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Rhonda Spivak November 2, 2011

According to yesterday’s National Post, Canada has said that notwithstanding it was very unhappy with UNESCO’s vote in favour of admitting Palestine as a member state, it will continue its current levels of funding to UNESCO ($12 million annually).But Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird has announced that Canada will not add any new voluntary payments and will not cover any shortfalls of the agency.  
Canada's federal government had a day earlier said it was weighing its response to Monday's vote by UNESCO members to allow in Palestine.
Baird told reporters that "We are not happy with UNESCO's decision," but noted what UNESCO does is "very important."
Palestine was accepted into UNESCO as the 195th member with member states voting 107 in favour of admission and 14 against, with 52 countries abstaining. Canada was one of the 14 states who voted against membership.
Following the vote, the U.S. announced it would stop funding UNESCO, and not make a planned $60-million contribution due in November.
The Obama administration has taken this position as a result of laws from the 1990's that prohibit it from funding any UN organization that does not have "internationally recognized attributes" of statehood. The Obama administration has no choice because the law gives the president no discretion about withdrawing aid if a U.N. agency recognizes Palestine. Only Congress could, if it chooses, vote to waive the provisions of the law although there is no indication that it desires to do so. Canada does not have similar legislation to the U.S.   
After the  UNESCO vote, the Liberals and NDP called on the Harper government not to follow the U.S. lead and cut funds to the agency.
"The reality is that we're not going to get ourselves into a situation where we're cutting funding every time we get a resolution out of the UN that we don't like," said interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae.
NDP foreign affairs critic Helene Laverdiere said that the Canadian government must get out of "the habit of burning bridges" and urged it not to quit UNESCO.
"When you have a problem with something, you still have to stay at the table, "she said.
The Globe and Mail wrote in an editorial on Nov 1, 2011 that Canada’s displeasure with UNESCO is well warranted, but concluded Canada ought not to reduce Canada’s funding of the agency, noting that there are 15 World Heritage Cites in Canada.
Some commentators have suggested that the Obama administration will try to find a way not to freeze the funding.  As Jonathon Tobin in Commentary has written:
"[State Department Spokeswoman] Victoria Nuland also said the U.S. would maintain its membership in the organization and continue to participate …. How exactly that will work is not clear especially since Washington will lose its vote after two years of nonpayment of dues. There is also the possibility that the international community will interpret the decision to stay at the organization as a mixed message that will dilute the impact of the financial cutoff. Considering that the administration’s arguments against the vote to admit the Palestinians were often couched more in terms of the embarrassment they felt about the aid cutoff than the damage the group was doing to the peace process, it would be difficult to blame other countries from assuming that Obama will find a way to make good on the funding by eventually finding a way to circumvent the law."
Other commentators suggest that the US will want to find a way to continue funding since, UNESCO is engaged in critical work, such as leading global efforts to bring clean water to poverty stricken areas, promotings educational and curriculum building in the developing world, and managing a tsunami early warning system in the Pacific.
According to Politico's Jonathan Allen, the funding cut by the US will have a damaging effect on "American tech companies — such as Apple, Google and Microsoft —and movie studios that use UNESCO to open markets in the developing world and rely upon an associated entity, the World Intellectual Property Organization, to police international disputes over music, movies and software."
The Palestinians are planning to take their campaign to other UN groups such as World Intellectual Property Organization, the World Health Organization, the International Civil Aviation Organization, and the International Atomic Energy Agency. They will be able to duplicate their UNESCO triumph.
M.J. Rosenberg in the Huffington Post points out that there are potentially other far reaching consequences if the United States stops its funding to the aforementioned UN agencies if Palestine gains recognition in them.
"The IAEA is the agency that the U.S. government has relied on to restrain nuclear weapon development (and proliferation) by Iran, North Korea, and others. The WHO works with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to protect us from potential pandemics like the Avian flu."
Rosenberg wants the US to be at the table when these issues of life and death are being debated. No doubt Obama will want to be there also.
It seems likely that Canada considered the broader issues that are at play here in deciding what to do regarding UNESCO. Presumably, if it cut funding to UNESCO, it would have to follow suit with other UN agencies when they admit Palestine as a member.

In Washington today, J Street has just issued a statement calling on its supporters to lobby Congress to change the law that automatically cuts funding to international institutions that admit the Palestinians as a member.

"We don’t see it this way: Congress should change the law that automatically cuts funding to international institutions that admit the Palestinians as a member...

 "It’s one thing for the U.S. to oppose the Palestinian application for membership in the UN and its affiliates. There is vigorous and legitimate debate over whether UNESCO membership helps or hurts the prospects of a two-state solution. However, it seems irrational for the U.S. to respond by cutting aid to worthy projects and causes the world over."

"... Friends of Israel have worked with the UN to advance the status of women. We’ve urged more not less UN action in Darfur. And we want the IAEA actively working to ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons.

 "But now, because Palestine may become a member, we’re willing to put these and other important goals at risk?

 "The interests at stake are fundamental. Should the U.S. really pull out of treaties that protect the intellectual property of American companies? Should we abandon participation in international air traffic control regimes?

..At the end of the day, this policy isn’t even in Israel’s interests. Does a weakened United States really better protect Israel from the threats and dangers it does face? "

It's CEO Jeremy Ben-Ami has written that the idea of the US defunding UNESCO is " like telling someone you’re so mad at them that you’re going to punch yourself in the nose...The only impact is on the United States – damaging its credibility and international standing – and on the people whose services will be cut because Congress thinks this is how best to be pro-Israel."

Tobin in Commentary says "Unquestionably, the UNESCO vote illustrates the decline of U.S. influence during Obama’s presidency."

 He claims that "After Obama’s apologies, appeasement and weakness [vis a vis the Arab world], the U.S. finds itself on the receiving end of the sort of humiliation that no one in the administration expected in January 2009."


Among the more than 52 countries that abstained from voting in UNESCO, there were three critical Security Council members --Portugal, Colombia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. That is bad news for Abbas, who had been courting them personally for months to try to have them vote in his favour in the 15-member council.

 Also, the three leaders representing the Muslims, Croats and Serbs of Bosnia and Herzegovina met this week and failed to reach a unified position to support the Palestinians’ UN application. This means that as of now the Palestinians are one vote short of the nine needed in the UN Security Council to approve the application for full UN membership, such that the US will not need to use its veto.


No: Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Palau, Panama, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Sweden, United States of America, Vanuatu.

Abstentions: Albania, Andorra, Bahamas, Barbados, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Colombia, Cook Islands, Côte d’Ivoire, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Fiji, Georgia, Haiti, Hungary, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kiribati, Latvia, Liberia, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro, Nauru, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Switzerland, Thailand, Macedonia, Togo, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Zambia.

Yes: Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Chad, Chile, China, Congo, Costa Rica, Cuba, Cyprus, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Honduras, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lebanon, Lesotho, Libya, Luxembourg, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Slovenia, Somalia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Syrian Arab Republic, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Republic of Tanzania, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zimbabwe.

Absent: Antigua and Barbuda, Central African Republic, Comoros, Dominica, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Madagascar, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Confederated States of Micronesia, Mongolia, Niue, Sao Tome and Principe, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Swaziland, Tajikistan, Timor-Leste, Turkmenistan.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.