J Street Calls on Congress to Maintain American Contributions to UNESCO, Other UN Institutions

October 31, 2011

WASHINGTON — J Street today called on Congress to amend US law to preserve American contributions to the United Nations Economic, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Those contributions are threatened by provisions of existing law prohibiting such funding following UNESCO member states’ decision today to grant the Palestinians full membership.

“Failure to avert American defunding and disengagement from UNESCO, which the United States rejoined under President George W. Bush in 2003, would deal a painful blow to US influence and standing in the world. In addition to undermining our own national interests, it would also deprive Israel of its most vocal and powerful advocate in a key UN organ,” said Dylan Williams, J Street’s Director of Government Affairs.

The United States is UNESCO’s largest donor, contributing nearly a quarter of its annual budget. Without American support, UNESCO’s work in the areas of promoting development, expanding educational opportunities and preserving cultural heritage around the globe would be at risk. UNESCO operates overseas programs that the American pro-Israel community has long championed in the areas of literacy, science, clean water, education and equal treatment for girls and young women.

The 1990 and 1994 laws that operate to restrict US contributions to UNESCO would also prohibit American funding for any UN organ which grants Palestinians full membership status, including the World Intellectual Property Organization, the International Civil Aviation Organization, and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“American disengagement from UNESCO is just the first of many costly retreats this terrible law may force the United States to make. If Congress does not act, we could soon find ourselves without a voice at UN-affiliated agencies of vital importance to American jobs, safety and security,” said Williams. “Is attempting to dissuade the Palestinians from pursuing UN membership really worth hobbling our economy, making it less safe for Americans to fly and leaving it entirely to other countries to monitor Iran’s nuclear program?”

Congress is also currently considering new legislation that would impose additional restrictions on US funding for UN organs and the United Nations as a whole, as well as threaten aid to the Palestinian Authority and military assistance to key foreign countries in retaliation for their support of the Palestinian bid for membership at the UN.

“The provisions of existing law prohibiting funding are a poison pill left by those who opposed a two-state resolution and the Oslo process from the outset. They demonstrate the tremendous harm that Congress can do to American and Israeli interests by grandstanding on issues related to the conflict,” said Williams. “This should serve as a cautionary lesson for those currently seeking to impose new and greater restrictions on US assistance to other UN agencies, the Palestinian Authority, and foreign countries in which the United States has a vital strategic interest.”