In a move that seemed very likely when Donald Trump was elected president and was cemented when he appointed Nikki Haley as ambassador to the United Nations, the United States withdrew
from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on Wednesday. The stated reasons for the US decision were the bias against Israel at UNHRC and the fact that some undeniably egregious human rights violators sit on the council. But these explanations become flimsy once you examine them.
Because it routinely accuses any critic of its policies of bias, Israel is like the boy who cried wolf. And it’s not just the leaders: many Israelis and supporters of Israel around the world genuinely believe that there is bias against Israel everywhere they turn. This feeling did not come into being with the election of Benjamin Netanyahu, but no Israeli prime minister has ever come close to magnifying that paranoia as much as he has.
Israel uses these lamentations to further entrench sympathy from its supporters and help them to believe that all that stuff about the occupation is just the result of bias, of Israel being blamed for Hamas’s actions or for things taken out of context. Although it’s easy to dismiss those statements as propaganda, it is foolish to give Israel ammunition.
The UNHRC does just that, however. In its earliest days, it focused on Israel to the point of obsession. That didn’t happen because of anti-Semitism, but for the same reason Israel gets routinely savaged in UN General Assembly (UNGA) votes. it is a significant human rights violator and, although it has the US protecting it in the Security Council—and therefore shielding it from any material consequences of its actions—it is one issue that a wide swath of countries can agree on.
As a result, the UNHRC, more than any other body in the UN, can legitimately be accused of being unfair to Israel. That Israel is the only country that merits a permanent agenda item is patently absurd, and unnecessary. That one fact, which the UNHRC stubbornly refuses to change, gives enormous ammunition to Israel and the United States, and it bolsters the largely bogus arguments that they use to cover many of the worst human rights violations of the occupation and the siege of Gaza.
The bias at the UNHRC allows Israel to paint the entire UN as biased, a point recognized by several UN secretaries general. For example, Ban Ki-Moon stated in 2007 that he was “disappointed at the Council’s decision to single out only one specific regional item, given the range and scope of allegations of human rights violations throughout the world.” He was, of course, referring to Israel.
To a certain extent the interference the US runs for Israel in the Security Council more than makes up for UNHRC and UNGA statements against Israel that have no teeth. But addressing bias by creating a counterbalancing bias is a problematic solution at best. In this case, it strengthens the US argument that it needs to defend its ally against the bias it faces. Legitimate investigations into Israeli conduct are undermined before they begin (as was the case with the Goldstone Report into the 2008-9 Israeli attack on Gaza). Most of all, it further politicizes the issue of the occupation while moving it further away from the rule of international law, the only arena where the Palestinians stand a chance against the US and Israel.
Ultimately, of course, Israel gets hammered in the UNHRC and the UNGA because it violates Palestinian human rights on a constant basis and magnifies those violations with larger crimes, such as those in Gaza in recent weeks. But that doesn’t mean that it makes sense to abandon a fair approach to legal issues. On the contrary, given the nature of the defenses Israel offers, impartial judgments and equality under the law are absolutely indispensable. The UNHRC has fallen very short in this regard. Although Palestinians and their supporters cheer many of its resolutions, this abandonment of basic principles of jurisprudence does a great deal more harm than good to the Palestinian cause.
Obama In, Trump Out
Donald Trump has willfully oriented his policies, foreign and domestic, as anti-Obama. If Barack Obama did it, Trump wants to either reverse it or do the opposite.
In this case, Trump isn’t just differentiating himself from Obama by quitting the UNHRC. From the very beginning, Haley—certainly with the stamp of approval from the White House as well as her predecessor, John Bolton—came not to engage but to harangue. Her adversarial positions at the United Nations are meant to endear her and her boss to the Israeli government and, perhaps more to the point, Israel’s right-wing supporters in the US. But diplomacy is not high on the agenda. Unlike other members of the Trump administration, Haley is capable of diplomacy and even leadership in the international arena. She demonstrated that when she got China and other nations to agree to ratchet up sanctions on North Korea.
But she and Trump approach the UN with one phrase: America First. Given the deference Trump has shown to Netanyahu, that means Israel is along for the ride.
Obama had a different view. He worked hard and succeeded at reversing the anger that George W. Bush’s disdain for multilateralism had generated. Far from the abdication of global leadership that Obama was accused of by the right and that Trump has fully embraced, Obama was engaged. He recognized that leadership meant pursuing the US agenda while being considerate of those of its allies—all its allies.
For all of Israel’s complaints, the strategy worked for it as well. A study by the Council on Foreign Relations showed that US involvement at the UNHRC cut the number of Israel-specific resolutions by more than half. It also dramatically increased the attention to other countries’ human rights violations.
Obama didn’t erase all trace of bias from the UNHRC, but the shift with the US on the council was dramatic. That’s why it is not surprising that Israeli journalist Barak Ravid reported that
Israeli foreign ministry officials tell me they are concerned that US withdrawal from the UN human rights council will make it harder to block anti-Israeli initiatives on the council. The officials say that even though they feel the council is extremely biased against Israel, US membership helped to soften or fend off some anti-Israeli steps.
One of those initiatives is a fact-finding mission looking into Israel’s use of deadly force against unarmed protesters in Gaza. Ravid reports that Israeli officials told him “they are concerned that without the U.S. it will be close to impossible to influence the commission’s composition, mandate and conclusions.”
Is this another case of the US being more pro-Likud than Likud?
Who’s the Human Rights Violator?
The issue of the UNHRC treatment of Israel is certainly a significant factor in the US decision. But that factor has been there all along. The US could have quit the council at any time. So why now?
Lauren Wolfe, at The Atlantic, offers an alternative theory.
Human-rights experts told me that one of Trump’s most likely, and most insidious, arguments for the move is to prevent the United States from being called out on its own alleged human-rights abuses. Trump has led an orchestrated attack on press freedom, while Congress has rolled back protections for women and girls both at home and abroad. HRW also points to media reports that say the United States has interrogated detainees in Yemen in secret prisons known for torture. Now, the Trump administration has enacted a policy to separate families attempting to cross the border illegally. Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, called the policy ‘government-sanctioned child abuse.’ For the Trump administration, decrying the very body that plans to criticize you is a simple, if blunt, way to try to discredit it.
The timing of the decision strongly suggests that Wolfe is on to something here. Trump has established a strong pattern of intemperate responses to criticism.
Staunch supporters of Israel also question whether this helps their cause. Rep. Elliot Engel (D-NY) may be a Democrat, but he is as zealous a pro-Israel voice as there is in Congress. He sharply criticized the move, saying, “By withdrawing from the council, we lose our leverage and allow the council’s bad actors to follow their worst impulses unchecked—including running roughshod over Israel…However, this administration’s approach when it sees a problem is to take the United States off the field.”
US involvement clearly made a difference. Writing in 2015, Ted Piccone of the Brookings Institute described the contemporary impact of the UNHRC.
Their recommendations have led to concrete action on problems ranging from combating torture in Jordan to protecting journalists in Cambodia, decriminalizing blasphemy in the United Kingdom and reducing prison sentences in China. The universal periodic review process is adding another layer of transparency and accountability by holding all states to their commitment to uphold international norms: Nearly half of the recommendations made were partially or fully implemented just two-and-a-half years after the first round of reviews.
On some of the most serious cases, the Council has taken action that has led to important and unprecedented results. The commission of inquiry on North Korea, for example, which delivered a hard-hitting report in 2014 documenting crimes against humanity, has changed the conversation from denials of human rights abuses to acceptance that the UN Security Council must address the matter, including through a potential referral to the International Criminal Court. On Sri Lanka, the Council has shifted from initially applauding the bloody termination of the conflict in 2009 to demanding an independent investigation of the abuses; this international pressure had a direct effect on subsequent elections in the country, and helped bring to power a new leader who immediately adopted a set of important reforms.
A body that is horribly underfunded and that has no enforcement mechanism at its disposal whatsoever did all that. With the US no longer a part of it, such dramatic progress is much less likely to be achieved against such staunch obstacles.
The UNHRC does include very problematic countries. The US is quick to point the finger at Venezuela, Cuba, and China, but that list should feature US allies Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt at least as prominently. Many would argue that the US has no place on the UNHRC either, and certainly Trump strengthens that case.
In the end, the United States did not advance the cause of Israel or of any other “reform” it wanted at the UNHRC. Perhaps the increasing isolation of the US, and of Israel, from those countries that wish to advance universal human rights will eventually be a positive. But the world would be better off if regional and global powers of such significance were working, even with missteps, to advance that doctrine. Trump’s and Haley’s disdain for human rights and international law only moves the world farther away from achieving a universal and enforceable system of rights.
It is very dangerous for policy to be based on alternative facts, and even alternative realities. Whether the policymakers believe the alternative realities or merely weave a fabric of falsehoods to
build political support for their decisions, the danger is just as great.
In Washington this has been the prevailing condition for a long time. The Trump administration’s decision to leave the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is one of the most absurd examples.
In July, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee stated that the city of Hebron— and the holy site, the Tomb of the Patriarchs, located therein—were in Palestinian territory. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assailed the decision as denying the Jewish connection to the Tomb and the Old City of Hebron. The decision reflected nothing of the kind, as I explained at the time. But the US followed suit and threatened to withdraw from UNESCO, which, considering that Barack Obama was forced, by an old law, to withdraw in 2013 for other reasons, wasn’t much of a threat.
Still, the United States just followed through. It is not much of a blow to UNESCO at this point, but US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley’s statement on the matter merits some attention:
In July, when UNESCO made its latest outrageous and politically based decision, designating the Old City of Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs as part of Palestinian territory, the United States clearly stated that this decision would negatively affect our evaluation of our level of engagement with the organization.
It remains baffling just what the United States finds so outrageous about a simple factual statement: Hebron is not part of Israel, the Tomb of the Patriarchs is in Hebron, the Tomb of the Patriarchs is not in Israel. This is simple and undeniable. In fact, not even Netanyahu disputes these facts. That’s why he was so quick to divert the issue to one of negating the Jewish connection to the Tomb and to Hebron, something UNESCO never did.
Yet last week, while everyone was concerned with the much more pressing matter of Donald Trump’s decision not to certify Iranian compliance with the Iran nuclear deal, Nikki Haley announced the administration’s decision to withdraw from UNESCO completely.
The decision was odd, particularly because it was done without informing, much less coordinating with, Israel. One might expect that if you’re taking an action on behalf of an ally, you’d at least tell them. In the case of the US-Israel relationship, close communication and coordination has always been the norm. Even the Obama administration, which was hardly popular in Israel, kept Israel closely informed even when the US was charting a course that Israel disagreed with.
This was not the case here. The US did not even mention the decision to Israel until after reports surfaced in the media. Netanyahu had to then inform his cabinet that they should prepare to follow the US in exiting UNESCO.
This was almost certainly a matter of incompetence. There was no other reason for Trump not to tell Israel about this. As former Obama Mideast envoy Martin Indyk said, this was “a good example of what’s happened to the State Dept. under Trump-Tillerson.”
Initial reporting from The New York Times, since updated to reflect reality, suggested that the Obama administration had decided to withdraw funding from UNESCO based on political considerations after the body admitted the State of Palestine, which had not long before gained non-voting observer status in the UN General Assembly.
In fact, Obama was compelled to withdraw the funding by a 1996 law mandating that any world body recognizing and admitting Palestine could not receive any US funding. At the time, the law seemed unimportant, a straightforward way to appease pro-Israel lobbyists. As the thinking went, by the time any international body the US was involved with admitted a state of Palestine, there would be an agreement on the actual creation of that state.
That is one of the dangers of living in a disconnected reality. Watching Trump make up his own facts to justify his assault on the Iran deal is another.
The UNESCO fiasco holds a longer-term danger. Hebron is a major flash point in Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. Outside of Jerusalem, the Tomb of the Patriarchs is the most significant Jewish site in Palestinian territory.
The relative silence in the United States toward Haley’s counter-factual and outrageous statement sows a dangerous seed. If Hebron becomes identified in the US collective mind as a Jewish city, or even an Israeli one, the politics around any eventual settlement of the occupation become even more fraught. There has been far too little response—in the media, in Washington, in the whole US zeitgeist—to Haley’s statements.
Hebron is not in Israel by any definition, including Israel’s. The more this idea gets whittled away, the more dangerous a flashpoint Hebron becomes. Although it may not seem like much that the US and Israel are leaving UNESCO, that question matters a great deal.
Donald Trump gave his first address to the United Nations General Assembly yesterday, and he lived up to his billing. Trump used a forum for diplomacy to threaten to annihilate an entire country, and to denounce an accord preventing another country from obtaining a nuclear weapon. He slammed an ideology that informs, to one degree or another, many countries around the world, including many of America’s closest allies. He effectively declared that the United States doesn’t care about values or human rights in its approach to international affairs. Yet, at the same time, he preached the sanctity of sovereignty while urging regime change in other countries.
That’s a lot to take apart. But let’s focus on what Trump has been threatening since the early days of his campaign: to destroy the Iran nuclear deal (also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA). It’s no surprise that the JCPOA is in jeopardy. Trump famously promised to “tear up” the deal during his campaign for the White House. Although his advisors convinced him that such an action would be unwise, he has been seeking to destroy the deal since long before he took office. Trump has reluctantly certified that Iran is complying with the deal twice already, as he must every 90 days, as mandated by a law Congress passed. Many are concerned he will not do it a third time on October 15.
Yesterday’s speech more than justified those concerns. It is difficult to see how, Trump could possibly reconcile his words at the General Assembly with recertifying Iranian compliance with the deal to Congress.
“We cannot let a murderous regime continue these destabilizing activities while building dangerous missiles, and we cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program,” Trump told the General Assembly. “The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into. Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it, believe me.”
That statement seems to make it clear that Trump intends to withdraw from the agreement. Supporters of the deal are under no illusions about the danger this enormous foreign policy achievement is in. The real question going forward will be how Trump intends to go about abandoning the deal. This will be a key factor in dictating the strategy to defend it.
Obama Staffers Team Up Again To Defend Deal
To defend the deal, a remarkable group of former high-level diplomats from Barack Obama’s administration formed a group called “Diplomacy Works.” The group’s advisory board includes such notable names as former Secretary of State John Kerry, former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and key JCPOA negotiator, Wendy Sherman, former Deputy National Security Advisor Anthony Blinken, former National Security Advisor to the Vice President Colin Kahl, Kerry’s former Chief of Staff and Director of Policy Planning, Jon Finer, and others.
With deadlines for renewing the waiver of sanctions against Iran and for recertifying Iran’s compliance looming, Diplomacy Works organized a media call last Wednesday. Sherman, Kahl, and Finer were the speakers. Their words were a clear call to action.
“Why,” Sherman asked, “would we want to … kill this deal and then eight years from now say, ‘Well, how did we get to this situation where Iran now has multiple nuclear weapons and the delivery system to deliver them?’”
All the speakers agreed that the United States leaving the JCPOA would not create conditions for a better deal.
On the contrary, Kahl said, “I think what you would also find from our European partners is a deep skepticism that Iran would agree to do more for the same benefits or even less. That is, there seems to be this narrative that if you threaten to blow up the JCPOA or threaten to impose more sanctions, you can coerce Iran into abandoning their ballistic missile program or extending the life of the Iran deal in perpetuity. It’s unlikely that we would be able to marshal sufficient pressure to generate a better deal. In fact, there’s no way we would get the international consensus to get us even back to the pressure we had in 2015. You can’t achieve 125% of this deal with 80% or 90% of the leverage we had before.”
The day after this media briefing, the Trump administration did renew the sanctions waiver. But the deadline for recertifying Iranian compliance still looms. Kahl explained:
If Trump decides not to certify in mid-October. it would not immediately lead to us walking away from it. What it would do is it would take the issue to Congress for a 60-day expedited period to consider snapping back all of the nuclear-related sanctions that were suspended as a consequence of the deal.
A lot of outside proponents and perhaps some on the inside believe that this may be a moment of potential leverage where essentially you use the congressional debate to drive everybody back to the table to get a “better deal” but … that’s not how it would work out. What it would do is it would drive a huge wedge within the P5+1, something that would likely allow Iran to play us against our other partners. It would weaken our leverage, not strengthen our leverage, and it wouldn’t lead to a better deal. It would probably lead to the collapse of the deal or at the very least a weaker version of it.
The consequences of abandoning the deal go far beyond the JCPOA itself. The United States would be furthering its own isolation, especially from Europe.
“In terms of the issue of whether the Europeans want to reopen this deal, my understanding from my former colleagues is that they want the deal to proceed forward,” Sherman, who was a key negotiator of the JCPOA, said. “There is no doubt that everybody always is looking for what could have been even more perfect than the deal that was done here, but it is very hard, if not impossible, to reopen this in any way without the entire deal unraveling. Europeans have made it clear that they will not follow and when they have been quoted or heard saying they want to supplement or complement, this is aspirational and wanting, I think, to show that they’re trying to be colleagues with the United States even though they want to proceed forward because the IAEA has now said eight times that Iran is in compliance with the deal.”
A U.S. withdrawal, therefore, does not bring sanctions back at anything close to the levels they were at under Obama. The United States has a variety of sanctions in place against Iran, many dating all the way back to the early days after the current theocracy took control of the country from the US-allied Shah Reza Pahlavi. The JCPOA removed only the nuclear-related sanctions.
Abandoning JCPOA Won’t Bring Iran Back to the Table
The sanctions had teeth because they were combined with European and United Nations sanctions. A US withdrawal would not reimpose those. Thus, as Colin Kahl pointed out, the sanctions the US would reimpose would not apply the same pressure they did.
A US abrogation of the JCPOA would still have real consequences. The Trump administration could certainly create an atmosphere where European and other businesses perceived doing business with or in Iran as too risky, since the US is obviously a much bigger and more important market. This, indeed, is precisely what opponents of the deal hope will happen. As Finer said,
One of the things the Iranians will be looking at is not just governmental decisions, not just what United States decides to do and whether or not the European countries follow suit—which I think would be unlikely if the United States re-imposes sanctions—but how private entities that are either doing business with Iran already or contemplating doing business with Iran will behave. Remember that for Iran the benefit of this bargain in which they allowed massive intrusive presence of monitors and significant constraints on a nuclear program is that they were re-integrated at least to some extent, their economy. Not the United States but to many other countries in the world—in Europe and in Asia.
If those private companies sort of see the writing on the wall because the United States has declared Iran out of compliance either halts the progress on business deals or stops doing business for those that have already started down that road, then I think it becomes very difficult for Iranian leaders to justify to their own people and to hardliners in their government why they’re in this deal in the first place. You know, President Trump is fond of talking about the spirit of the deal, but the Iranians have a sense of what the spirit of the deal might be as well and if the United States either by explicitly re-imposing sanctions or by giving every indication again, by declaring Iran not to be implementing the deal, that those sanctions might be coming back and that kills all business dealings with Iran or a significant percentage of dealings with Iran. There’s going to be heavy pressure for Iran to back out. I don’t think that’s a scenario in which the United States is absolved of blame. I think many people will see that as United States inducing the unraveling of the nuclear [deal].
Whither North Korea?
A key point here is that, while Trump may be able to find a way to spin a collapse of the JCPOA as Iran’s fault to domestic audiences, our allies will not likely be fooled. That means the US making the deal so worthless that Iran pulls out would severely undermine trust in any deal the US makes.
In the long term, that is damage that will surely last far beyond Trump’s time in office. It will take a long time before other countries can believe that, even if they trust the next person in office, that person’s successor won’t back out of a deal the US signed in good faith.
In the short term, it completely destroys any possibility of a negotiated settlement with North Korea. Sherman quoted Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), saying “Backing out of the Iran deal now would effectively end any hope of achieving a diplomatic solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis.”
This is obvious. Even if Trump offered North Korea huge concessions, why would Kim Jong Un believe that the U.S. president would honor an agreement? Worse, it’s clear that to address the North Korean issue, an international coalition, including not only our European allies but China and Russia as well (much like the group that negotiated the JCPOA) would be needed. But how can our allies, much less countries that have a less comfortable relationship with the United States, possibly work with us after we destroyed a deal that the international community put so much effort into?
North Korea is much, much harder because they have nuclear weapons and are well on their way to an ICBM to deliver them even to the continental United States, if not there already. They are a much more hermetically sealed state than Iran was. They don’t have the kind of trading relationships and the US does not have the leverage that we did in the Iran situation, so it’s much tougher. But you have to bring all of government and all of your tools together in a very disciplined, comprehensive way working with the international community to have any chance at all at resolving [the nuclear crisis with] North Korea.
Instead, Trump is threatening to completely destroy the country. Even if Trump were being a bit hyperbolic, something that is by no means a safe assumption, the fallout of any military action would be enormous, even if confined just to the Korean peninsula. And that is unlikely given that China would certainly feel the need to respond to any US aggression there.
There is simply no benefit to the United States to destroying the JCPOA, as the American and Israeli military and defense communities continue to maintain. Yet that is clearly where Trump is going, and with Americans justifiably concerned about domestic matters like health care, growing divisions, and racism, it may be very difficult to mount sufficient force to stop him.
Israel and the United States have once again turned their fire on the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). At issue this time is the decision by UNESCO’s
World Heritage Committee to recognize the Old City of Hebron as a Palestinian site and to add it as a World Heritage in Danger site.
According to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the UNESCO resolution is “delusional” because it allegedly denies the Jewish connection to Hebron. Indeed, denying such a connection to a city that contains the Tomb of the Patriarchs would be highly offensive to Jews all over the world. The only problem is, UNESCO did no such thing.
As Orly Noy points out in +972 Magazine, “As opposed to what Israel is attempting to portray, UNESCO does not comment on the religious aspects of heritage sites, or to whom they are or are not considered holy.”
All three Abrahamic faiths consider the site holy for it is home to both the Tomb of the Patriarchs and the Ibrahimi Mosque. What really bothered Israel, although it can’t say it this way, is that the resolution specifically states that the site is in Palestine, a state that does not exist in a physical sense, but which is a non-voting member of the UN and was admitted in 2011 to UNESCO.
Netanyahu can’t, for the moment, make the case that the Tomb is Israeli, because Israel has never claimed sovereignty over Hebron, even though the city is home to the most controversial, and often violent, sites of Israeli settlement and occupation. To claim Hebron would be to officially declare the option of a Palestinian state dead, and Israel is not prepared to do that.
So, Netanyahu says that this UNESCO statement erases the Jewish connection to Hebron. That’s nothing less than a bald-faced lie. The resolution does nothing of the kind. In fact, the report from the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) clearly acknowledges the Jewish religious and historical connections to the city.
But if recent events demonstrate anything, it is that Israel is far from synonymous with Judaism or Jews as a group. The Netanyahu government has recently made that abundantly clear to liberal Jews in the United States, much to their dismay. The UNESCO resolution does imply that Israel—not Jews—has no claim on the Tomb/Mosque site. No one, for instance, would consider it credible for Israel to claim as its own the Sardis Synagogue. One of the most ancient Jewish sites in the world at t 2,400 years old, this synagogue is in Turkey and is extremely well-maintained. The Jobar Synagogue in Syria, which has been mostly destroyed in the war, is a tragic loss for Jews everywhere, but not specifically for Israel.
Why, then, would Hebron be treated differently?
One reason is that the request for the site’s recognition and placement on the endangered list came from the Palestinian Authority. Another is that the report details numerous actions by Israel that raise serious concerns about open access to non-Jews, the effects of settlement and military activity on the site, and archaeological activity that has already caused damage to parts of the Old City.
Although Israel shouts to the heavens about its respect for all religions and for access to holy sites, no one could possibly go to Hebron and come out believing Israel’s claims. Nowhere is the occupation starker and more visible. There is every reason for the United Nations to focus on Hebron, to protect its holy sites, and to combat the Israeli occupation there. No security rationale can justify Jewish settlement in Hebron.
US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley said that the UNESCO resolution is an “affront to history.” Obviously, the ambassador is not well informed on the history of the city. That might be forgiven but shouldn’t we expect her to understand UN process and procedure? That is after all, her job. In this case, as Americans for Peace Now’s Ori Nir reported, UNESCO has not yet formulated its statement regarding Hebron. The press release about the World Heritage Committee’s vote may or may not reflect UNESCO’s full stance on the matter. Which also means that while Haley is performing her theatrics, she could be trying to influence that final statement instead.
In fairness to Haley, however, her ability to influence anything at UNESCO is severely limited. At one time, the US voice held considerable weight in the body. Until 2011, the United States contributed 22% of the organization’s budget. Any organization tends to listen to the provider of more than 1/5 of their funding.
But when UNESCO voted overwhelmingly in 2011 to admit Palestine, it triggered a US law that forced the Obama Administration to withdraw its funding. The US still sits on UNESCO’s executive board, but its influence is clearly diminished.
Israel, for its part, withheld another $1 million from its UN membership dues in response to the latest UNESCO controversy. This is the fourth time Israel has cut its contribution to the UN, reducing it in total from $11.7 million to $1.7 million. Meanwhile, the US is said to be “reviewing” its ties to UNESCO in response to the Hebron decision.
There was a real possibility of raising some issues about this resolution. The ICOMOS report, for example, said that in 1929, Jews fled Hebron “when violence flared.” In fact, it was a targeted massacre of 67 Jews in the city (a massacre that could have been much worse but for the intervention of some of Hebron’s Arab residents). That sort of language is, indeed, objectionable. If Israel felt that any of the charges raised in the ICOMOS report were erroneous, it could have engaged and then publicized the reality.
Instead, as usual, Israel disengaged and refused access as much as it could. The message it is sending is that it’s more important to accuse its detractors of anti-Semitism than to deal with any substantive issues it might have.
Given the nature of the occupation, the daily brutality, the false image of it projected for people who have either refused to see it for themselves or never had the chance to, it is not surprising that this is the course both Israel and the Trump administration would choose. Israeli and US hysteria over the Hebron designation was not focused on objections to Israeli actions, but on a completely bogus charge of anti-Semitism. That sort of deflection is much more typical of a guilty party than an innocent one.