Israel responded with measured anger on Wednesday to the UNESCO vote a day earlier calling into question its sovereignty over Jerusalem, deducting another $1 million from the funds it annually pays the UN, and summoning the Swedish ambassador to protest his country’s vote in support of the measure.
“There is a price for harassment,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, announcing that he directed the Foreign Ministry to deduct the money from Israel’s annual allocation to the UN, and calling the vote “delusional.”
This money is in addition to $2m. Israel said it would withhold from the UN after the passage in March of anti-Israel resolutions at the UN Human Rights Council, and $6m. that Jerusalem slashed in January in the aftermath of the passage of anti-settlement Resolution 2334 in the UN Security Council.
Following these cuts, Israel will contribute only $2.7m. this year to the UN, instead of the $11.7m. that was originally earmarked.
Noting that more countries abstained, absented themselves from the vote, or voted against the UNESCO resolution (36), than voted for it (22), Netanyahu said that Israel was working continuously to increase its support in international forums, and expressed hope that “one day we will cancel this theater of the absurd.”
The premier made special mention of Italy, which was the first of six EU countries to announce that it would vote against the resolution. He also thanked the US, which also voted against it, as well as the leaders of Ukraine, Paraguay and Togo, whose countries all supported Israel in the vote.
Diplomatic officials said there was no concern that Israel would lose voting rights in the international body as a result of its decision to withhold funds, citing the UN Charter that says this sanction can only be used against countries which don’t pay their dues for two straight years.
“We are not there,” one senior official said. “This is a strong declarative step that says, ‘Friends, we are not going to give you money so that you can stab us in the back.’”
Asked why this step had not been used in the past, even though for years the UN has consistently displayed a bias against Israel, the official said, “Sometimes the obvious is not always clear, but now we have gotten to this stage, and it is the right approach to illustrate that we will not let our money be used to attack us.”
PM Netanyahu reacting to UNESCO resolution (credit: REUTERS)
Earlier in the day, Israel summoned Ambassador Carl Magnus Nesser to the Foreign Ministry to protest Sweden’s vote in support of the resolution, making it the only EU country to do so. The resolution passed by a vote of 22-10, with another 26 states either abstaining (23) or not showing up to vote (3).
Six EU countries voted against the measure – Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, Lithuania, Germany and the UK – and another four abstained: France, Spain, Slovenia and Estonia.
Although a few other countries with which Israel has strong bilateral ties also voted for the resolution – Russia, China and Vietnam – the Swedish ambassador was the only one called in for a reprimand because, according to diplomatic sources, “There is a difference between Western democracies and other countries.”
Jerusalem was infuriated by Sweden’s vote, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon posting on Twitter: “Hard to believe Sweden is the only European country which voted against Israel at UNESCO today! Nothing short of shameful.” Nahshon said that Israel was focusing on Sweden because it “sticks out negatively in Europe” when it comes to Israel.
The Swedish Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Tuesday explaining its vote, saying it “welcomes the constructive efforts undertaken by Palestine and Jordan in presenting a more focused draft resolution to the [UNESCO] executive board. The text has improved substantially compared to previous years.”
The statement referenced negotiations held by the EU with the Palestinians and Jordanians to water down the text, and said that Stockholm was willing to make concessions to other EU partners in order to reach a united EU position on the matter.
“However,” the statement continued, “since the EU unfortunately has not been able to stay united, and since Sweden believes the current text is acceptable, Sweden has voted in favor.”
According to Israeli diplomatic officials, when Sweden made clear that it would vote for the measure, other EU countries which were not comfortable with it – led by Italy, the Netherlands, Greece and Lithuania – decided to vote against.
The UK, which is in the process of leaving the EU, said from the beginning that it would not support the resolution, and Germany – which led the negotiations over the text – in the end also voted against it. According to Israeli diplomatic sources, this was because it did not want to be identified with the camp inside the EU – led by Sweden – which is very critical of Israel.
Nahshon said that Stockholm’s explanatory statement “is a masterpiece of hypocrisy, playing skillfully with nasty anti-Israel propaganda.”