Inside Zionism: UNESCO Quagmire, Aide & the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (Videos)
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This series, entitled “Inside Zionism“, is intended to study various aspects of secular Jewish nationalism. The reader is encouraged to read the series background by clicking here.
In this article. In order to get a sense for Zionism, and its manifestations in contemporary geopolitics, we begin the Inside Zionism series by taking a look at an issue that confronts The White House and the 113th Congress – UNESCO. This issue is a reminder of America’s categorical support for the State of Israel. An alliance that transcends general commitments, reaching into practically every geopolitical issue that involves The Middle East.
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On Oct. 31, 2011, the United Nations voted to admit Palestine to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO]. The vote set off celebrations among the overwhelming number of member states supporting the measure and set in-motion a firestorm of diplomatic protests that underscore the intricate relationship between foreign aide, international alliances, and national interests that increasingly involves the State of Israel. And at the center of Israeli issues is the longstanding question of the Palestinian people. Recent developments at UNESCO embody a similar theme that transcends military conflicts, U.S. intervention in the domestic affairs of autonomous nations, U.S. taxpayer expenditures and other support to Israel, and a range of other global activities.About UNESCOFormed (i.e., Constitution signed) on Nov. 16, 1945 and the Constitution was ratified by 20 nations on Nov. 4, 1946. Fosters sustained peace through moral humanitarianism and intellectual solidarity. Promotes programs that pursue a goal of every child having access to a quality education. Initiatives that advance acceptance of diversity such as designating World Heritage sites. Sponsors joint scientific activities on common challenges e.g., clean water management. Advocates of the protection freedom of expression as a prerequisite to democracy.
UNESCO – A Proxy Battleground for the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Three days following the UNESCO vote concerning Palestine, Israel suspended transfer of $100 million in taxes payments to the Palestinian Authority. The funds are derived from monthly collections of customs, border, and income taxes. Likewise, the Obama Administration stopped America’s customary contribution of $80 million to the U.N.’s chief cultural agency, citing fears that UNESCO’s decision might disrupt peace talks in a lingering Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Canada, which donated $10 million annually to UNESCO, immediately followed by announcing its cut in funding. Unconfirmed reports from Israel Radio indicate that the Israeli government will refuse its $2 million annual contribution to UNESCO. Financial losses represent nearly a quarter of UNESCO’s total budget.
From the Palestinian perspective, membership in UNESCO is a landmark step in its overall march to the international community’s recognition of Palestinian statehood. While critics oppose the move, supporters argue that a people’s self-determined efforts to assert its true independence is rational and indeed, expected if history serves as a guide. Namely, that such actions are consistent with India’s break from Great Britain. The American Colonies’ departure from British rule. And the formation of independent states in the fall of The Soviet Union.
However, according to the Associated Press, “Israel thinks creation of a Palestinian state must be achieved through negotiations and charges that the U.N. bid is one of a series of steps to bring unwarranted pressure on the Jewish state.” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has indicated that Palestine’s membership in other U.N. agencies would not be “beneficial” to the aspiring state or “anybody”. Ki-moon further noted that the international community’s withholding of funding could adversely affect millions of people.
On Nov. 4, 1946, the U.S joined 19 other nations to ratify the UNESCO Constitution. Nearly seven decades later, tensions over Palestinian membership are resurfacing what has been a tenuous involvement of the U.S. in UNESCO, at-best, given the sometimes competing missions and conflicting constitutions. The agency’s formation after World War II was designed to “foster collaboration among nations through education, science and culture“. President Ronald Reagan withdrew the U.S. from UNESCO in 1984 after allegations of mismanagement. But the U.S. rejoined in 2003 under President Bush, with a philosophy of pursuing initiatives that reflect the shared values (i.e., interests) of the U.S. and UNESCO. Rejoining came at a delicate juncture for the U.S., having suffered the attacks of 9/11, but subsequently fighting one war in Afghanistan and another highly-criticized war in Iraq.
The current dispute over Palestinian membership revealed the chasm that sometimes exist when nations juggle their autonomy and international relations. Namely, the rift between the U.S. and UNESCO came down to three pieces of legislation that are a part of two separate legal frameworks. Two different Constitutions, one for the U.S. and the other for UNESCO. As for UNESCO, Article II (Membership), Clause 2 of the UNESCO reads:
“Subject to the conditions of the Agreement between this Organization and the United Nations Organization, approved pursuant to Article X of this Constitution, states not members of the United Nations Organization may be admitted to membership of the Organization, upon recommendation of the Executive Board, by a two-thirds majority vote of the General Conference.”
UNESCO’s formation and ratification of its Constitution took place two years and one year, respectively, before Israel achieved statehood on May 15, 1947. The clause served a pragmatic purpose in a dynamic post-World War II global climate. During the demise of the League of Nations. And in the midst of numerous realignments taking place in Europe. The salient point in UNESCO’s Constitution is that the agency has the authority to accept non-members of the U.N. Palestine, as a non-member, submitted a bid for UNESCO membership that proved successful. Without any veto clause or other stipulation, UNESCO had no other choice but to bring Palestine’s bid up for a vote.
However, Palestine’s admittance triggered two laws: Public Law 101-246 signed by President Bush; and Public Law 103-236 signed by President Clinton. As the CRS report n the UNESCO controversy outlined:
Section 410 of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1994 and 1995 (P.L. 103-236), which states that the United States shall not make contributions to “any affiliated organization of the United Nations which grants full membership as a state to any organization or group that does not have the internationally recognized attributes of statehood”; and
Section 414 of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1990 and 1991 (P.L. 101-246), which states, “No funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act or any other Act shall be available for the United Nations or any specialized agencies thereof which accords the Palestine Liberation Organization the same standing as member states.”
Currently, U.S. law prohibits authorizing the appropriation of funds to the U.N. or any other organization that affords the Palestine Liberation Organization privileges and recognition as is customary for member states. Consequently, without further Congressional act, standing law required the U.S. to withhold scheduled payments to UNESCO as the Palestinians enjoyed membership in agency. One of the ironies of these laws is the U.S. has provided direct aide to the Palestinian Authority from its inception. On Aug. 18, 2013, PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah signed an agreement that resulted in the U.S. delivering $148 million in emergency funds as a part of $4 billion multilateral package to avoid the Palestinian Authority’s financial collapse.
In Feb. 2012, President Obama announced plans to seek a waiver from the UNESCO funding cut. Reaction was immediate. In statements featured in the Times of Israel, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Chairwoman of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs, revealed that she would not support a waiver and that waiving the prohibition would be detrimental to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Ros-Lehtinen, whose Turkish maternal grandparents were Sephardic Jews, stated:
“Any effort to walk back this funding cutoff will pave the way for the Palestinian leadership’s unilateral statehood scheme to drive on, and sends a disastrous message that the US will fund UN bodies no matter what irresponsible decisions they make…”
On the subject of Palestinian admittance, the message from the U.S. has been clear. Neither harm to millions of people nor UNESCO voting rights were preeminent concerns. As in myriad matters of international affairs, America would take a hard stand for Israel.
Reactions to Palestinian membership reveals the disturbing nature of American humanitarianism. While the image of profound concern for vulnerable people of the world resonates with a nation that prides itself as “people of faith”, the harsh reality is that international aide is often a dish served cold. This is not a secret to foreign nations, but describes the gauntlet needy countries run – whether under-developed, in the midst of natural disaster, and/or facing political turmoil.
U.S. funding cuts continued as planned in 2012, bringing UNESCO to a $653 million approved bi-annual budget for FY2012/FY2013. The withholding of $80 million FY2012 (22% of the budget) devastated UNESCO, which revealed to Reuters in Oct. 2012 that it was in its “worst ever financial situation”. The agency’s Irina Bokova, the former Bulgarian foreign minister, described the situation, “It’s crippling our capacity to deliver.” Ironically, a Holocaust education program connected to a global campaign for human rights was affected by the U.S. decision. Other program casualties included vital Tsunami research. Ultimately, the agency was forced to slash or cancel a number of other projects in order to trim its staff by 336 employees.
UNESCO, however, took fundraising measures to mitigate some of the financial pressures. These measures generated $89 million, led by: $20 million from Saudi Arabia; $20 million from Qatar; $20 million from Turkey for education and sustainable development programs; and smaller contributions from Indonesia and Algeria.
The U.N. stripped the U.S. and Israel of their voting rights after missing a Nov. 8, 2013 deadline to resume contributions to UNESCO. By the time the U.N. rescinded UNESCO voting rights of the two nations, the U.S. funding cuts alone amounted to $240 million over FY2012, FY2013, and FY2014. The loss of voting rights, while not the weight of a broken trade agreement or arms treaty gone aerie, forfeits America’s influential voice in UNESCO’s affairs. Editor Mark Goldberg of the U.N. Dispatch noted the absence from voting could have adverse impact on UNESCO priorities relative to reading programs for youth in Pakistan or Iraq – seen as valuable investments in diplomacy. Another potentially harmed program is one that focused on increasing literacy among police in Afghanistan; an initiative that enhances U.S. efforts to downsize troop deployments in that region of the world.
Zionism Cloaked in Reasoning
With the exception of a small stretch along the southern basin on the Mediterranean under joint Israeli-Palestinian management, Israel controls the water ports and air space. And the Palestinians are pushed inland, making them vulnerable to geo-terrorism as their people can be easily cutoff from food and other supplies. In addition, the continuation of Israeli settlements in territories apportioned to the Palestinians further threatens any sustainable economic future when the parties reach a final agreement.
Given the mounting odds against Palestinian independence, the pursuit of UNESCO membership is no more the source of the problem than Freedom Marchers in Mississippi and Alabama were to blame for jim crow sheriffs releasing dogs and fire hoses Geopolitical imbalance that favors Zionism is at the heart of what is playing out in desperate Palestinian efforts at UNESCO. And the imbalance is likely to result in similar efforts within various other U.N. agencies.
The pro-Zionist imbalance that often engages the U.S., Canada, and Great Britain is shrouded in a number of “myths”, including:
1. Resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict requires direct negotiation.
The current Palestinian problem dates back to 1947. Arguably, history would not have been written as such had President Truman not reluctantly agreed to unilateral pursuits by Theordore Herzl and the Zionism movement to convert Palestine into a Jewish state. The U.S. was a partaker in Zionism then, and cannot so easily project a “let’s let them handle” posture today – especially after decades of failed resolutions. Further, given the arrangement that highly favors the Zionists in this dispute, one might argue that the Israelis have little reason to reach resolution. Indeed, myriad disincentives now cloud the benefits for Israel’s commitment to reaching a sustainable agreement with the Palestinians. Indeed, with arms provided by the West and agreements to deploy these resources when deemed necessary, even the occasional unrest in Israel might be characterized as collateral costs for a larger Zionist benefit. And that to the extent incentives do exist, delay in reaching a final agreement works in the favor of Israel as in the case of enabling more time for land transfers and Israeli settlements in disputed areas. Under these circumstances, a final agreement between the more strategically-positioned Israelis and significantly weaker Palestinians could translate into irrational geopolitics.
Relative to UNESCO, President opposed Palestinian membership on the grounds that Palestinian statehood must result from direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. This would be plausible except that the U.S. is involved along many dimensions. Despite our claims of “direct negotiations”, the U.S. has been and continues to be involved. De-funding UNESCO is the latest of examples.
2. It’s “the Law”
A second narrative that often cloaks U.S. Zionism invokes ‘law” as a defining foundation of our foreign policy. In the UNESCO quagmire, legislators who oppose funding readily turn to prevailing law as the mandate for U.S. actions. This reasoning is fraught with errors, including:
- The U.S. has demonstrated a propensity to apply international laws differently to allies and non-allies.
- This reasoning mistakenly treats prevailing law as a rigid influence on domestic and foreign affairs. Rigidity is, by no means, an attribute of America’s legal framework. Our highest law of the land, The Constitution of the United States of America, stands at 27 Amendments. The Supreme Court overturns laws as in the case of recently striking down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Congress displaces old statutes with new ones. These are acceptable treatments of U.S. laws, and thus appropriate for the two aforementioned statutes regarding the U.N. (PL 103-236, PL 101-246). As many things have occurred in the twenty years since their passage, any reference to prevailing law serves as a convenient handcuff to bind the U.S. from taking an action that improves our standing in the international community.
- Federal law is not a stranger to waivers. In-fact, not only does Congress have the authority to adopt waivers at the federal level, it likewise grants states the right to wave federal law. Such is the case with S. 1988, currently before the Senate in relations to the Clean Air Act. Some Congressional officials who oppose waivers in the UNESCO issue have, for instance, pushed for waivers of Affordable Care Act legislation. Rep. Robert Wexler is a staunch critic of waivers for UNESCO funding on the grounds of the “its the law” narrative. However, in 2007 the Jewish Congressman introduced a VISA waiver bill targeted at U.S. allies – Israel, South Korea, Greece and the 10 new European Union Countries.
Citing prevailing law so as to discourage adaptation to a geopolitical environment that has changed drastically over the past 20 years masks a Zionism prism through which the U.S. engages in international affairs. Particular in light of waivers, amendments, and other actions that have favored the Jewish state dating back to its inception.
3. U.S. credibility is at-stake
A third narrative that rationalizes U.S. withholding funds from UNESCO relates to credibility in the world. President Obama in his FY2013 budget proposal followed-up on his commitment to pursue resumption of UNESCO funding. According to CRS, President Obama, “requested $78.968 million in assessed contributions for UNESCO and stated that the Administration intended to work with Congress to waive the funding restrictions”. CRS further notes, “UNESCO critics, however, argue that waiving the laws would undermine U.S. credibility“.
An undermined credibility line of reasoning is both fallacious and dismissive of changing dynamics in the international community. Struggles for democracy throughout Eastern Europe, Africa, and The Middle East. Widening wealth gaps that, if not treated with the highest degree of sensitivity, call into question the societal structures that govern America. And superpowers, most notably Russia, in a public relations race across the global. Criticisms about U.S. continued funding of a primary U.N. humanitarian agency begs the question, “Credibility with whom?” What international credibility does the wealthiest nation in the history of mankind have when it unilaterally decides to withhold resources that would help children in the most impoverished communities across the globe? Is it not credible to assure the people of Afghanistan and Iraq that the U.S. is taking every possible opportunity to invest in their self-governance, while pulling back funds that would be targeted for this goal?
Further, what credibility is the supposed “light on the hill of democracy” protecting when repeated displays of diplomacy amount to a “my way or the highway” philosophy that promotes Zionist interests while marginalizing other nations? The UNESCO vote resulted from a democratic process. UNESCO member states could have rejected the Palestinian bid, but by an overwhelming margin they elected to do otherwise. Indeed, the U.S. might have either left UNESCO before the vote or in a protest move, not participated in it. But going through the process and withholding funds after a stunning defeat is tantamount to Americans igniting into civil war after a presidential election.
Democracy is most reflective in our actions after a disappointing vote tally. Hence, we celebrate the “peaceful transitions” that occur in Washington every four years. The democratic process is as much on-trial in the UNESCO vote as the Palestinians were for pursuing it. How will nations operate that look to the U.S. for models of democratic temperament, having witnessed our departure from UNESCO?
In-fact, one might speculate that had the Palestinians’ bid been rejected, they would have demonstrated a greater sense of democracy by living to pursue their aspiration another day. As with U.S. measures taken after the Palestinians democratically-elected to bring Hamas into power, we are showing the international community that democracy is not a principle upon which we stand, but rather a two-edged sword. One that cuts coming in times of U.S. military action. And cuts going in the withholding of foreign aide when the fruits of democracy are bitter to U.S. taste buds. Indeed, the American public should be our first concern. That is, demonstrating to Americans that we truly believe in democratic processes, wherever they take place, is our chief concern.
The credibility rationale for leaving UNESCO also neglects an international inconvenient truth of subsequent U.N. actions. Recently, Palestine obtained U.N. General Assembly approval of a status change from “observer entity” to “non-member observer state“. The votes consisted of 138 in-favor, 9 opposed (including the U.S.), and 41 abstained. Numerous previous votes ended with similar margins. As such, the corollary question of credibility must lead us to the “who” question. Is Zionism now so rooted in U.S. foreign policy that only friends of Zionism are our concern? Had the earlier UNESCO vote so outraged the international community, the most recent status change would not have occurred; or at-least without decisive margin. These actions at the U.N. in widespread support of the Palestinians suggest a credibility concern is synonymous with a Zionism concern.
Lessons from Russia in the Syria Chemical Weapons Crisis
The recent crisis between the U.S. and Syria de-escalated as a result of Russian intervention. Russia’s willingness to address its ally, Syria, on chemical weapons gained favor (or credibility) in the international community. Russia’s involvement underscores a principle that transcends relationships, whether between individuals or nations. Namely, that great weight is given to those who are willing to take a strong leadership position with “friends” in order to achieve a greater good.
In the UNESCO matter, the U.S. pursued a course that marginalized a majority of the international community that is sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinian people. Support of Palestinian measures to assert some semblance of independence is not an anti-Israeli sentiment. But rather, this view is rooted in the same sentiments that ended South African Apartheid, freed India from British rule, and for that matter fueled the abolitionist and civil rights movements in America. To much of the world, withholding funds from UNESCO on the basis of credibility appears to be more of a ruse or pretext as opposed to a legitimate consideration.
Russia achieved credibility gains in dealing with its ally, Syria. Conversely, the U.S., might have not only forfeited UNESCO voting rights, but more strategically, loss the confidence of other nations that America trusts in democratic processes, even when they yield a less preferred outcome. This is a time for the U.S. to deal with its ally, Israel. A time to assure the international community that the U.S. and Israel respect democracy as it unfolded in the UNESCO vote. And a time to confirm with friends and send a message to foes, that the U.S. is sympathetic to Palestinians even as it is sympathetic to this Israelis.
The Daily Show, hosted by satirist Jon Stewart, takes a satirical but poignant look at U.S. stoppage of UNESCO funding. The 2-part interview features Congressman Robert Wexler, a member of the American-Jewish community. Zionism interests (i.e., Israel) invoke a kind of political energy rarely seen in matters of concerns for citizens in the inner city, Appalachia, and vulnerable segments of America. Wexler’s “it’s the law” argument contradicts his VISA waiver position. And it’s noteworthy that Americans readily accept Jewish legislators promoting pro-Jewish interests, but soundly criticize even the idea of a black President or black legislators pushing policies that reflect African American interests.
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