Daily Show takes on US punishment of UNESCO over Palestine membership

A two-part report aired yesterday on the US comedy program The Daily Show skewers the US for cutting off funding to the United Nations education and cultural organization UNESCO after the UN body admitted Palestine as a member state last year.

The Daily Show host Jon Stewart introduces the report by correspondent John Oliver, describing it as “A field piece so epic, it cannot be contained in only one segment, so there will be no guest tonight”

In the first segment, US Congressman Robert Wexler (D-Florida) defends cutting off funding to UNESCO, giving the standard line that Israelis and Palestinians must directly negotiate. “If the Palestinians go directly to the UN or any of its agencies, we’re not going to fund those agencies,” Wexler says.

Oliver then gives Wexler a high-five, saying, “Send a message!”

“Well we did send a message,” a jovial Wexler replies.

“Boom! Suck it, UNESCO! Suck it!” Oliver says exuberantly, as Wexler begins to look uncomfortable.

The segment then focuses on the twenty-year-old law that prohibits the US government from funding any UN agency that admits the Palestine Liberation Organization as a member state.

Wexler then blames UNESCO for creating this “unfortunate situation,” and tells Oliver to go talk to them. Oliver does just that, interviewing UNESCO’s Washington liaison, George Papagiannis who discusses the impact of the US cutting off funding on the agency’s work.

The segment then returns to Rep. Wexler, who acknowledges that the US is cutting off funding to UNESCO projects that are complementary to US interests. “But we’re sending a point, and the point is we have interests, we set up a law, we warned you,” the congressman says, adding that it’s meant to send a message to other UN agencies.

“Right, and when you physically cut off your nose to spite your face, you’re sending a message,” Oliver replies. “And that message is don’t fuck with me. Because if I’m willing to do this to myself, what am I willing to do to you?”

Wexler continues to justify the policy by saying that no other UN agency has made the same move as UNESCO, “at least not yet.”

The segment cuts back to the interview with Papagiannis, who says that the African country Gabon has pledged $2 million to plug the gap.

“Classic imperialism”

The second segment finds John Oliver in Gabon, where he travels in mock anger to “confront these tyrannical philanthropists face to face.” There he meets the president’s press secretary to tell him that “little countries like America are tired of being pushed around by international heavies like Gabon.”

“This is classic Gabonese imperialism,” Oliver tells Maxime Poupy, national director of the Gabon Press Agency.

Oliver also visits a UNESCO-funded project in Gabon, where he informs small children that “Once upon a time, twenty years ago, there was a US congressional law that outlawed funding to any UN organization that allowed Palestine as a member. And that is why you cannot have books anymore.”

“Israel and Palestine must negotiate directly, or else it just doesn’t count,” he tells the children.

Cutting back to Wexler, who says that US Congress is not going to overturn the law, Oliver says, “We’re not going to do this, because we’re dicks.”

“We didn’t create the problem, but we did create the law,” Wexler contends. “We are the good guys here.”

But back at The Daily Show news desk, Jon Stewart tells Oliver, “It seems like the real loser in this is the United States.”

“And obviously Palestine,” Oliver replies.

Meanwhile, on the “real” news programs

The Daily Show two-part report on the US’ shortsighted, bullying move to cut off UNESCO funding does effectively satirize this harmful policy, but it is not without its faults. There’s no context of how the US has historically acted as Israel’s lawyer at the UN, or that it funds Israel’s occupation, and the report indulges in US chauvinist narratives and treats Africa as a giant monolith where all children are starving and in need of foreign assistance.

But the bit may be most remarkable when compared to the total pandering to policy-makers and the powerful that is uniformly found on the major networks.

Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald — who has his work cut out for him as one of the few high-profile journalists willing to question US policy and hold power accountable — observed on his blog late last month that Pentagon propagandist Gen. Barry McCaffrey is once again briefing NBC executives on war with Iran.

And meanwhile, on CBS’s 60 Minutes, “journalist” Leslie Stahl actually gives advice to Meir Dagan, former head of the Israeli foreign intelligence agency Mossad, on specific ways Israel can attack Iran.

The fact that yesterday’s The Daily Show report resonates with people concerned about Palestinian rights probably says more about the mainstream corporate media than it does about the politics or writing on The Daily Show.




Obama's cutoff of funds for UNESCO openly blackmails the UN, for daring to consider Palestinian rights without US-Israeli approval. While this gives Israel de facto superpower status at the UN, too little attention is given to why Americans support Israel's systematic crimes against Palestine. There is something darker at work here than the Israel lobby's stranglehold over Washington and the US media.

Like apartheid South Africa, the US is the natural friend of Israel, whose neo-colonial approach to Palestine mirrors America's history with its own native population. Consider a few of the parallels:

1. Both the US and Israel were founded by refugees from Europe, who took land from indigenous peoples in the name of the settlers' narrow and self-serving definitions of "freedom" -- dehumanizing the locals as "redskins" and "savages" or "Arabushim" and "terrorists," respectively.

2. Both cleared the land for their own use by ethnic cleansing on a massive scale -- Andrew Jackson's genocidal expulsion of the entire native population east of the Mississippi (the "Trail of Tears"), and Israel's forced expulsion of the Arab majority in 1948 ("Al Naqba").

3. This policy has continued ever since on a local basis -- US confinement of native Americans to reservations, rationalized on "national security" grounds, vs. Israel's piece by piece seizure of the West Bank and Jerusalem, on grounds of "natural settlement growth," "security requirements," "the right of Jews to live anywhere in the Jewish homeland," etc., while Palestinians "have 21 other Arab countries to choose from."

4. Indian reservations themselves are plundered by toxic mining operations and aquifer depletion, just as Palestinian agriculture and village life are degraded by settlement encroachment and Israel's expropriation of West Bank water.

5. And it is all sanitized by absurdly calling reservations "sovereign nations," while the PA is given "autonomy" to enforce Israeli colonialism.


Now here we have it.

That post could easily be an Israel supporting shill posting a blatant 2 faced, slick, statement which really amounts to, "we did it, why can't Israel?".

I think he is as transparent as the wind.

This is not the 1800's. This is NOW, and we've learned our lesson with shame and a permanent stain on our national honor.

For Mark Behrend to elicit OUR SHAME to possibly excuse Israel is more than insulting, it is infuriating.

Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.