How did I miss this?

Perhaps this is old news to everyone else, but somehow I missed it.

Last October, the United States pulled $60 million from UNESCO funding after the organization voted in favor of Palestine’s membership in the United Nation’s humanitarian body. The decision to withhold financial support from the organization was based on a U.S. law, passed in 1990, which prohibits the United States from providing funding to an organization that includes Palestine before the Israelis and Palestinians have brokered a peace deal between their nations.

Sixty million dollars represents a significant portion of UNESCO’s budget. The organization sponsors, among other endeavors, literacy programs, clean water initiatives, the preservation of heritage sites, and early warning tsunami alert technology. A number of programs could experience, and by now likely have experienced, the repercussions of the U.S. decision.

To be sure, UNESCO’s operations can have mixed results, as Steven Erlanger argued in his January article on UNESCO’s World Heritage work. And recognition by UNESCO may or may not be helpful to Palestine. It does not move them any closer to a peace settlement with Israel, nor does it come close to promising statehood for Palestine.

Still, it’s hard not to be disconcerted by the existence of such a draconian law in the United States. What, really, could we possibly hope to gain by isolating ourselves from a major international body? Sure, the law let’s this country make a symbolic statement–one that I am not keen on, but that I’m sure others may defend. But is there anything tangible procured by the U.S. stance? In the end, is it worth it?

The story came to my attention via last Thursday’s episode of The Daily Show. John Oliver’s report can be seen here and here. As far as I can tell, the media in general has abandoned the UNESCO story since early November. Perhaps this satirical piece will reopen conversation and prompt reconsideration of the U.S. decision.


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