President Obama breathed new life into the credibility of the UN Human Rights Council when he reversed the Bush administration’s boycott of the body. He similarly spearheaded a drive to restore U.S. funding to UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.
The idea that either the Council or UNESCO has credibility or deserves U.S. support has increasingly become risible. The Council has certainly embarrassed itself over the past several years, with members like Cuba, Saudi Arabia, China and Russia taking seats. Perhaps greater things could be expected from UNESCO, however. Alas, the sickness which runs through the United Nations is widespread. At a meeting in Paris earlier this week, UNESCO allowed Syria to preside as a judge over its human rights committee. This is the same Syrian government that has both masterminded the mass murder of tens of thousands of civilians and allegedly deployed chemical weapons against civilians. Nothing better symbolizes the judgment and moral bankruptcy of the United Nations than such a session.
According to Raymond Ibrahim, calls are starting among a more radical fringe of Islamists to destroy the Pyramids:
According to several reports in the Arabic media, prominent Muslim clerics have begun to call for the demolition of Egypt’s Great Pyramids—or, in the words of Saudi Sheikh Ali bin Said al-Rabi’i, those “symbols of paganism,” which Egypt’s Salafi party has long planned to cover with wax. Most recently, Bahrain’s “Sheikh of Sunni Sheikhs” and President of National Unity, Abd al-Latif al-Mahmoud, called on Egypt’s new president, Muhammad Morsi, to “destroy the Pyramids and accomplish what [Muslim conqueror of Egypt] Amr bin al-As could not.”
The calls to destroy the Pyramids are certainly fringe, and do not represent the vast majority of the Egyptian public or the Egyptian leadership, even amongst the Muslim Brotherhood. Still, that such a fringe and wacky idea gains any voice in Arabic media or on Islamist websites should be cause for concern, given precedent.
On Monday, the New York Times reported about the effort by Palestinians to have the village of Battir designated as a World Heritage site because of the unique ecological nature of the ancient terraced irrigation system at work there. The terraces might be endangered by the construction of Israel’s security fence that in the area runs right along the 1949 armistice lines. While it is not clear that the barrier would actually damage the area, ironically the greatest obstacle to the designation of the site by UNESCO is that the Palestinians are also seeking to get the same honor for the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
But as bloggers Elli Fischer and Yisrael Medad have pointed out, the problem with the article isn’t so much its acceptance of the Palestinian argument against putting the fence there (which is also ironic because Israel’s critics have objected when the barrier was placed anywhere but at the old green line), but that it completely ignored the Jewish heritage of the area. Battir is not just a Palestinian village with an old irrigation system but was the site of the ancient Jewish fortress of Betar, the site of the last organized resistance to Roman rule in 135 C.E. during the Bar Kochba revolt. Moreover, far from the irrigation system being, as the Times claimed, a remnant of the Roman presence, it predates their presence in the country and is clearly the product of biblical-era Jewish settlement. As Medad put it, “Romans, Shmomans.”
Even amidst the flurry of overt philo-Semitism that is the hallmark of President Obama’s election year Jewish charm offensive, some remnants of his less appealing foreign policy stands persist. One such anomaly is the administration campaign to restore American funding to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). U.S. law required Obama to cut off UNESCO after it admitted the Palestinian Authority as a full voting member of the group as part of the Arab effort to make an end run around the Middle East peace process. The Palestinian push for recognition of their independence without first making peace with Israel fizzled, but the president’s ardent love for the UN and its constituent agencies made him regret the fact that he was obligated to punish UNESCO.
There is little chance that Congress will amend the law so as to allow the flow of U.S. taxpayer cash to resume. But those supporting such a move got a boost recently when Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” did a segment intended to spoof the cutoff. The satire complimented UNESCO’s own efforts to persuade Americans that they are a collection of non-political do-gooders whose efforts are being hampered. But as Claudia Rosett writes in an important piece in The Weekly Standard, the truth about UNESCO is a familiar story for those who follow the world of international non-governmental organizations. The corruption of the agency and, in particular, its efforts in the African nation of Gabon (which was the focus of “The Daily Show’s” skits), serves as a warning of how the world body wastes American money intended for charitable purposes.