With Nikki Haley soon to depart from her post as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, it behooves us to review the Trump administration’s remarkable policy changes vis-à-vis the UN as well as suggest further steps it should take.
Under Ambassador Haley’s watch, the U.S. has not only warned the UN that it would hold it accountable for its anti-American and pernicious anti-Israel biases, but acted on these warnings when it refused to change.
Accordingly, in 2017, the U.S. withdrew from the United Nations Economic, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and, in 2018, withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and cut off funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
These were all sound decisions. UNESCO had profoundly undermined its integrity by becoming a vehicle for Palestinian Authority-led efforts to delegitimize Israel by effacing Jewish history. UNESCO, for example, declared Israel to be occupying “Palestinian territory” by maintaining sovereignty over Jerusalem’s Temple Mount and Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs. UNESCO referred to both sites by their Arabic names, completely ignoring their Jewish character and history.
In 2009, the Obama administration entered UNHRC for the stated purpose of promoting “universality, transparency and objectivity,” yet the Council had spent the past decade terminating probes into genuine human rights abusers like Belarus, Congo, Cuba, Liberia, and Sudan while singling out Israel – the Middle East’s lone democracy – for condemnation. American expressions of displeasure or opposition have had no effect on the Council’s conduct.
As Ambassador Haley rightly said in withdrawing from the Council, “Regrettably, it is now clear that our call for reform was not heeded. Human rights abusers continue to serve on, and be elected to, the Council.”
It was also past time that the U.S. cease funding UNRWA, the UN body that, uniquely, privileges Palestinian Arab refugees and their millions of descendants with their own organization, aimed at entrenching and expanding the refugee population rather than speedily resettling them as is done for every other refugee population via the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Currently, President Trump is pushing back against the International Criminal Court, which U.S. rivals seek to use against it. National Security Adviser John Bolton has indicated that the U.S. will not permit the ICC to mount investigations into American military conduct in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and will conclude bilateral agreements to prohibit countries from surrendering Americans to ICC jurisdiction.
In sum, the Trump administration has acted correctly and wisely by ceasing to dignify organizations hostile to the U.S. and its allies with U.S. membership and participation. But the work is not done. The U.S. must now close down the complex apparatus of UN bodies that have worked ceaselessly since the late 1960s to demonize Israel, ostracize it, and ultimately diplomatically eliminate it.
In November 1975, the UN General Assembly voted infamously to condemn Zionism as a form of racism. In 1992, in the wake of the Cold War’s conclusion, this pernicious resolution was overturned, but it continues nevertheless to inject poison into the arteries of the international system.
The myriad of bodies and initiatives this resolution inspired remain operating in full force. Thus, the UN continues to fund and facilitate the activities of bodies like the Committee for the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP); the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People; and the United Nations Information System on the Question of Palestine (UNISPAL).
These bodies produce streams of reports, convene innumerable conferences, and distribute copious quantities of material all aimed at popularizing the Palestinian Arab effort to delegitimize Israel. In addition to creating ceaseless activity in pursuit of this objective, they also provide endless employment for professional anti-Israel activists. In essence, the world – and America more than most via it huge UN contribution – finances an entire anti-Israel bureaucratic machine.
Only the indulgence of the U.S., and far too many Western governments, has enabled the UN to continue down this destructive path for so long. Even today, they still often defer to it as though it actually represents the ideals of its founders which, of course, were abandoned or corrupted decades ago.
This state of affairs should have ended long ago. The halo of the UN and its symbolic significance have impeded a sustained effort at reform and made governments reluctant to disassociate themselves from the world body. The U.S. has the power of the purse and could bring enormous pressure to bear on the UN to cease these activities.
In serving notice to UN bodies that reform is necessary and that it will take action if nothing changes, the Trump administration has already led the way. Now it’s time for it to double down on holding the UN accountable and take on the UN’s bloated, unwieldy, anti-Israel, anti-peace apparatus.