WASHINGTON – Members of Congress threatened to withhold US funding for the UN
unless it increased transparency, countered a culture of corruption and reformed
its Human Rights Council.
Several members of the House Foreign Affairs
Committee, which held a hearing on “The United Nations: Urgent Problems that
Need Congressional Action” on Tuesday, took the Geneva-based Human Rights
Council to task for singling out Israel and allowing major human rights abusing
nations off the hook.
Most pro-Israel Congress ever? Ask me in 2 years
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: Ready to play hardball
“US policy on the United Nations should be based on
three fundamental questions: Are we advancing American interests? Are we
upholding American values? And are we being responsible stewards of American
taxpayer dollars? Unfortunately, right now, the answer to all three questions is
‘No,’” committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) said in her opening
statement, read in absentia as a family emergency kept her out of
“In the past, Congress has gone along by willingly paying what
successive administrations asked for – without enough oversight,” she
Ros-Lehtinen announced she would be reintroducing legislation that
would make American contributions to the UN budget – which now comprise about 20
percent of the total – voluntary.
The US now contributes more than $6
billion a year to the UN, and Republicans have been keen to cut the budget
deficit in a time of financial crisis. Several have pointed to international
assistance as a key target.
Ros-Lehtinen particularly objected to the US
“paying onefifth of the bills for the UN’s anti- Israel activities, including
the UN Human Rights Council, a rogues’ gallery dominated by human rights
violators who use it to ignore real abuses and instead attack democratic Israel
Committee ranking member Howard Berman (D-California)
agreed that he was “repelled by these examples of corruption, mismanagement and
bias” at the UN, including the rights council’s “obsession with and biased
treatment of Israel.”
But he defended the organization for also
addressing issues important to US interests, including providing peace-keeping
missions, humanitarian aid and sanctions resolutions against Iran.
pushed for engagement with rather than defunding of the UN, and similarly
pressed the US to make strong use of its position of the rights council rather
than walk away, noting its achievements such as keeping Iran out of the
He pressed Hillel Neuer, the head of UN Watch and one of the
witnesses at the hearing, on whether the US should leave and defund the
Neuer said that his organization supported the US paying all its dues
and taking advantage ofits position on the rights council rather than ignoring it. However, he also
criticized the US for not doing more.
Though he said that it can’t stop
the deluge of resolutions against Israel, despite its best efforts, he did think
that it could use the bully pulpit of the council to draw more attention to
“We still don’t understand why nothing’s been introduced on
Iran,” Neuer said. “With significant diplomacy we could have a resolution on
Iran that would pass. It wouldn’t be easy, but why’s it not being introduced?”
Peter Yeo, the vice president for public affairs at the United Nations
Foundation, who also testified at the hearing, acknowledged there were problems
on the rights council.
“Some of the most challenging and serious human
rights violations continue to go unaddressed, and the council itself places
undue focus on Israel,” he said.
“The UN is not a perfect institution,
but it serves a near perfect purpose – to bolster American interests from Africa
to the Western Hemisphere [and] promote international peace and
Yeo said there had been improvements recently in stamping out
corruption and working more effectively but warned that America needed to
continue its financial contributions to play a role in those
“Further progress will not happen unless the US is at the table
pressing for changes,” he said.
The hearing was held as the UN Security
Council considers a resolution that would condemn Israel for settlement activity
in the West Bank and in east Jerusalem.
Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-New York),
the presumptive ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Middle
East subcommittee, issued a blistering attack on J Street on Tuesday for its
conditional support of the resolution.
“After learning of J-Street’s
current public call for the Obama administration to not veto a prospective UN
Security Council resolution that, under the rubric of concern about settlement
activity, would effectively and unjustly place the whole responsibility for the
current impasse in the peace process on Israel, and – critically – would give
fresh and powerful impetus to the effort to internationally isolate and
delegitimize Israel, I’ve come to the conclusion that J Street is not an
organization with which I wish to be associated,” Ackerman said in a
“The decision to endorse the Palestinian and Arab effort to
condemn Israel in the UN Security Council is not the choice of a concerned
friend trying to help.
It is rather the befuddled choice of an
organization so openminded about what constitutes support for Israel that its
brains have fallen out,” he continued.
“America really does need a smart,
credible, politically active organization that is as aggressively pro-peace as
it is pro-Israel. Unfortunately, J Street ain’t it.”
to Ackerman’s statement, J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami said he “deeply
regrets and objects” to the congressman’s characterization, which “reflects a
misunderstanding of J Street’s position and of the UN resolution in question.”