Palestine became a full member of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Monday after a highly divisive vote that the U.S. and other critics say will harm renewed Mideast peace efforts.
It will also cost the agency a fifth of its budget, as the U.S. is legally required to cut off funds to any U.N. agency that recognizes a Palestinian state. The Obama administration will not make a planned $60 million payment to the agency due in November.
Angry reactions came in from both camps Tuesday, with supporters of Israel upset at the UNESCO vote, and supporters of Palestine upset at the U.S. fund-cutting.
Earlier this month, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova wrote a letter to the Post asking the U.S. not to “punish” the agency by cutting funds:
UNESCO supports many causes in line with U.S. security interests. In Afghanistan and Iraq, we are helping governments and communities prepare for life after the withdrawal of U.S. military forces. We are bolstering the literacy of the Afghan National Police and are leading the country’s largest education program, reaching some 600,000 learners in 18 provinces. We work with the United States to advance democratic freedoms. Mandated to promote freedom of expression, UNESCO stands up for every journalist attacked or killed across the world. In Tunisia and Egypt, we are leading education reform and training journalists. We target the causes of violent extremism by training teachers in human rights and Holocaust remembrance.
Today, pro-Palestine activists reacted angrily, saying that the U.S. did “punish” the agency. “It's a sign of institutionalized U.S. hatred, hostility and racism toward Palestinians that [the] U.S. opposes even membership of UNESCO,” wrote Ali Abunimah a Palestinian-American journalist and co-founder of the pro-Palestine online publication the Electronic Intifada.
“Congress should cut funding (our tax dollars) to Israel so long as it violates international law, not UNESCO, education, and arts. #corruption,”wrote Ahmed Rehab, an Egyptian American activist and executive director of CAIR-Chicago, an organization that works for the civil rights of Muslims.
CNN’s security blog called the move ironic, writing that cutting UNESCO funding might actually hurt Israel. “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.”
U.S. and Israeli officials insisted the vote was the wrong one.
Israel’s foreign minister spokesman said the vote harmed chances for peace negotiation. “Today’s reckless action by UNESCO is anti-Israel and anti-peace,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, (R.-Fla.) who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
David T. Killion, the U.S. ambassador to UNESCO, said the vote to make Palestine a full member was “premature,” and so the U.S. would have to cut off finding despite the complications it would cause.
The U.S. prohibits funding U.N. agencies that recognize a Palestinian state because of legislation signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1990, and another by President Bill Clinton in 1994.