US pulls out of UNESCO over “anti-Israel bias”

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UNESCO headquarters in Paris, Oct 17, 2016. (photo: Francois Mori / AP)

The US is pulling out of UNESCO for the second time, leaving $550 million in unpaid dues.

By Thomas Adamson & Matthew Lee / The Associated Press via The Seattle Times / Oct 12, 2017


“Universality is critical to Unesco’s mission to strengthen international peace and security in the face of hatred and violence, to defend human rights and dignity.”
— Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General


The United States announced Thursday it is pulling out of the UN’s educational, scientific and cultural agency because of what Washington sees as its anti-Israel bias and a need for “fundamental reform” in the agency.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel plans to follow suit.

While the Trump administration had been preparing for a likely withdrawal from UNESCO for months, the timing of the State Department’s statement was unexpected. The Paris-based agency’s executive board is in the midst of choosing a new chief — with Qatar’s Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari leading the heated election heading into Friday’s final vote.

Outgoing Director-General Irina Bokova expressed “profound regret” at the U.S. decision and tried to defend UNESCO’s reputation. The organization is best known for its World Heritage program to protect cultural sites and traditions, but also works to improve education for girls, promote understanding of the Holocaust’s horrors, and to defend media freedom.

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U.N. Reiterates Support for Two-State Solution

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Secretary-General António Guterres (left) and Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah of the State of Palestine brief the press in Ramallah, August 29, 2017. (photo: Katrin Hett / U.N.)

In Palestine, the U.N. Secretary-General says a two-state solution “only way to guarantee peace.”

By U.N. News Centre
August 29, 2017


“I have a dream, a dream to see in the Holy Land two states: A Palestinian state and an Israeli state, living together in peace and security, in mutual recognition and allowing for this kind of suffering not to be possible anymore.”
— U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres


United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres today reiterated his call for a political solution to the Middle East conflict that would end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and would create an independent Palestinian state, living side by side with Israel in peace and security.

“It is my deep belief that it is essential to restart a serious and credible political process of negotiation aiming at that objective — the two-state solution — as it is also important to create conditions on the ground to improve the situation of Palestinian populations,” Mr. Guterres said at a press conference in Ramallah after meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.

“A two-state solution that will end the occupation and, with the creation of conditions, also the suffering even to the Palestinian people, is in my opinion the only way to guarantee that peace is established and, at the same time, that two states can live together in security and in mutual recognition,” Mr. Guterres said.

He said that Israel’s settlement activity represented a major obstacle to the implementation of the two-state solution although there are other obstacles.

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U.N. Bias: Pro- or Anti-Israel?

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U.S. envoy Nikki Haley has accused the U.N. of “bullying” Israel. (photo: EPA)

The U.N.’s repeated buckling to U.S. and Israeli pressure stands contrary to claims of an anti-Israel bias.

By Ben White / Al Jazeera
August 12, 2017


When Haley, Netanyahu and others make the accusation that everyone is singling out Israel, “in fact, the exception is made in the reverse direction — Palestine is singled out from similar treatment to other colonies or other peoples living under foreign domination and subjugation. Palestine, like other sites of settler-colonialism, remains an exception to the world order.”
— Noura Erakat, human rights lawyer


Nikki Haley, the U.S. envoy to the United Nations, made headlines in June when she denounced what she claimed was a pattern of “anti-Israel” behavior at the U.N.

“I have never taken kindly to bullies, and the U.N. has bullied Israel for a very long time,” she said. “We are not going to let that happen any more. It is a new day for Israel in the United Nations.”

While Haley’s words were music to Israeli leaders’ ears and echoed long-standing talking points of pro-Israel advocacy groups, analysts say there is little substance to her allegations that, in the words of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Israel has been “the U.N.’s punching bag.”

According to human rights lawyer Noura Erakat, the attention given to Israel/Palestine at the U.N. harkens back to a particular historical moment in the 1960’s and 1970’s, when “national liberation movements and newly decolonized countries used the U.N. as a site of protest” against “imperialistic” Western politics.

While issues concerning Namibia, South Africa, Cape Verde, Vietnam, Laos and others have in one way or another been resolved, Erakat told Al Jazeera, “the only one that hasn’t is Palestine.”

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Swift Reaction to U.N. “Apartheid State” Report

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U.N. Under-Secretary General and ESCWA Executive Secretary Rima Khalaf was fired after refusing to withdraw a report declaring Israel an “apartheid state.” (photo: Mohamed Azakir / Reuters)

Heads roll after publication of damning report.

March 26, 2017

Reaction has been fast and furious to the publication of the report, “Israeli Practices Toward the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid,” by the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UN-ESCWA).

This report concludes that Israel has established an apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole. Aware of the seriousness of this allegation, the authors of the report conclude that available evidence establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that Israel is guilty of policies and practices that constitute the crime of apartheid as legally defined in instruments of international law.

Israel and its allies condemned the report and its authors. (Independent)

“The attempt to smear and falsely label the only true democracy in the Middle East by creating a false analogy is despicable and constitutes a blatant lie.”
—Danny Danon, Israeli Ambassador to the U.N.

“The United Nations secretariat was right to distance itself from this report, but it must go further and withdraw the report altogether.”
— Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.

Newly-installed U.N. Secretary General Antonió Guterres demanded the retraction of the report, which U.N. Undersecretary General Rima Khalaf, Executive Secretary of the UN-ESCWA, refused. She was subsequently dismissed, and the report was withdrawn. Read her resignation letter here. (New York Times, Haaretz)

After giving the matter due consideration, I realized that I too have little choice. I cannot withdraw yet another well-researched, well-documented U.N. work on grave violations of human rights, yet I know that clear instructions by the Secretary-General will have to be implemented promptly. A dilemma that can only be resolved by my stepping down to allow someone else to deliver what I am unable to deliver in good conscience.

Richard Falk, one of the authors of the report, Princeton University professor and former U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights in Palestine, describes the thorough process behind the report in an editorial. (The Nation)

Our report concludes that Israel has deliberately fragmented the Palestinian people . . . relying on systematic discrimination . . . to maintain its control, while continuing to expand territorially at the expense of the Palestinian people. On the basis of these findings — backed up by detailed presentations of empirical data, including reliance on Israeli official sources — we conclude that the allegation of apartheid as applied to the Palestinian people is well founded.

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A Palestinian woman argues with Israeli soldiers at a West Bank checkpoint south of Hebron on Aug 16, 2016. (photo: Mussa Qawasma / Reuters)

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U.N. Report Says Israel an “Apartheid State”

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Palestinian boys are seen outside artist Banksy’s newly opened Walled Off hotel in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on March 3. The British street artist recently opened the hotel next to Israel’s separation wall. (photo: Thomas Coex / AFP / Getty Images)

If being an apartheid state means committing inhumane acts, systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over another, then Israel is guilty, a United Nations panel has determined in a new report.

By Ruth Eglash / The Washington Post
March 16, 2017


“[Concluding that Israel has established an apartheid regime] is not an easy matter for a United Nations entity. In recent years, some have labeled Israeli practices as racist, while others have warned that Israel risks becoming an apartheid state. A few have raised the question as to whether in fact it already has.”
— Rima Khalaf, U.N. Undersecretary General


Titled, “Israeli Practices Toward the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid,” the report was written by Richard Falk, a former U.N. special rapporteur to the Palestinian territories known for harsh criticisms of both Israel and the United States, and Virginia Tilley, professor of political science at Southern Illinois University.

The two concluded that Israel has established an apartheid regime aimed at dominating the Palestinians. Their recommendations include reviving the U.N. Center Against Apartheid, which closed in 1994 after South Africa ended its apartheid practices. . . .

Dividing the Palestinian people into four distinct groups, the authors write that although they are treated differently by Israel, they all face “the racial oppression that results from the apartheid regime.”

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One-State, Two-State

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By Sarah Robinson
December 31, 2016

[Sarah Robinson is a volunteer with the World Council of Churches who has written about Israel-Palestine since 2012. On Oct 17, 2016, she was refused entry to Israel at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv and deported . — Ed.]


In my opinion, [no] solutions are viable without visionary leadership and the willingness to compromise. Recalling the experience of South Africa, bold leadership and compromise brought apartheid to an end, and I believe the same is needed in Israel and Palestine. . . . I believe the appetite of both populations indicates that they are willing to start these talks but the lack of real leadership is restraining any progress.


This week, the Israel-Palestine conflict was nudged into the international spotlight. Last Friday, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) voted in favor of Resolution 2334 condemning the proliferation of settlement development and expansion in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Usually, the United States (US) vetoes such resolutions but on Friday they abstained from voting thereby allowing the resolution to pass. Israel was quick to respond with damning language, threatening rhetoric, and victimized aggression. Originally, Egypt put the resolution forward to the UNSC, but after receiving pressure from president-elect Donald Trump, withdrew the application. Thus, a random mix of countries, including New Zealand and Venezuela, resubmitted the resolution which went to a vote. Israel has since accused New Zealand of declaring war in their action to present Resolution 2334 to the UNSC.

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry, gave a 1 hour 13-minute speech in Washington DC justifying the US choice to abstain, summarizing the history of US-Israel relations, UN resolutions, and peace negotiations, and outlining five principles to a solution and lasting peace. It was a good speech and it elicited swift condemnation from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, the speech was about twenty years too late. It rehashed positions and policies that have been ignored or bypassed for decades and although it sounded good, with less than three weeks remaining in the White House, the Obama administration is grasping at proverbial straws. Secretary Kerry pleaded with Israel to not execute the two-state solution but, in my opinion, the death of the two-state solution took place years ago, and this latest activity will not resuscitate it.

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APN Statement at UN Security Council

Americans for Peace Now Statement Delivered at the United Nations Security Council

By Lara Friedman / Americans for Peace Now
October 14, 2016


The full statement can be viewed as a pdf here.
Watch the full testimony here.
View the post-meeting press conference here.


Distinguished members of the Security Council,

As a representative of Americans for Peace Now — an organization that is committed to Israel’s existence and its future — it is not easy for me to speak before this body today.

It is not easy because while this forum will focus in large part on human rights violations by Israel, there are states represented here whose own human rights records are abysmal. There are even states in this forum that still do not recognize the existence of Israel, 70 years after that nation’s birth and despite its membership in the UN’s General Assembly.

It is also not easy for me to speak here today because of the deteriorating political climate in Israel as far as democracy is concerned. For some time now we have been witnessing an ugly campaign against courageous Israeli human rights and civil society NGOs — carried out by reactionary groups in Israel and by the Israeli government itself. Campaigns that target the legitimacy of NGOs like our Israeli sister organization, Shalom Achshav — Peace Now.

These groups are being targeted because their work reveals facts that some prefer to hide — facts that challenge the official Israeli government narrative.

Yet, I am here today because this institution is too important to boycott or ignore. The Security Council is the most important international body in existence today.

It would be irresponsible to miss an opportunity to argue our cause in front of it. It would be unpardonable to allow ourselves to be silenced by the cynicism of some of this body’s member states, whose hatred of Israel may blind them to Israel’s legitimate needs and fears. And it would be inexcusable to allow ourselves to be silenced by the disapproval of some who today equate speaking unpleasant truths about Israeli policies with national betrayal.

I am here today because the cause that we work for every day is too important to allow anyone to silence us.

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