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Graham, Cruz proposal to defund the U.N. is misguided

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Republican senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Ted Cruz of Texas last week introduced legislation that would block U.S. funding for all United Nations functions, a response to last month’s U.N. Security Council vote opposing Israeli settlements. In so doing, the senators chose to take out their frustrations about the outgoing administration’s Israel policy on some of the most vulnerable people on earth. The decision will negatively affect countless refugees and others who rely on the U.N.’s worldwide humanitarian efforts to keep themselves and their families safe from violence, starvation and homelessness.

{mosads}The move is all the more incomprehensible as Graham, who is chair of the Senate committee that funds foreign aid, has traveled the globe extensively and deeply understands international economics and politics. The senator has long championed U.S. support for emergency relief, education, economic development, and other assistance as a way to alleviate suffering and create stability around the world. Yet this new proposal would needlessly undermine our efforts to meet these laudable goals.


Cutting all funding to the U.N., which includes the Refugee Agency, the World Food Program, the World Health Organization, and UNICEF, would cause immeasurable suffering. Look at the potential impact of defunding just one of these agencies to get a sense of what is at stake.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has a mandate to assist and protect refugees and displaced people – a vital mission in the midst of the greatest refugee crisis in recorded history, surpassing even the number displaced after World War II. Cutting funding to this agency would mean ending programs that educate refugee children and help their parents put food on the table. In addition to creating a humanitarian disaster, such a move would further destabilize countries hosting the largest numbers of refugees, particularly in the Middle East and Africa.

The world needs many things right now, but increased global instability is not on the list. And assistance to refugees is only one part of the U.N.’s lifesaving work.

Graham recently told MSNBC, “I don’t think it’s a good investment for the American taxpayer to give money to an organization that condemns the only democracy in the Middle East.” It’s a good sound bite, but he misses something critical: The U.N. doesn’t vote, member states do. The U.N. is the body through which countries provide resources to feed millions of people who are hungry, educate children, provide the most basic medical care, and stop the spread of disease.

Cruz said, “If you cut off their money, that gets their attention,” referring presumably to the member states who voted for or abstained from voting for the resolution. That may or may not be the case. But surely there is a better way to get the attention of elected officials than by harming people who are homeless, sick, struggling, or traumatized. Children, refugees and others served by the U.N. do not vote on the Security Council. Withholding funding from the humanitarian functions of the U.N. would punish them for it anyway.

While this bill is unlikely to change any country’s voting pattern at the U.N., the most desperate and powerless among us will pay an enormous price for it. The senators should find a better way to make their point.

Melanie Nezer is vice president for policy and advocacy at HIAS, a Jewish nonprofit with offices in Washington, D.C. and New York that protects refugees.

The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Lindsey Graham Lindsey Graham Ted Cruz Ted Cruz United Nations
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