Earlier this month, the executive board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted to admit “Palestine” as a new member-state. At that time, I wrote this decision provided a major test of the Obama administration’s conflicting loyalties. There has been no bigger supporter of the UN in the White House in decades. But Obama knows if he tries to circumvent the U.S. law that mandates a withdrawal of American funding to UNESCO if it follows through in recognizing the Palestinians as a member-state it will seriously damage his re-election prospects.
But as I feared, a report in the New York Times this morning points to a desperate effort by the administration to try and find a way out of this fix that may send the UN and its anti-Israel majority the wrong message about American resolve. The other problem is that UNESCO and its supporters in the administration — and the press — have embarked on a campaign to portray it as not being part of the UN’s culture of corruption and anti-Semitism, even though the “new” UNESCO is as dedicated to attacking Israel as the “old” one.
It should be recalled Ronald Reagan withdrew the United States from UNESCO in the 1980s because it was among the worst examples of the world body’s incompetence and due to its disgusting anti-Jewish and anti-Western bias. The institution went through a period of reform, and the United States rejoined UNESCO after 9/11 during the Bush administration’s push for support for its objectives at the UN. At the time, we were assured that UNESCO’s new support for human rights would make it a worthwhile recipient of U.S. funds.
UNESCO’s work on some issues has been praised, but the problem is that it is just as much a part of the UN’s anti-Israel consensus as ever. In recent years, it has taken sides in disputes in Jerusalem, criticizing the work of Israeli archaeologists who have uncovered ancient Jewish sites in the city while saying nothing about the Palestinian Authority’s support for vandalism of antiquities on the Temple Mount by the Muslim body that administers the site. It has also declared ancient Jewish shrines such as the Tomb of Rachel near Bethlehem and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron to be mosques. Should UNESCO follow through on its recognition of Palestine as a member-state, the rush to delegitimize Jewish heritage will be re-doubled. Thus, any compromise that allows the administration to keep funding UNESCO by some subterfuge will still undermine Israel.
Pro-UN talking heads are lamenting the fact that laws passed by Congress allow Obama no wiggle room on UNESCO. That is all to the good, as both the State Department and the White House would prefer to ignore UNESCO’s anti-Israel stands in order to continue sending American taxpayer money to an agency they like.
Rather than an example of how the world body can serve the interests and values America supports, UNESCO remains thoroughly compromised by the world body’s biases. If, as seems likely, the Palestinians are given their seat at the table at the agency’s meetings this week, then Obama must obey the law and withdraw American funding and participation. If he finds a way to avoid doing so, this should be treated as one more indication of the administration’s foolish infatuation with the UN and its faulty record on Israel.