Candidate Donald Trump ran a campaign that was partly about getting tough with the United Nations.
In a Thursday morning surprise, he announced the U.S. would withdraw from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Conservatives, nationalists, and populists should be happy to see the UN weakened by this move. Soon after, Israel also withdrew from UNESCO.
This excerpt explains the background to Trump’s move. The part that everyone should be concerned about is that he did it for Israel.
Excerpt from Vox
Thursday morning, Americans woke up to some news that felt like it was out of left field: The Trump administration was withdrawing the United States from membership in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
This seemed strange because UNESCO is such an inoffensive-seeming organization: Its most prominent function is designating and protecting official international landmarks, called World Heritage Sites — places like The Alamo and the Great Barrier Reef. What possible reason could the US have for quitting an organization devoted to culture and science?
The reality, though, is bit a more complex, as the US and UNESCO have actually been at loggerheads since 2011.
The key issue, as with many US-UN disputes, is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In October 2011, UNESCO admitted the Palestinian territories to the organization as an independent member-state called Palestine. This triggered a US law which cut off American funding for any organization that recognized an independent Palestine. The US had previously paid for 22 percent ($80 million) of UNESCO’s annual budget.
Finally, in 2013, after the US missed several rounds of payments to UNESCO, the organization suspended US voting rights in its core decision-making bodies. So the US hasn’t been a real UNESCO member for a while. Trump is just making that status official — and scoring a domestic public relations coup with pro-Israel, anti-UN conservatives in the process.
“A lot of UNESCO’s work is quite pointless,” Gowan tells me. “But it also runs an odd array of worthwhile programs on issues ranging from education to tsunami warning.”
Some of these things, like supporting international Holocaust education, are really important. But the organization isn’t nearly as prominent or geopolitically significant as the UN Security Council, which sets binding international law, or UN Peacekeeping, a body literally tasked with helping war-torn countries transition to peace. That makes UNESCO a natural venue for countries that want to engage in ideological grandstanding and symbolic protest votes without actually causing too much chaos in the international system.
Earlier this year, UNESCO designated the core area of the West Bank city of Hebron — home to the Cave of the Patriarchs, an important religious site for Jews and Muslims — as a Palestinian World Heritage Site, a symbolic slight of both the US and Israel. It’s easy to imagine UNESCO voting to take more actions like this in the future.
“Non-Western countries are already a powerful bloc in UNESCO, and their influence will increase further [after US withdrawal],” says Gowan. “Expect lots and lots more UNESCO resolutions bashing Israel, for a start.”
Vox’s use of the word “bashing” tells you their politics. Israel can’t be criticized without somebody paying a price. Fair criticism and bashing are two different things. How far will Trump go to please the Israeli lobby?