Jewish World Review Oct 7, 2011 / 9 Tishrei, 5772

UNESCO Vote Puts Obama to the Test

By Jonathan Tobin

Once again the President is being forced to choose between the Israelis and the "Palestinians". This time, however, the stakes are much higher. And inaction will be illegal | As expected, the 58-nation executive board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted to admit Palestine as a full member of the organization. The move is part of the Palestinian Authority's diplomatic offensive to gain statehood from the UN without first making peace with Israel, and may be seen by some as purely symbolic. But the UNESCO vote could have serious implications for the organization as well as for the Obama administration.

U.S. law mandates that the United States must withdraw from any group that offers "full membership as a state to any organization or group that does not have the internationally recognized attributes of statehood." That will obligate Obama, who is as dedicated a fan of the UN and agencies like UNESCO as has ever sat in the White House, to pull the plug on the flow of the American funds that make up 22 percent of the group's budget. Because Obama is reluctant to abandon UNESCO, it will be interesting to see whether he finds a way to weasel out of his legal obligations. But if he does, there may be serious political consequences.


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The United States voted against admitting the Palestinians and has pledged to work to see the measure is blocked before it is finalized by a vote of the organization's full membership later this month. But if, as is likely, Washington fails to stop it, then Obama will have a difficult choice. If the United States remains in UNESCO it will not only be illegal, it could create a political liability for a president who has been trying to convince his Jewish supporters he is a friend of Israel.

As for UNESCO, it needs to be understood the organization is already a cesspool of anti-Israel incitement. In the past few years alone, UNESCO has weighed in on behalf of bogus Palestinian claims Israel is "Judaizing" its capital Jerusalem. This year, it demanded Israel cease all archeological work in the Old City of Jerusalem, as it believes research or even renovation projects "reinforce Israeli occupation." Last year, it declared the Jewish shrines of Rachel's Tomb outside Bethlehem and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron were "Muslim mosques."

If the Palestinians are given full membership in UNESCO, we can expect them to use it to advance their historical revisionist campaign in which Arab vandalism on the Temple Mount is ignored while efforts to uncover Jewish artifacts are branded illegal. As is the case with their entire UN gambit, this effort will be portrayed as an attempt to defend the Palestinians, but its true purpose will be the denial of Jewish rights.

So far, the administration has been coy about UNESCO, with State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland merely saying lawyers at Foggy Bottom are exploring the implications of the vote on U.S. financing. That's a signal Obama and Secretary of State Clinton would like to find a way to stay in UNESCO despite the clear mandate of the law. Republicans like House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen are trying to pass even more stringent legislation mandating American cutoffs of aid to both the Palestinians and the UN if the statehood issue progresses.

Any deviation from his duty to pull out of the organization will mean Obama is handing the GOP yet another club to beat him with next year.

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