Myths & Facts Online

The United Nations

By Mitchell G. Bard


“The United Nations has long played a constructive role in Middle East affairs. Its record of fairness and balance makes it an ideal forum for settling the Arab-Israeli dispute.”
“The Palestinians have been denied a voice at the UN.”
“Israel enjoys the same rights as any other member of the United Nations.”
“The United Nations and its affiliate institutions are critical of Israeli policies, but never attack Jews or engage in anti-Semitic rhetoric.”
“The 1991 repeal of the resolution libeling Zionism proves that the UN is no longer biased against Israel.”
“Even if the General Assembly is biased, the Security Council has always been balanced in its treatment of the Middle East.”
“The United States has always supported Israel at the UN and can be counted upon to veto any resolutions that are critical.”
“America's Arab allies routinely support U.S. positions at the UN.”
“Israel's failure to implement UN resolutions is a violation of international law.”
“The United Nations has demonstrated equal concern for the lives of Israelis and Palestinians.”

MYTH

"The United Nations has long played a constructive role in Middle East affairs. Its record of fairness and balance makes it an ideal forum for settling the Arab-Israeli dispute."

FACT

Starting in the mid-1970s, an Arab-Soviet-Third World bloc joined to form what amounted to a pro-Palestinian lobby at the United Nations. This was particularly true in the General Assembly where these countries—nearly all dictatorships or autocracies—frequently voted together to pass resolutions attacking Israel and supporting the PLO.

In 1974, for example, the General Assembly invited Yasser Arafat to address it. Arafat did so, a holster attached to his hip. In his speech, Arafat spoke of carrying a gun and an olive branch (he left his gun outside before entering the hall). A year later, at the instigation of the Arab states and the Soviet Bloc, the Assembly approved Resolution 3379, which slandered Zionism by branding it a form of racism.

U.S. Ambassador Daniel Moynihan called the resolution an “obscene act.” Israeli Ambassador Chaim Herzog told his fellow delegates the resolution was “based on hatred, falsehood and arrogance.” Hitler, he declared, would have felt at home listening to the UN debate on the measure.1

On December 16, 1991, the General Assembly voted 111-25 (with 13 abstentions and 17 delegations absent or not voting) to repeal Resolution 3379. No Arab country voted for repeal. The PLO denounced the vote and the U.S. role.

As Herzog noted, the organization developed an Alice-In-Wonderland perspective on Israel. “In the UN building...[Alice] would only have to wear a Star of David in order to hear the imperious ‘Off with her head’ at every turn.” Herzog noted that the PLO had cited a 1974 UN resolution condemning Israel as justification for setting off a bomb in Jerusalem.2

Bloc voting also made possible the establishment of the pro-PLO “Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People” in 1975. The panel became, in effect, part of the PLO propaganda apparatus, issuing stamps, organizing meetings, preparing films and draft resolutions in support of Palestinian “rights.”

In 1976, the committee recommended “full implementation of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including their return to the Israeli part of Palestine.” It also recommended that November 29 — the day the UN voted to partition Palestine in 1947 — be declared an “International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.” Since then, it has been observed at the UN with anti-Israel speeches, films and exhibits. Over the objections of the United States, a special unit on Palestine was established as part of the UN Secretariat.

Israel is the object of more investigative committees, special representatives and rapporteurs than any other state in the UN system. The special representative of the Director-General of UNESCO visited Israel 51 times during 27 years of activity. A "Special Mission" has been sent by the Director-General of the ILO to Israel and the territories every year for the past 17 years.

The Commission on Human Rights routinely adopts disproportionate resolutions concerning Israel. Of all condemnations of this agency, 26 percent refer to Israel alone, while rogue states such as Syria and Libya are never criticized.3

The U.S. has reacted forcefully to efforts to politicize the UN. In 1977, the U.S. withdrew from the International Labor Organization for two years because of its anti-Israel stance. In 1984, the U.S. left UNESCO, in part because of its bias against Israel, but announced in September 2002 it would return to the organization. From 1982-89, the Arab states sought to deny Israel a seat in the General Assembly or put special conditions on Israel's participation. Only a determined U.S. lobbying campaign prevented them from succeeding. In 2001, the U.S. joined Israel in boycotting the UN World Conference Against Racism when it became clear that it had become little more than an Israel-bashing festival.

While the Arab-Israeli peace process that was launched in Madrid in 1991 is structured on the basis of direct negotiations between the parties, the UN constantly undercuts this principle. The Oslo Agreements are predicated on the idea of bilateral talks to resolve differences between Israelis and Palestinians. The General Assembly routinely adopts resolutions, however, that attempt to impose solutions on critical issues such as Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and settlements. Ironically, UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 proposed the bilateral negotiations that are consistently undermined by the General Assembly resolutions.

Thus, the record to date indicates the UN has not played a useful role in resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict.

 

“What takes place in the Security Council “more closely resembles a mugging than either a political debate or an effort at problem-solving.”

— former UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick.4

 

MYTH

"The Palestinians have been denied a voice at the UN."

FACT

Besides the support the Palestinians have received from the Arab and Islamic world, and most other UN members, the Palestinians have been afforded special treatment at the UN since 1975. That year, the General Assembly awarded permanent representative status to the PLO and the UN established the “Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.” The panel became, in effect, part of the PLO propaganda apparatus, issuing stamps, organizing meetings, and preparing films and draft resolutions in support of Palestinian “rights.”

In 1976, the committee recommended “full implementation of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including their return to the Israeli part of Palestine.” It also recommended that November 29 — the day the UN voted to partition Palestine in 1947 — be declared an “International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.” Since then, it has been observed at the UN with anti-Israel speeches, films and exhibits.

In 1988, the PLO's status was upgraded when the General Assembly designated the PLO as “ Palestine.” Ten years later, the General Assembly voted to give the Palestinians a unique status as a non-voting member of the 185 member Assembly. The vote in favor was overwhelming, 124 in favor and 4 against with 10 abstentions. The countries opposing the resolution were Israel, the United States, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands.

Palestinian representatives can now raise the issue of the peace process in the General Assembly, cosponsor draft resolutions on Middle East peace and have the right of reply. They still do not have voting power and cannot put forward candidates for UN bodies such as the Security Council.

MYTH

"Israel enjoys the same rights as any other member of the United Nations."

FACT

A breakthrough in Israel’s fifty-year exclusion from UN bodies occurred on May 30, 2000, when Israel accepted an invitation to become a temporary member of the Western European and Others (WEOG) regional group. While only temporary, this historic step could finally end the UN’s discrimination against Israel and open the door to Israeli participation in the Security Council.

Israel has been the only UN member excluded from a regional group. Geographically, it belongs in the Asian Group; however, the Arab states have barred its membership. Without membership in a regional group, Israel cannot sit on the Security Council or other key UN bodies.

The WEOG is the only regional group which is not purely geographical, but rather geopolitical, namely a group of states that share a Western-Democratic common denominator. WEOG comprises 27 members: all the West European states; and the "others" — Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States.

Israel’s membership in the WEOG is severely limited. Every four years Israel will have to reapply for membership, since its status is only temporary. Israel was not allowed to present candidacies for open seats in any UN body for two years and is not able to compete for major UN bodies, such as the Economic and Social Council, for a longer period. Also, for the first two years, Israeli representatives were not allowed to run for positions on the UN Council.

Besides these restrictions, Israel is only allowed to participate in WEOG activities in the New York office of the UN. Israel is excluded from WEOG discussion and consultations at the UN offices in Geneva, Nairobi, Rome and Vienna; therefore, Israel cannot participate in UN talks on human rights, racism and a number of other issues handled in these offices.

In February 2003, Israel was elected to serve on the UN General Assembly Working Group on Disarmament, its first committee posting since 1961 (after 1961, the UN split the membership into regional groups and that was when Israel became isolated). An Israeli representative was elected as one of the group's three vice-chairmen and received votes from Iran and several Arab states. On the other hand, during the same month, an Israeli candidate was defeated for a position on the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. The year before Israeli candidates also lost votes for positions on the UN Human Rights Committee, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, and the UN Racial Discrimination Committee.4a

In the future, Israel still hopes to gain membership in the Asian group.

MYTH

"The United Nations and its affiliate institutions are critical of Israeli policies, but never attack Jews or engage in anti-Semitic rhetoric."

FACT

The UN has condemned virtually every conceivable form of racism. It has established programs to combat racism and its multiple facets — including xenophobia — but had consistently refused to do the same against anti-Semitism. It was only on November 24, 1998, more than 50 years after the UN's founding, that the word "anti-Semitism" was first mentioned in a UN resolution, appearing near the end of GA Res. A/53/623, "Elimination of Racism and Racial Discrimination."5

Since the early 1970s, the UN itself has become permeated with anti-Semitic and Anti-Zionist sentiment. The following examples illustrate how ugly the atmosphere has become:

“Is it not the Jews who are exploiting the American people and trying to debase them?”— Libyan UN Representative Ali Treiki.6

“The Talmud says that if a Jew does not drink every year the blood of a non-Jewish man, he will be damned for eternity.” —Saudi Arabian delegate Marouf al-Dawalibi before the 1984 UN Human Rights Commission conference on religious tolerance.7 A similar remark was made by the Syrian Ambassador at a 1991 meeting, who insisted Jews killed Christian children to use their blood to make matzos.8

On March 11, 1997, the Palestinian representative to the UN Human Rights Commission claimed the Israeli government had injected 300 Palestinian children with the HIV virus. Despite the efforts of Israel, the United States and others, this blood libel remains on the UN record.9

MYTH

"The 1991 repeal of the resolution libeling Zionism proves that the UN is no longer biased against Israel."

FACT

The vote did not signal an end to the UN's bias against Israel. The same month the General Assembly approved four new one-sided resolutions on the Middle East. On December 9, 1991, Israel's handling of the intifada was condemned by a vote of 150-2. On the 11th, it voted 104-2 for a resolution calling for a UN-sponsored peace conference that would include the PLO and voted 142-2 to condemn Israeli behavior toward Palestinians in the territories. On December 16 — the very day it repealed the Zionism measure — the UN voted 152-1, with the U.S. abstaining, to call on Israel to rescind a Knesset resolution declaring Jerusalem its capital, to demand Israel's withdrawal from “occupied territories,” including Jerusalem and to denounce Israeli administration of the Golan Heights. Another resolution expressed support for Palestinian self-determination and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

The repeal vote was marred by the fact that 13 of the 19 Arab countries — including those engaged in negotiations with Israel — Syria, Lebanon and Jordan — voted to retain the resolution, as did Saudi Arabia. Six, including Egypt — which lobbied against repeal — were absent.

The Arabs “voted once again to impugn the very birthright of the Jewish State,” the New York Times noted. “That even now most Arab states cling to a demeaning and vicious doctrine mars an otherwise belated triumph for sense and conscience.”10

 

There is ample justification for the conclusion of Professor Anne Bayefsky of York University, Canada, writing of the UN Human Rights system: "It is the tool of those who would make Israel the archetypal human rights violator in the world today. It is a breeding ground for anti-Semitism. It is a sanctuary for moral relativists. In short, it is a scandal."11

 

MYTH

"Even if the General Assembly is biased, the Security Council has always been balanced in its treatment of the Middle East."

FACT

A careful analysis of the Security Council's actions on the Middle East shows it has been little better than the General Assembly in its treatment of Israel.

Candidates for the Security Council are proposed by regional blocs. In the Middle East, this means the Arab League and its allies are usually included. Israel, which joined the UN in 1949, has never been elected to the Security Council whereas at least 16 Arab League members have. Syria, a nation on the U.S. list of countries that sponsor terrorism, began a two-year term as a member of the Security Council in 2002 and served as president of the body in June 2002.

Debates on Israel abound, and the Security Council has repeatedly condemned the Jewish State, but not once has it adopted a resolution critical of the PLO or of Arab attacks on Israel. Emergency special sessions of the General Assembly are rare. No such session has ever been convened with respect to the Chinese occupation of Tibet, the Indonesian occupation of East Timor, the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, the slaughters in Rwanda, the disappearances in Zaire or the horrors of Bosnia. For nearly two decades, these sessions have been called primarily to condemn Israel.

MYTH

"The United States has always supported Israel at the UN and can be counted upon to veto any resolutions that are critical."

FACT

Many people believe the United States can always be relied upon to support Israel with its veto in the UN Security Council. The historical record, however, shows that the U.S. has often opposed Israel in the Council.

In 1990, for example, Washington voted for a Security Council resolution condemning Israel's handling of the Temple Mount riot earlier that month. While singling out “the acts of violence committed by Israeli security forces,” the resolution omitted mention of the Arab violence that preceded it.

In December 1990, the U.S. went along with condemning Israel for expelling four leaders of Hamas, an Islamic terrorist group. The deportations came in response to numerous crimes committed by Hamas against Arabs and Jews, the most recent of which had been the murders of three Israeli civilians in a Jaffa factory several days earlier. The resolution did not say a word about Hamas and its crimes. It described Jerusalem as “occupied” territory, declared that Palestinians needed to be “protected” from Israel and called on contracting parties of the Geneva Convention to ensure Israel's compliance. It was the first time the Security Council invoked the Convention against a member country.

In January 1992, the U.S. supported a one-sided resolution condemning Israel for expelling 12 Palestinians, members of terrorist groups that were responsible for perpetrating violence against Arab and Jew alike. The resolution, which described Jerusalem as “occupied” territory, made no mention of the events that triggered the expulsions — the murders of four Jewish civilians by Palestinian radicals since October.

In 1996, the U.S. went along with a Saudi-inspired condemnation of Israel for opening a tunnel in "the vicinity" of the al-Aksa mosque. In fact, the tunnel, which allows visitors to see the length of the western wall of the Temple Mount, is nowhere near the mosque. Israel was blamed for reacting to violent attacks by Palestinians who protested the opening of the tunnel.

The United States did not cast its first veto until 1972, on a Syrian-Lebanese complaint against Israel. From 1967-72, the U.S. supported or abstained on 24 resolutions, most critical of Israel. From 1973-2003, the Security Council adopted approximately 100 resolutions on the Middle East, again, most critical of Israel. The U.S. vetoed a total of 37 resolutions and, hence, supported the Council's criticism of Israel by its vote of support, or by abstaining, roughly two-thirds of the time.12

In July 2002, the United States shifted its policy and announced that it would veto any Security Council resolution on the Middle East that did not condemn Palestinian terror and name, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade as the groups responsible for the attacks. The U.S. also said that resolutions must note that any Israeli withdrawal is linked to the security situation, and that both parties must be called upon to pursue a negotiated settlement (Washington Post, July 26, 2002). The Arabs can still get around the United States by taking issues to the General Assembly, where nonbinding resolutions pass by majority vote, and support for almost any anti-Israel resolution is assured.

MYTH

"America's Arab allies routinely support U.S. positions at the UN."

FACT

In 2004, Jordan was the Arab nation that voted with the United States most often, and that was on only 30 percent of the resolutions. The other Arab countries, including allies Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Egypt, voted against the United States 80 percent of the time or more. As a group, in 2004, the Arab states voted against the United States on just under 80 percent of the resolutions. By contrast, Israel has consistently been America's top UN ally. Israel voted with the U.S. 100 percent of the time in 2004, outpacing the support levels of major U.S. allies such as Great Britain, France and Canada by more than 30 percent.13

 

“The UN has the image of a world organization based on universal principles of justice and equality. In reality, when the chips are down, it is nothing other than the executive committee of the Third World dictatorships.”

— former UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick.14

MYTH

"Israel's failure to implement UN resolutions is a violation of international law."

FACT

UN resolutions are documents issued by political bodies and need to be interpreted in light of the constitution of those bodies. They represent the political viewpoints of those who support them rather than embodying any particular legal rules or principles. Resolutions can have moral and political force when they are perceived as expressing the agreed view of the international community, or the views of leading, powerful and respected nations.

The UN Charter (Articles 10 and 14) specifically empowers the General Assembly to make only nonbinding "recommendations." Assembly resolutions are only considered binding in relation to budgetary and internal procedural matters.

The legality of Security Council resolutions is more ambiguous. It is not clear if all Security Council resolutions are binding or only those adopted under Chapter 7 of the Charter.15 Under Article 25 of the Charter, UN member states are obligated to carry out "decisions of the Security Council in accordance with the present Charter," but it is unclear which kinds of resolutions are covered by the term "decisions." Regardless, it would be difficult to show that Israel has violated any Security Council resolutions on their wording and the Council has never sanctioned Israel for noncompliance.

MYTH

“The United Nations has demonstrated equal concern for the lives of Israelis and Palestinians.”

FACT

While the UN routinely adopts resolutions critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, it has never adopted a single resolution unequivocally condemning violence against Israeli citizens. One of the most dramatic examples of the institution’s double-standard came in 2003 when Israel offered a draft resolution in the General Assembly for the first time in 27 years.

The resolution called for the protection of Israeli children from terrorism, but it did not receive enough support from the members of the General Assembly to even come to a vote. Israel had introduced the resolution in response to the murder of dozens of Israeli children in terrorist attacks, and after a similar resolution had been adopted by a UN committee (later adopted by the full Assembly) calling for the protection of Palestinian children from “Israeli aggression.” Israel's ambassador withdrew the proposed draft after it became clear that members of the nonaligned movement were determined to revise it in such a way that it would have ultimately been critical of Israel.16

Notes

1Chaim Herzog, Who Stands Accused?, (NY: Random House, 1978), pp. 4-5.
2Herzog, p. 130.
3Israel's Mission to the UN.
4New York Times, (March 31, 1983).
4aAnne Bayefsky, "Israel second-class status at the UN," National Post, (February 18, 2003).
5"Israel and the UN — An Uneasy Relationship," Israel's Mission to the UN.
6Speech before the UN, December 8, 1983, quoted in Harris Schoenberg, Mandate For Terror: The United Nations and the PLO, (NY: Shapolsky, 1989), p. 296.
7Speech to UN seminar on religious tolerance and freedom, delivered December 5, 1984, quoted in Anti-Defamation League, News, (February 7, 1985).
8Morris Abram, "Israel Under Attack: Anti-Semitism in the United Nations," The Earth Times, (December 16-31, 1997).
9Ibid.
10New York Times, (December 17, 1991).
11Morris B. Abram, "Anti-Semitism in the United Nations," UN Watch, (February 1998).
12U.S. State Department.
13"Voting Practices at the United Nations - 2002," U.S. State Department.
14Jerusalem Post, (September 5, 2001).
15Bruno Simma, ed., The Charter of the United Nations: A Commentary, (NY: Oxford University Press, 1994), pp. 237-241; 407-418.
16Jerusalem Post, (November 26, 2003).


See also: History of Israel
Peace Process
United Nations

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