Myths & Facts Online

The United Nations

By Mitchell G. Bard


“The United Nations plays 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 Arab states approved the 1991 repeal of the resolution libeling Zionism.”
“Even if the General Assembly is biased, the Security Council has always been balanced in its treatment of the Middle East.”
“The United States always supports Israel and vetoes critcal resolutions.”
“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 plays 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 1975, 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.

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.2

In September 2003, the UN held a two-day International Conference of Civil Society in Support of the Palestinian People with the theme “End the Occupation!” During the event, the Palestinian observer to the UN, Nasser al-Kidwa, said that “violence in self-defense in the occupied Palestinian territories is not terrorism.”3 This was just one of many such conferences held under UN auspices over the years.

Even when Israel is not directly involved in an issue, UN officials find ways to interject their biases against the Jewish State. For example, in April 2004, the UN envoy to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, called Israel’s policies “the great poison in the region.” The remark reflected a lack of professionalism and impartiality expected of representatives of the organization.4

In March 2005, the Security Council issued an unprecedented condemnation of a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv carried out by Islamic Jihad. Unlike Israeli actions that provoke resolutions, the Security Council issued only a “policy statement” urging the Palestinian Authority to “take immediate, credible steps to find those responsible for this terrorist attack” and bring them to justice. It also encouraged “further and sustained action to prevent other acts of terror.” The statement required the consent of all 15 members of the Security Council. The one Arab member, Algeria, signed on after a reference to Islamic Jihad was deleted.5

In August 2005, just as Israel was prepared to implement its disengagement from the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Authority produced materials to celebrate the Israeli withdrawal. These included banners that read, “Gaza Today. The West Bank and Jerusalem Tomorrow.” News agencies reported that the banners were produced with funds from the UN Development Program and were printed with the UNDPs logo.6

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 General Assembly routinely adopts resolutions 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 Kirkpatrick7

 

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 , which opened an office in midtown Manhattan.the UN established the pro-PLO “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. Over the objections of the United States, a special unit on Palestine was established as part of the UN Secretariat.

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 committees bodies such as the Security Council.

MYTH

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

FACT

Israel had 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 could not annot sit on the Security Council or other key UN bodies. For 40 years, Israel was the only UN member excluded from a regional group. Geographically, it belongs in the Asian Group; however, the Arab states have barred its membership.

A breakthrough in Israel’s exclusion from UN bodies occurred in 2000, when Israel was given accepted an invitation to become a temporary membership in of the Western European and Others (WEOG) regional group. The WEOG is the only regional group that is geopolitical rather than purely geographical. WEOG’s 27 members —  the West European states, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States — share a Western-Democratic common denominator. This historic step opened the door to Israeli participation in the Security Council. Israel formally applied for membership to the Council in 2005, but the next seat will not be available until 2019.

Israel’s position within the UN improved further Iin February 2003 when, 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.8

Israel’s standing at the UN improved significantly in 2005 starting with the election in July of Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman, as one of 20 vice presidents who set the agenda for the next General Assembly session. Shortly thereafter, Israel was tapped to serve as deputy chair of the UN Disarmament Commission (UNDC), a General Assembly sub-committee that serves as an advisory body on disarmament issues. In October 2005, an Israeli representative was chosen for the first time to serve as a member of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.

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.”9

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.10

  • “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.11 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.12

  • 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.13

  • In July 2005, Jean Ziegler, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, called the Gaza Strip “an immense concentration camp” and compared Israelis to Nazis. A year earlier (May 28, 2004), Ziegler sent on official UN stationery a demand that the Caterpillar company boycott Israel.14
  • In 2003, the first resolution explicitly condemning anti-Semitism was offered in the General Assembly, but its sponsor, Ireland, later withdrew it due to lack of support.

    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.”15

    MYTH

    “The Arab states approved the 1991 repeal of the resolution libeling Zionism.”

    FACT

    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.”16 

    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 unequivocally criticized an Arab terror attack. 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 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 vetoes any critical resolutionss 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.

    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 1973-2004, the Security Council adopted approximately 100 resolutions on the Middle East, again, most critical of Israel. The U.S. vetoed a total of 40 resolutions and, hence, supported the Council’s criticism of Israel by its vote of support, or by abstaining, roughly 60 percent of the time.17

    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.18 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 2010, Turkey was the Arab nation that voted with the United States most often, and that was on only 50 percent of the resolutions. U.S. allies Saudia Arabia, Kuwait, and Egypt, voted with the United States only 32 percent of the time. As a group, in 2010, the Arab states voted against the United States on nearly 70 percent of the resolutions. Syria was at the bottom of the list, opposing the U.S. 84 percent of the time.

    By contrast, Israel has consistently been America's top UN ally. Israel voted with the U.S. 92 percent of the time in 2010, outpacing the support levels of major U.S. allies such as Great Britain, and France, which voted with the United States on 73 percent of the resolutions.19

    “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 Kirkpatrick20

    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.21 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 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.22

    Notes

    1Chaim Herzog, Who Stands Accused?, (NY: Random House, 1978), pp. 4-5.
    2Israel’s Mission to the UN.
    3Jerusalem Post,(September 4, 2003).
    4Jerusalem Post, (April 26, 2004).
    5Reuters, (March 1, 2005).
    6Jerusalem Post, (August 18, 2005).
    7New York Times, (March 31, 1983).
    8Anne Bayefsky, “Israel second-class status at the UN,” National Post, (February 18, 2003).
    9“Israel and the UN — An Uneasy Relationship,” Israel’s Mission to the UN.
    10Speech before the UN, December 8, 1983, quoted in Harris Schoenberg, Mandate For Terror: The United Nations and the PLO, (NY: Shapolsky, 1989), p. 296.
    11Speech to UN seminar on religious tolerance and freedom, delivered December 5, 1984, quoted in Anti-Defamation League, News, (February 7, 1985).
    12Morris Abram, “Israel Under Attack: Anti-Semitism in the United Nations,” The Earth Times, (December 16-31, 1997).
    13Ibid.
    14Washington Times, (July 11, 2005). 
    15Morris B. Abram, “Anti-Semitism in the United Nations,” UN Watch, (February 1998).
    16New York Times, (December 17, 1991).
    17U.S. State Department.
    18Washington Post, (July 26, 2002).
    19“Voting Practices at the United Nations - 2010,” U.S. State Department.
    20Jerusalem Post, (September 5, 2001).
    21Bruno Simma, ed., The Charter of the United Nations: A Commentary, (NY: Oxford University Press, 1994), pp. 237-241; 407-418.
    22Jerusalem Post, (November 26, 2003).


    See also: History of Israel
    Peace Process
    United Nations

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