly criticized resolutions of the UN cultural agency perceived as anti-Israel by Washington.

Although the United States had ceased to fund UNESCO after the agency had agreed to include Palestine among its members in 2011, the State Department maintained a UNESCO office in Paris and sought to influence policies of the agency behind the scenes.

The withdrawal of the United States was announced Thursday by the State Department, which considers that the agency needs a “fundamental reform”. In a statement, the department said that it had notified the Director of UNESCO, Irina Bokova. Instead, the United States will seek “permanent observer” status.

The withdrawal would take effect on 31 December 2018.

The decision is taken when UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – votes to choose its new director this week. The vote is clouded by the agency’s funding difficulties and divisions over the presence of Palestine as a member.

Several believe that the vote to include Palestine proves the anti-Israel bias of the United Nations, where Israel and its allies are much fewer than the Arab countries and those who support them.

UNESCO is best known for its World Heritage program to protect cultural sites and traditions around the world. The agency is also working to improve access to education for girls in poorer countries, as well as access to science programs for female students. It also promotes a better understanding of the horrors of the Holocaust and promotes freedom of the press, among others.

The United States withdrew from UNESCO in the 1980s because Washington criticized the agency’s management and believed it was used for political purposes. They joined him in 2003.