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Congress must defund the worst of the United Nations' institutions

| Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
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Although far from central to the ongoing Hamas-Israel hostilities, the United Nations has nonetheless inflicted substantial damage to its own reputation and credibility. So outrageously have several U.N. institutions behaved, before and during the current Gaza crisis, that the United States can no longer ignore or excuse it. Congress must act to defund U.N. bodies that perform unacceptably — thereby denying them the resources and the legitimacy of American support and putting other U.N. agencies on notice they could face a similar fate.

Three U.N. agencies in particular have demonstrated serious, sustained bias against both Israel and the United States, starting with the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay. In recent weeks, based on press reports and Hamas accusations, Pillay has repeatedly accused Israel of war crimes because of Palestinian civilian deaths in Gaza, saying, “None of this appears to me to be accidental.”

The facts are precisely the opposite: Israel, like America, goes out of its way to avoid civilian casualties but Pillay's intemperate allegations graphically demonstrate her ideological prejudices.

Her worst moment came when she criticized the United States for “not only provid(ing) the heavy weaponry which is now being used by Israel in Gaza,” but also almost $1 billion for the Iron Dome missile-defense system. She complained that Iron Dome was “to protect the Israelis from rocket attacks ... . But no such protection has been provided to Gazans against the shelling.” Pillay thereby demonstrated both the U.N.'s typical, utterly blind moral equivalence and also implicated America in Israel's alleged war crimes. There is simply no reason we should tolerate such behavior from international bureaucrats.

Next, on July 23, the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) voted to conduct yet another inquiry into Israel's struggle against Hamas terrorism. United Nations staff estimate this inquiry to cost over $2.3 million, of which the United States will pay 22 percent. Tragically, only America voted against the loaded resolution, with 29 nations voting in favor and 17 abstaining, including 10 Europeans. Even the Obama administration's ambassador called the resolution “a biased and political instrument,” saying, “Once again, this council has failed to address the situation in Israel and in the Palestinian territories with any semblance of balance.”

The HRC was created in 2006 after its shameful predecessor, the Human Rights Commission, had finally proven too embarrassing even for the U.N. The Bush administration opposed creating the new council because no real reforms had been made and it seemed certain to follow its discredited predecessor's path. That is now proven irrefutably, as is the mistake President Obama made in joining this misbegotten body.

Finally, there is the U.N. Relief and Works Administration (UNRWA), which, contrary to every principle of refugee assistance, has helped preserve Palestinian “refugee” status as a hereditary entitlement over generations. Three times in late July, UNRWA was forced to admit publicly that it “discovered” stockpiles of Hamas rockets stored in UNRWA's Gaza schools (now closed for vacation).

The obvious question is why UNRWA didn't stop Hamas from stockpiling missiles in its schools, or at least immediately report this cynical ploy to the Security Council. Given UNRWA's long, dismal record of political favoritism, UNRWA at a minimum committed sins of omission by allowing, if not facilitating, Hamas' cold-blooded tactic. And Hamas' repeated launching of rockets into Israel from positions near schools, hospitals and mosques only confirms its utter indifference even to the lives of fellow Palestinians.

These failures are not simply one-time mistakes but reflect far-deeper, inherent flaws in the U.N. system. Given Obama's multilateralist sympathies, there is no chance he will do anything meaningful to rectify this conduct. Instead, Congress must investigate and then take the necessary steps to dissociate the United States from the United Nations' unacceptable behavior regarding Gaza.

We should immediately withdraw from the Human Rights Council and stop all U.S. funding to the U.N. agencies described above. So doing will strip them of American political legitimacy and at least weaken if not cripple them financially by depriving them of the considerable U.S. contribution. Despite the conventional wisdom, the United States is not legally obligated to pay for U.N. activities it deems objectionable any more than we would be legally obligated to pay 100 percent of U.N. costs if the other members voted to make us do so.

Indeed, the only permanent answer is to move all funding of the United Nations system to purely voluntary contributions, rather than the current system of “assessed” contributions, where we typically pay 22 percent of the cost of U.N. activities. By moving to voluntary funding, U.S. support would depend solely on the performance of each U.N. agency. For the moment, however, selective defunding of UNRWA and the two “human-rights” organizations will be a clear signal to the U.N. system. It will serve, as the French say about executions, “ pour encourager les autres” (to encourage the others).

John Bolton, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, was the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations and, previously, the undersecretary of State for arms control and international security.

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