UNESCO Admits Palestine, the US Pulls $60 Million

The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted yesterday to admit Palestine as its newest member – and the United States promptly responded by cutting off $60 million of funding for the agency.

Apparently our administration feels that Palestine’s membership in an organization committed to “the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue” is “reckless,” “anti-Israel and anti-peace.”

Is there anything at all the US will not do for Israel?

From a smart CNN editorial yesterday:

The irony of the decision to cut funding is that UNESCO is one of the few United Nations groups where the U.S. finds a sympathetic ear on issues related to Israel.  UNESCO is actively working with America to promote tolerance and is working to deepen understanding of the Holocaust in countries where people don’t even believe it existed.

Even more important U.S. interests will be at stake if the World Intellectual Property Organization grants Palestinians membership, which as an affiliate of UNESCO they are almost certain to do.  That is where you start directly encountering obvious and significant interests to American business.

To my mind, the best commentary on the absurdity of all this came when AP reporter Matthew Lee questioned State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland during a press conference yesterday. You can watch the whole thing above or read a full transcript on Sami Kishawi’s blog.

Here’s my favorite part – Kafka couldn’t have written it better:

Reporter: Okay, and how does it undermine exactly the prospect of where you want to go?

Victoria Nuland: The concern is that it creates tensions when all of us should be concerting our efforts to get the parties back to the table.

Reporter: The only thing it does is it upsets Israel and it triggers this law that you said will require you to stop funding UNESCO. Is there anything else? There’s nothing that changes on the ground, is there?

Victoria Nuland: Our concern is that this could exacerbate the environment which we are trying to work through so that the parties will get back to the table.

Reporter: How exactly does it exacerbate the environment if it changes nothing on the ground unlike, say, construction of settlements? It changes nothing on the ground. It gives Palestine membership in UNESCO, which was a body the US was so unconcerned about for many years that it wasn’t even a member.

Victoria Nuland: Well, I think you know that this administration is committed to UNESCO, rejoined UNESCO, wants to see UNESCO’s work go forward.

Reporter: Actually, it was the last administration that rejoined UNESCO, not this one. But I need to have some kind of clarity on how this undermines the peace process — other than the fact that it upsets Israel.

Victoria Nuland: Again, we are trying to get both of these parties back to the table. That’s what we’ve been doing all along. That was the basis for the President’s speech in May, basis of the diplomacy that the Quartet did through the summer, the basis of the statement that the Quartet came out with in September. So in that context, we have been trying to improve the relationship between these parties, improve the environment between them, and we are concerned that we exacerbate tensions with this, and it makes it harder to get the parties back to the table.

Reporter: Since the talks broke off last September until today, how many times have they met together, with all your effort?

Victoria Nuland: How many times have the parties met?

Reporter: Yes.

Victoria Nuland: I think you know the answer to that question.

Reporter: Correct.

4 thoughts on “UNESCO Admits Palestine, the US Pulls $60 Million

  1. Wendy Carson

    As usual Brant, you always keep me better educated then any news – how the United States says they’re committed to the peace process but seems as though they are constantly being involved in insulting actions which include money to obstruct the Palestinians into a corner, even with an admission to a highly respected organization.

  2. Stewart Mills (Sydney, Australia)

    Thanks Brant for this.

    Well done to Matthew Lee of AP for his courage and daring as a journalist to hold the the US State Department to account. What an absurd decision to cut funding to UNESCO. Why penalise the international community when the real culprit goes untouched? Why is it all carrots for Israel and no stick? And yet the US dishes out more stick to the Palestinians and the international community?

    If there is ever to be peace in the region the US must separate the Holocaust from Israel. They are two quite separate ideas. The Holocaust does not give Israel carte blanche to do no evil. The last 60 years have shown how very quickly an oppressed people can become an oppressor. The US cannot continue to blindly look the other way. Appeasement did not work for Germany and it is not working for Israel.

    Every decade that passes the settler movement becomes more radicalised. It is frightening to see the venom that is developing amongst this community. They exist in another moral universe and it is time that justice and compassion is brought back into the equation.

    When will we see a time that Psalms 85:10 calls for when “Lovingkindness and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.”

    Yes, Jewish-Israelis require security and a home for themselves (with Palestinian-Israelis), but so too do the Palestinian people in the occupied territories need to be free.

  3. Dave


    How come not a single country on the planet has offered to make up even a single sliver of the difference?

    Are they all in thrall to Israel (Mahmoud, this means you)?

    Maybe they can figure out what international civil servants at a Paris-based agency actually do. Garcon!

  4. Steve Hinman

    Let’s not get carried away here. Certainly we all wish for peace, but UNESCO track record leaves much to be desired. Gordon Corvitz makes the following points, among others, in today’s Wall Street Journal:

    “Among Unesco’s high points: During the Cold War, Soviet officials ran Unesco’s education programs and a former head of an African military tribunal responsible for executions was in charge of culture. When France expelled 47 KGB agents in 1983, 12 were Unesco employees. When the U.S. defunded Unesco, its leadership solicited countries to make up the shortfall and got a big donation from Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi.
    Plus ça change: The current ambassador to Unesco from Uzbekistan, a country whose human rights record is deplorable even by the standards of former Soviet states, is Lola Karimova-Tillayeva, a daughter of strongman Islam Karimov. She was recently in the news for losing a libel action she brought against French news site Rue89, which had accurately called her father a dictator.
    In 2009, Farouk Hosny was the lead candidate to run Unesco. He had been the culture minister of Egypt under Hosni Mubarak for 20 years; his responsibilities including censoring news media and Internet. After losing to a Bulgarian diplomat in the fifth round of voting, he blamed “Zionist pressure” and “a group of the world’s Jews.” He had told the Egyptian Parliament the year before that if there were any books by Israeli authors in Alexandria’s library, “I will burn them myself.””


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