While Washington is caught up in the unfolding drama about the extent and motives of Russian hacking and possible attempted manipulation of the 2016 American presidential election, another story is playing out around threats to "punish" the United Nations.
On Jan.5, the United States House of Representatives voted to repudiate the Security Council resolution on Dec. 23 that condemned Israel for its unending building of settlements on Palestinian land.
The UN was not the only target in this Congressional move. The administration of President Barack Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry, were also censured for abstaining in the 15-member Security Council and allowing the resolution to pass 14-0. There is nothing legal or procedural that Congress can do to reverse the resolution.
The "passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 undermined the long-standing position of the United States to oppose and veto United Nations Security Council resolutions that seek to impose solutions to final status issues, or are one-sided and anti-Israel, reversing decades of bipartisan agreement," the House resolution said. It added that the resolution "undermines the prospect of Israelis and Palestinians resuming productive, direct negotiations."
Days after the Dec. 23 vote at the UN, Kerry further enraged Israeli supporters in Congress and President-elect Donald Trump when he warned in a speech at the State Department after the decision to abstain that Israel has a fundamental choice to make as it continues encroaching into Palestinian territory.
"But here is a fundamental reality," Kerry said. "If the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or Democratic, it cannot be both. And it won't ever really at peace."
Rep. Chris Smith, a Republican from New Jersey and one of the leaders of the charge in Congress, asserted, "With over three thousand years of Jewish history bound up in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, it is preposterous to assert that Israel has no legitimacy in defending its connections to this extraordinary heritage."
The vote in Congress to "repudiate" the resolution condemning Israeli expansion was welcomed by Israel's ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, who hailed the bipartisan nature of the support for Israel. "I look forward to working with the new American administration to end the bias against Israel at the UN and to usher in a new era of accountability in the parliament of nations," he added.
At the same time that the House of Representatives disavowed the Security Council resolution and Obama policy on Israel, members of the US Senate were beginning to work on legislation, promised late last year by Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, to cut funds for the UN.
It is unclear how long it will take to complete this proposal or how devastating the cuts could be, but with Trump tweeting insults about the UN as "just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time," defunding measures could likely be endorsed in the White House.
Representative Smith, who pressed for the "repudiation" resolution in the House of Representatives, is chairman of the subcommittee that monitors US relations with the UN and other international organizations, and he has a long record of opposition to them. He has been the leader of an anti-abortion caucus in Congress for 34 years and was instrumental in having US contributions to the UN Population Fund, or UNFPA, eliminated twice -- under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Smith, a deeply religious and dedicated Roman Catholic, who opposes abortion for any reason and is at best ambivalent about family planning, has been focused particularly on China and its one-child policy. That has been abandoned as the Chinese government sees its workforce is not keeping up with demand.
Smith's determined opposition to funding UNFPA overrode the findings of a White House delegation sent to China in the spring of 2002 that found no evidence that the Population Fund was complicit in coercive and brutal forced abortions. Colin Powell, secretary of state at the time, agreed that funds to UNFPA, which he said did "invaluable work," should be released, but Bush cut them off.
The money at stake, $34 million annually, was not a lot but it hurt. Other nations tried to fill the gap, and Jane Roberts, an American teacher in California, and a colleague founded an ad hoc organization called 34 Million Friends of UNFPA, asking for donations. Roberts said in a recent email that she was gearing up for another campaign.
The Population Fund is the world's largest provider of family planning and works in more than 150 countries and territories that together contain a large majority of the global population. Under the motto "Delivering a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person's potential is fulfilled," it has made great strides in improving maternal and child health.
The Obama administration restored and increased US funding to UNFPA, so Smith will no doubt work to have it slashed or cut off completely again under Trump.