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January 26, 2011 12:16 pm

US May Tie UN Funds to Treatment of Israel

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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.

“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 town.

“In the past, Congress has gone along by willingly paying what successive administrations asked for – without enough oversight,” she said.

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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 relentlessly.”

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.

Berman 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 body.

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 UN.

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