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United Nations: Anti-Semitism in the UN

By Morris B. Abram, Chairman, United Nations Watch (1997)

The title "Anti-Semitism in the United Nations" was carefully chosen. It does not charge the UN, an indispensable world organization, with anti-Semitism. Rather, it suggests that there is a considerable anti-Semitic component behind the policies pursued there and expressed without challenge (except by the United States) in its fora.

Emergency Special Sessions of the United Nations 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. In fact, during the last 15 years they have been called only to condemn Israel.

Whereas Arab states have traditionally used UN fora to demonize and isolate Israel (for example, they routinely attempt to deny Israel its credentials), they now believe they enjoy "Western" support which emboldens them.

The latest Emergency Special Session, called to address Israeli construction at the Har Homa site, set in motion steps to de-legitimize Israel and to bring it to its knees. During its July meeting, the Session considered a resolution that requested member states "not to allow any import of goods produced and manufactured in occupied Palestinian territories, including Jerusalem" -- a virtual boycott and collective sanctions against the state.

During its November meeting, it took a further step towards making Israel an outlaw state. In a vote of 139 to 3 with 13 abstentions, it set in motion the eventual convening of states parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, which grew out of the Nazi occupation of Europe. Thus, that Convention will now be employed against the people who were Hitler's victims. The resolutions of the November meeting requested that the Swiss government, as the depository of this Geneva Convention, convene by February 1998 a meeting of experts to initiate the process of condemning Israel for violating the Convention. This was done despite the admonition of Switzerland's UN Observer that such action could damage the peace process and politicize international humanitarian law.

As a result of such bias, the UN has lost credibility. It is no surprise that the Oslo agreements were negotiated outside of, and contained no role for, the UN. Though Israel has been the subject of aggressive wars in 1948, 1967 and 1973 and the victim of countless terrorist attacks, the Security Council and the General Assembly have never once censured its assailants. As Thomas M. Franck, Professor of International Law at New York University, has written, "...the UN is a place of convoluted realities. The Assembly's majority has also done its best to achieve an anti-Israeli politicization of the Secretariat."

It is not just an issue of anti-Israel bias; it is difficult to ignore an anti-Jewish bent in many instances. For 50 years 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 until 1993, and then, only under intense US pressure.

Instead, the General Assembly established two Special Committees and two "special units" in the Secretariat devoted exclusively to Israeli practices, costing millions of dollars yearly. These produce anti-Israeli and Anti-Zionist pamphlets, booklets, papers and films, which are even distributed in the UN's six official languages to school children around the world.

The intense hostility that Israel faces in the UN and the anti-Semitic reverberations are illustrated by two events that occurred at the Commission on Human Rights in 1991 and 1997. During the 1991 session, the Syrian Ambassador repeated the Damascus Blood Libel that Jews killed Christian children to use their blood to make Matzoth. The Western democracies could not be stirred to challenge this age-old anti-Semitic libel (which the Ottoman Sultan as the ruler of Syria, denounced when it surfaced in the 1840s). It took intense US pressure to procure a challenge to this libel in the record, and then only months after the Syrian representative emphasized to the Commission, "it's true, it's true, it's true."

On 11 March 1997, the Palestinian representative charged, in a chamber packed with 500 people including the representatives of 53 states and hundreds of non-governmental organizations, that the Israeli Government had injected 300 Palestinian children with the HIV virus. Despite the repeated interventions of the Governments of Israel and the US, and UN Watch, this modern Blood Libel stands unchallenged and unrefuted on the UN record. No appropriate action by any UN body or official has been taken to date.

The Chairman of the Commission on Human Rights, a Czech, agreed to place on the record his letter to the Ambassador of Israel, sharing his "concern as to the charge made" against Israel -- "an allegation made without evidence, on the basis of a newspaper article ... proved completely false." The Chairman reneged on his agreement after he was called to task by a delegation of Arab Ambassadors and received no support from other regional groups -- including Western Europe.

Blood Libels are vicious and persistent carriers of anti-Semitism. The "Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion" were but a fiction of the Czarist police in the 1890s. Yet they are a well of anti-Semitic pollution -- published today in thousands of copies world-wide. The Damascus Blood Libel was raised 150 years later in the Commission on Human Rights. The latest PLO Blood Libel bears the imprimatur of the UN record and has yet to be removed by consolidated action of the Commission or by any UN agency or official on the public record. (Nor was there any rebuke in 1992 to a UN document circulated in the Commission by the PLO observer, which stated that Israelis "celebrating ...Yom Kippur, are never fully happy even on religious occasions unless their celebrations, as usual, are marked by Palestinian blood.")

The treatment of Israel in the UN is often dismissed as realpolitik -- the power of Arab numbers -- and recently, as a reaction to Israel's Likud government and Prime Minister Netanyahu. Yet even during the hopeful days of the Rabin/Peres peace negotiations there were the usual anti-Israel resolutions passed each year in the UN General Assembly and 5 in the Commission on Human Rights.

Since the Oslo accords, 259 Israelis have been killed and 5000 injured by Palestinian terror attacks. During the same period, 34 resolutions deploring Israel were passed at the UN, but not one against the terror attacks. The unique treatment of Israel cannot be explained on purely political grounds. Though anti-Semitic canards can go unchallenged in the UN, the mere reference in the 1997 Commission on Human Rights to an allegedly blasphemous reference to Islam, by a UN expert and from an academic source, brought a rebuff by consensus by the Chair, and the deletion of the offending sentence.

The viciousness with which Israel is attacked, and the reluctance of even democratic states to defend Israel or to accord it the same latitude for mistakes and wrongs that it freely and reciprocally accords other states, has a special quality and origin.

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."

The infamous "Zionism is Racism" resolution was passed in 1975 when Yitzhak Rabin was Prime Minister. Describing the circumstances of the passage of the resolution, a representative in the chamber stated that "hatred was crawling on the floor." Although the resolution was rescinded in 1991, anti-Semitism in UN fora is still a force to be reckoned with, bearing in mind that 25 Member States voted against repealing the resolution and 13 abstained.

Anti-Semitism is not dead. Although anti-Semitic incidents have declined and a multi-cultural acceptance has produced wider tolerance in many states including the US, a 2000-year-old virus has mutated, and lives on, often in a disguised form. And the existence and achievements of the Jewish state in an area of relative backwardness stimulate anti-Semitism and furnish a respectable cover. Once anti-Semitism had a religious basis but, with the declining significance of religion in the West, anti-Semitism in church circles has relatively little standing as such.

Hitler exploited anti-Semitism with deadly consequences for Jews and the world. But racial anti-Semitism has been tabooed after the Holocaust and the Nuremberg trials. Now the existence of the state of Israel permits anti-Semitism to assume a political form, safe from challenge as intolerance or racism. How many times one hears: "I like Jews but I can't stand Zionism," or "I have nothing against Jews, but I don't like Israel." The existence and achievements of Israel offer a visible and irresistible target for dormant anti-Semitic feelings aroused by a focus on Israel's mistakes and misdeeds, which are characteristic of every state including the US.

Some Arab states appear to have now found a way to accomplish a purpose that the unrepealed PLO Charter, pledging the destruction of Israel has not achieved.

Wars with Israel have been disasters and are much too problematic to repeat. The attempt to bring Israel to its knees through sanctions and boycotts at the Security Council faces a US veto. However, these Emergency Special Sessions of the UN General Assembly, in which all but 3 states have joined in a collective denunciation, show the possibility of a slow but sure de-legitimization of Israel and the hope of some for its eventual strangulation.

Israel stands at the precipice of being treated at the UN as South Africa during apartheid. It is certainly not comparable, considering that Israeli Arabs are citizens, vote and sit in the Knesset. The challenge to Israel's right to exist as an equal state may soon move from the PLO Charter to the UN. The adjourned Emergency Special Session of the General Assembly is a harbinger of worse to be attempted.

The world faces a dilemma. The UN exists, and there is no present alternative. As Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, former US Ambassador to the UN warned long ago, "the UN is a dangerous place."

The United Nations held their first ever conference on combatting anti-semitism on Thursday January 22, 2015.  Barely half of the UN's 193 member states attended the informal meeting, which was planned four months ahead of time in hopes that many members would be able to attend.  All 57 Islamic nations represented at the UN unanimously condemned "hatred, anti-semitism, and Islamophobia," in a move that US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power called "extremely significant."  Speakers including French philosopher Bernard Henri Levy delved into historical anti-semitism and made the case that European anti-semitism today is as dangerous as ever.  Levy stated "In Paris, just a few days ago, we heard once again the infamous cry 'Death to the Jews' and cartoonists were killed because of cartooning, police for policing and Jews just for shopping and being Jews.  In other capitals in Europe and elsewhere, faulting the Jews is once again becoming the rallying cry of a new order of assassins, unless it is the same but cloaked in new habits.  This assembly was given the sacred task of preventing those terrible spirits from re-awakening, but they have returned and that is why we are here."   The most common theme of the day was that anti-semitism is the first step down a long road of racism, bigotry, and discrimination.  At the meeting, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said that "Grievances about Israeli actions must never be used as an excuse to attack Jews."  The meeting concluded with a panel discussion featuring a group of CEO's of human rights NGO's. 

Source: UN Watch; Jerusalem Post (January 22, 2014); Time Magazine (January 23, 2015)