At Large

Obama’s UNESCO Fiasco

A reluctance to defend Israel against the latest pro-Palestinian Authority power grab.

By 11.2.11

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The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) claims it "works to create the conditions for dialogue among civilizations, cultures and peoples, based upon respect for commonly shared values." In fact, as Monday's vote to make the Palestinian Authority a UNESCO member suggests, UNESCO views its primary mission as a cultural change agent to be consistent with its half-century campaign to marginalize Israel.

The Obama administration voted against the Palestinian application because it was another effort to create a Palestinian state using the land, borders, resources and capital city of another country without asking for it. Instead of proudly defending Israel against UNESCO's power grab, however, the administration was nearly apologetic. David Killon, the U.S. representative to UNESCO, pledged to "find ways to support and strengthen the important work of this vital organization." State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland stated, "Not paying our dues into these organizations could severely restrict and reduce our ability to influence them, our ability to act within them, and we think this affects U.S. interests."

There is concern the Palestinians will go through the UN Directory and apply for membership to every other agency the UN operates, including the World Health Organization, the World Intellectual Property Organization, and the International Atomic Energy Agency and B'nai B'rith. (OK, I made the last one up.) The law requiring that we not fund the UN organization that grants the Palestinians membership applies to all of the above agencies. So the goal is to pressure and isolate America so that it will support or not oppose Palestinian membership in the UN General Assembly.

But the claim that standing up to such tactics undermines American interests has to be weighed against two other considerations. First, the only thing that gets UNESCO's or the UN's attention is cutting of its allowance. Second, it's the only tool short of resigning membership that seems to stop UNESCO from pursuing anti-American and anti-Israel activities. The only way to avoid a UNESCO fiasco is to stop underwriting such activities no matter what the agency.

In 1974 UNESCO voted to exclude Israel from its European regional group for engaging in archeological exploration and construction. This anti-Jewish ostracism was not abandoned until 1978, after the United States withheld $40 million in payments from the organization in protest.

In 1984, the Reagan administration (along with Britain and France) stopped funding UNESCO because the agency was sponsoring programs, proposals and materials that were hostile to the idea of freedom (and enthusiastic about Soviet-style government) and was particularly critical of Israel. It worked for a while. But as soon as the U.S. resumed making contributions to UNESCO in 2002, efforts to isolate Israel increased.

Since 1967, Arab states have tried to portray Israel as the usurper of Arab lands. Denying historical Jewish ties to Israel is part of that campaign, one that UNESCO has financed and participated in. UNESCO has called for financial sanctions against Israel and passed hundreds of resolutions criticizing Israel's efforts to restore historic and holy sites in Jerusalem. When the UN celebrated its 50th anniversary, UNESCO refused to mention the Holocaust in its World War II resolution, intentionally ignoring Israel's request to include a specific reference to the destruction of European Jewry.

In 1989 UNESCO stated, "Israel's occupation of Jerusalem" was destroying the holy city by "acts of interference, destruction and transformation." UNESCO claimed in 1974 that Israel's control over a united Jerusalem was a "cultural crime against humanity." In 1996, UNESCO organized a symposium on Jerusalem at the body's Paris headquarters. But no Jewish or Israeli groups were invited. Maybe the invitation got lost.

Over the past decade UNESCO has worked with Arab organizations to deny Jewish claims to religiously important historical sites in Israel. In 2010 UNESCO declared that Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem is a mosque and claimed the Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs were Palestinian sites and "an integral part of the occupied Palestinian Territories."

In 2009, UNESCO designated Jerusalem as a "capital of Arab culture," working with Palestinian Authority officials and key Arab figures to protest against what they described as "the Israeli occupation of Holy Jerusalem."

These actions helped UNESCO with its other major responsibility: the development of curriculum and textbooks in Palestinian and Arab communities. As UNESCO eliminates Jewish historical ties to Jerusalem and holy sites, Palestinian textbooks have been revised accordingly. Textbooks have erased Jewish claims to the Western Wall and Rachel's Tomb. For example, National Education, a textbook for seventh-graders published in 2010, refers to the Western Wall as the "Al-Buraq Wall," and to Rachel's Tomb as "Al-Bilal Mosque."

The Obama administration voted against UNESCO's latest effort to isolate Israel and then nearly apologized for it. That's less than enough, since it must do what is necessary to stop the madness from spreading. It has to take a stand, in other words. Leading from behind won't cut it.

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About the Author
Robert M. Goldberg is vice president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest and founder of Hands Off My H ealth, a grass roots health care empowerment network. His is new book, Tabloid Medicine: How the Internet is Being Used To Hijack Medical Science For Fear and Profit, was published last month by Kaplan.