The Process Was Flawed

How can Israel - a multicultural country that is pounded on a daily basis, like the rest of the world, by the hurricane of American culture - explain its vote on the Treaty of NPT?

Admittedly, there are more burning issues than UNESCO adopting a convention on cultural diversity. The stated aim of the new convention is to combat the homogenizing effect of cultural globalization. The convention draft was adopted by 148 votes in favor, with four countries - Australia, Nicaragua, Honduras and Liberia - abstaining, and two - the U.S. and Israel - voting against.

While one may understand - although not necessarily agree - why Israel did not sign the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), it makes one wonder why Israel, a multi-cultural nation by virtue of both Jewish immigration from many countries and its Arab population, should be opposed to such a politically correct convention adopted by an organization that tries to unify its member states when it comes to potentially divisive multicultural issues.

Making all the assumptions to be expected in its preamble, the Cultural Diversity Convention is "convinced that cultural activities, goods and services have both an economic and a cultural nature, because they convey identities, values and meanings, and must therefore not be treated as solely having commercial value," and notes that "while the processes of globalization, which have been facilitated by the rapid development of information and communication technologies, afford unprecedented conditions for enhanced interaction between cultures, [they] also represent a challenge for cultural diversity, namely in view of risks of imbalances between rich and poor countries."

The United States is a rich country - a very rich country. And the American culture, with all its different and varied glories, is the main beneficiary from the globalization that poses a major challenge to national and local cultures. This is why the convention states that "each party may adopt measures aimed at protecting and promoting the diversity of cultural expressions within its territory," including "regulatory measures aimed at protecting and promoting diversity of cultural expressions" and "measures that, in an appropriate manner, provide opportunities for domestic cultural activities, goods and services among all those available within the national territory."

This paragraph can indeed be abused for the purpose of blocking the free exchange of culture.

Another paragraph states that "parties recognize that they will uphold in good faith their obligations under this convention and all other treaties to which they are party - without subordinating this convention to any other treaty... Nothing in this convention shall be interpreted as modifying rights and obligations of the parties under any other treaties to which they are party."

The U.S. ambassador to UNESCO, Louise V. Oliver, explained why the United States would vote against, and asked that her statement be entered into the permanent record. "The United States is the most open country in the world to the diversity of the world's cultures, people, and products. It is not only a part of our heritage, but the essence of our national identity."

I'm sure the non-white and poor residents of New Orleans would agree.

But, she continued, "the hastily drafted text... is subject to misinterpretation and abuse in ways that could undermine, rather than promote, cultural diversity... This convention, as drafted now, could be used by states to justify policies that could be used or abused to control the cultural lives of their citizens - policies that a state might use to control what its citizens can see, what they can read, what they can listen to, and what they can do."

Furthermore, "the United States has requested clarity of language as to this convention's relationship with other international instruments... This conference has not taken the time to fully clarify this intent in the text itself."

Lastly, "it has been a flawed and imposed process, which did not allow the parties to present amendments or reservations."

That was center stage. In the wings, it was a bigger (or smaller) tug of war. The U.S. renounced its membership in UNESCO in 1985, and rejoined the organization only two years ago, leaving the field for 20 years to the Europeans, especially the French (a nation with a well-known multicultural reputation) who meantime gained in stature with the establishment of the EU. The U.S. quite correctly reads strong anti-American sentiments into the draft, and is resolved not to let itself be snubbed, on or off stage.

The Cultural Diversity Convention is a politically correct way to cope with the fact that in the global cultural environment, there is a constant tide of American culture, which overflows all other cultures, with its many virtues and even more vices. Even Americans should be able to see that. But as the United States - nor indeed UNESCO - is unable to address this complicated issue of multiculturalism, it votes "no" on mostly procedural grounds. But it knows it is not a path it should walk alone.

How can Israel - a multicultural country that is pounded on a daily basis, like the rest of the world, by the hurricane of American culture - explain its vote?

1. "The process... was deeply and flagrantly flawed."

2. "We were asked by the United States to vote with them."

Two excerpts from a detailed response to my question.

Israel had an opportunity to join a world that supports multiculturalism. It has many reasons to want to be a part of such a community. The U.S. has its valid reasons to oppose such a community. It can afford not to join it (or so it thinks.) And it can afford to make Israel vote with it, against the rest of the world. We are not a part of it, again, but we will go on claiming that we were not the ones in the wrong. It was them. The process was flawed.