For a segment which aired March 15th, John Oliver, of the Daily Show, interviewed former Representative Robert Wexler (D-FL), now with the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Mid East Peace, regarding the US’s decision to cut its funding to the organization because Palestine was allowed to join. The US contributes 22% of UNESCO’s funding, and cited a law passed in the 1990s to support their action:
“the United States shall not make any voluntary or assessed contribution 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.”
Wexler explained this would prevent other organizations from admitting Palestine. However, if this is US law, it may be problematic—
Most UN bodies decide their membership by a two thirds vote of their current members. As most countries around the world are on record in support of Palestinian statehood, two-thirds is a threshold that the Palestinians could probably attain rather easily. [UNESCO vote for Palestinian membership]
The World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Atomic Energy Association are just a few well-known UN agencies from which the United States would be forced to withdraw should they grant Palestine full membership. Others include the International Civil Aviation Authority (which sets global standards for commercial air traffic and helps train air traffic controllers); the International Maritime Organization, and the International Telecommunications Union, among others.
It goes without saying just how inimical it is to American interests to have this kind of automatic trigger. (Is it really in American interests to cease supporting monitoring of nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea because Palestine joins the IAEA?) It also makes the United States look petty and childish. But, alas, it is the law of the land. And given the current contentious legislative environment, it is highly unlikely that it will be amended anytime soon.
When John Oliver said to Wexler, “this is beginning to feel wrong,” Wexler emphasized, “we’re the good guys,” a point John Oliver explained to laughter in Gabon, a country that recently pledged two million dollars more despite receiving aid from UNESCO.
David Frum criticized the report by bluntly implying that the Daily Show is anti-Semitic. However, in the report, John Oliver never mentioned Israel’s role. It seems that even the Daily Show is afraid to couple Israel with an act which it was portraying as horrendously appalling. It is possible, though, that the Daily Show decided to decouple US interests from Israeli interests to imply that the two are divergent by showing the blow to US prestige this caused. If this is the case, the show’s point was somewhat radical for the US media. It’s hard to tell if this was the aim.
Other conservatives have criticized UNESCO for only rebuking Syria thus far. Given the timing, it seems conservatives are justifying the US’s cuts to UNESCO; the US is the ‘good guy.’