Lieberman: Netanyahu Caved on UNESCO, Renewed U.S. Funding to Cause Damage to Israel

Former foreign minister asks Netanyahu if Israel had indeed agreed to drop opposition to U.S. funding of UNESCO at Kerry's behest.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman at a cabinet meeting, April 2013.
Emil Salman

Yisrael Beitenu Chairman MK Avigdor Lieberman submitted an emergency query to Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday asking whether Israel had indeed pulled its opposition to U.S. funding of UNESCO, as was reported in Haaretz.

America stopped funding the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization four years ago, after it voted to admit Palestine as a member.

"Since UNESCO's outrageous decision in 2011, Israel stood firmly against any settlement on the issue, since a settlement would convey the message that one-sided Palestinian actions had no price, and that Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] was free to continue with diplomatic terrorism against Israel," Lieberman said.

"If it is true that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed, and maybe even took steps to reinstate American funding to UNESCO, it would mean that once again, a disgraceful capitualtion has taken place, which would substantial diplomatic damage to the State of Israel on the international stage."

Senior Israeli and American officials said that Netanyahu’s change in policy, made at the behest of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, will likely persuade Israel’s friends in Congress to include renewed funding for UNESCO in the next foreign aid budget.

An old law enacted by Congress requires America to stop funding any UN agency that accepts the Palestinians as a full member state. Thus UNESCO’s vote to admit Palestine in October 2011 automatically triggered a funding cut-off.

This caused serious financial hardship to UNESCO, since the U.S. previously gave it over $80 million a year – about a quarter of the agency’s annual budget. But it also negatively affected America’s position at UNESCO, because the payment halt resulted in Washington losing its voting rights in the agency.

Without voting rights, the administration found it hard to push certain issues at UNESCO that it considered very important. Among other things, it sought to promote international education against anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia, education against religious extremism and education against terrorism. Kerry has made it his goal over the past year to renew funding for UNESCO, so as to regain America’s voting rights at the agency.

For several months now, senior administration officials have been trying to persuade their Israeli counterparts to stop opposing a resumption of funding, but the Foreign Ministry refused to compromise on the matter until recently.

The Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on the issue, but did not deny the facts in this report.