A Litmus Test for UN Reform's Efficacy:
The Fair Treatment of Israel
By Eric G. Berman*
The recent [15 July] United Nations General
Assembly (GA) non-binding resolution against Israel clearly illustrates
one of the World Organization's most serious weaknesses. Any measure
of effective UN reform must assess whether UN fora continue to be abused
to promote the interests of a small number of Member States. It is truly
scandalous that Israel ought to be threatened with economic sanctions
a tool reserved for only the most serious violators of international
peace and security. The fair treatment of Israel within the United Nations
serves as an excellent litmus test for judging if the UN is functioning
as it should.
Politically, Israel is severely mistreated at the
UN. The General Assembly's infamous Zionism
is racism resolution of 1975 still infuriates despite
its repeal in 1991. While there
are instances when media coverage distorts the equitable treatment of
Israel at the UN, UN Member States routinely single Israel out for unwarranted
attention and criticism. The ongoing GA Emergency Session, which is
only adjourned and will surely meet again in the fall, convened in May
to address the Har Homa situation. Prior to this, the GA last held an
Emergency Session in 1982 (on Israel's invasion
of Lebanon). The genocide in Rwanda, ethnic cleansing in the former
Yugoslavia, and the "disappearance" of a hundred thousand
refugees in Congo (formerly Zaire) all were not deemed sufficiently
serious. Leaving aside the wisdom of Netanyahu's decision to build apartments
on Har Homa, it is fair to ask if Netanyahu
has caused the hysteria, or if Arab governments have used the occasion
to exacerbate a tense situation. In any event, the UN's response to
the situation has been inappropriate and disproportionate.
Although the General Assembly has been willing to
reassess its position and show flexibility on other diplomatic fronts,
a sense of inertia governs its approach toward Israel. The current GA
decided to defer action on a proposed agenda item dealing with East
Timor in light of the pending negotiations between Indonesia and Portugal.
However, the GA issued its directive to continue investigating Israeli
practices while talks on Hebron were still in progress. A similarly
troubling double standard toward Israel is also the rule and not the
exception at the Security Council and the Commission on Human Rights.
Member States and others must not be allowed to abuse
the credibility and prestige of UN fora for merciless attacks on Israel.
In light of such persistent bias, it is perhaps understandable that
most Israelis and many fair-minded people do not take the UN seriously.
Such a reaction is dangerous, however, for a tremendous part of humanity
does take the UN seriously. To them, the UN commands respect. Palestinian
Observer Nabil Ramlawi's defamation of Israel at the UN Commission on
Human Rights in March was a pathetic attempt to use the "big lie"
made famous by US Senator Joe McCarthy during the era of American anti-communist
paranoia of the 1950s. Yet, it was effective. Ramlawi's modern day "blood
libel" that Israel infected Palestinian children with the HIV virus
currently stands as fact. Not one Member State aside from Israel took
the floor to protest this scandalous charge, which is now part of the
official record and which must be amended.
Less sensational, but even more problematic is the
fact that Member States often treat Israel as a second class citizen
within the UN. They continue to exclude Israel from the unofficial but
powerful regional group system that determines membership in crucial
bodies such as the Security Council.
Israel ought to be part of the Asian Group, but current political realities
make that impossible. The obvious solution is for Israel to be invited
to join the Western European and Other States Group (WEOG), but European
pusillanimity has kept Israel disenfranchised. World public opinion
could play a significant role in reversing certain countries' policies.
Importantly, pending legislation before the US Congress would require
the US State Department to report on WEOG countries' efforts
or lack thereof to change the status quo.
One cannot remain indifferent to the UN as it is an
important world forum. Those concerned about enacting meaningful reform
at the UN must not ignore or casually dismiss the World Organization.
It is important that the UN be made to work effectively. President Clinton
has pledged that America will honor her commitment so long as the UN
makes good on its commitment to reform. Budgetary reform is only part
of the equation. Meaningful reform entails changing the way business
is conducted. Treating Israel fairly in line with the Charter
is a good way to judge if progress is being made.
*This article was written
during the time Mr. Berman was Executive Director of UN Watch.
Source: UN Watch.