In his speech to open the 61st General Assembly of the United Nations in September 2006, then-Secretary General Kofi Anan admitted that Israel is often unfairly judged by the international body and its various organizations. “On one side, supporters of Israel feel that it is harshly judged by standards that are not applied to its enemies,” Annan said. “And too often this is true, particularly in some UN bodies.”1
Despite being the only democracy in the Middle East, Israel routinely faces more criticism and condemnation at the United Nations than any other country, including those that systematically kill their citizens or deny them the most basic of human rights. Even today, both the General Assembly and Security Council continue to pass one-sided resolutions that single out and condemn the Jewish State. Additionally, an overwhelmingly powerful bloc led by the Arab nations promotes a narrow and slanderous agenda meant to isolate Israel that has met little resistance.
Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon became the first Israeli to head a permanent committee on June 13, 2016, when he was elected by his peers to lead the UN Legal Committee. Danon’s election was supported by 109 out of 198 UN member states, and he faced most opposition from Arab nations.
In 2015, 90 votes were held in the UN General Assembly, 18 of which were characterized as anti-Israel by the United States. Among the Arab states, Tunisia voted most frequently with the United States (36 percent). Meanwhile, America’s Arab allies voted with the U.S. on less than one-third of the votes. As a group, in 2015, the Arab states voted against the United States on 70 percent of the resolutions. Syria and Somalia were at the bottom of the list, opposing the U.S. 87 percent of the time. By contrast, Israel has consistently been second only to Micronesia as America’s top UN ally. Israel voted with the U.S. 93 percent of the time in 2015, tied with Canada, but outpacing the support levels of major U.S. allies such as Great Britain, and France, which voted with the United States on only 79 percent of the resolutions.
The United Nations purchased $91.8 million worth of goods and services from Israel in 2015, more than double the $45 million purchased just two years prior. Medical equipment made up the largest portion of these procurements at 29%, followed by 17.6% fuel and lubricants and 17% IT and communications equipment, as well as various pieces of laboratory equipment, appliances, and electronics. Services purchased from Israel included management and administrative services, transportation, and storage. Israel ranks 40th out of 193 member states when it comes to selling goods and services to the United Nations.
It was announced in February 2016 that Israel would be admitted as an official member of the UN Committee on Space Affairs. The UN Office of Space Affairs (UNOOSA) extended an invitation to the Israel Space Agency to cooperate on civilian space matters on February 3, 2016. 34
Danny Danon, Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations, signed an agreement with the UN Women group on October 13, 2016. UN Women is the international organization's agency for the empowerment of women and promotion of gender equality. It has an annual budget of $307 million and is active in 93 countries worldwide. The agreement between Israel and UN Women was compared to the establishment of diplomatic relations between two countries, and Israel hopes to assist UN Women in their mission to fight against domestic violence, advance gender equality and women's rights, and provide women with professional training as well as humanitarian and economic assistance.
Following a petition from Danon, on October 31, 2016, the United Nations cafeteria began offering Kosher food options for their Jewish patrons, in a small victory for Israel. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon honored Danon's request, taking into consideration that the cafeteria already provided halal food for observant Muslims, as well as vegetarian options.
Speaking to the UN Security Council, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed his opinion that the UN has had a “disproportionate focus on Israel” that has “foiled the ability of the UN to fulfill its role effectively,” on December 17, 2016. The Secretary-General explained that “decades of political maneuvering have created a disproportionate number of resolutions, reports and committees against Israel.”
The UN Commission on the Status of Women adopted an Israeli resolution in March 2017 with the goal of combatting workplace sexual harassment against women.
Speaking at the Plenary Assembly of the World Jewish Congress in New York in April 2017, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres promised to act against a rising global tide of anti-Semitism and stated that
a modern form of anti-Semitism is the denial of the right of the State of Israel to exist. Guterres reiterated this point to leaders from the Simon Wiesenthal Center during meetings at his office in New York City in late May 2017.
All 100 United States Senators signed a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on April 27, 2017, expressing their desire to
ensure that Israel is treated neither better nor worse than any other UN member in good standing. The Senators also called on Guterres to seek
specific reforms to end the [United Nations] Security Council's imbalanced focus on Israel. To read
Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon was elected Vice-President of the 72nd annual session of the UN General Assembly in May 2017. Danon assumed the position, which lasts for one year, in September 2017 with the opening of the General Assembly session. As Vice-President Danon will chair General Assembly meetings when President Miroslav Lajcak of Slovakia is not present, take part in setting the agenda of the 72nd General Assembly, and oversee rules and decorum during the session.
Overcoming opposition from Palestinian and various Arab delegations, Israel was elected to one of six positions heading the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) in October 2017. 35
International watchdog group UN Watch accused the United Nations of de-Judaizing the Holocaust and failing to seriously address issues of anti-Semitism in a scathing report presented to the Israeli Knesset in early July 2018. While presenting the report, UN Watch president Hillel Neuer asserted that the United Nations has done little to tackle anti-Semitism. According to the group, outgoing High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein did not make a single statement condemning anti-Semitism during his four-year term and has at times juxtaposed Hitler’s concentration camps to Palestinian refugee camps.38
The Palestinian delegation to the United Nations was chosen as the leader of the Group of 77 bloc of countries for the 2019 UN session in July 2018. This decision to have the Palestinians lead the organization's largest bloc of developing countries was largely seen as a diplomatic affront to Israel. As leader of the Group of 77, the Palestinian delegation will represent the interests of 135 nations and speak on behalf of approximately 80% of the world's population. 39
Since the mid-1970s, when an Arab-Soviet-Third World bloc joined together to form what amounted to a pro-PLO lobby at the United Nations, this accusation has rung poignantly true. Particularly in the General Assembly, these countries — nearly all dictatorships or autocracies — frequently vote together to pass resolutions attacking Israel and supporting the Palestinians.
In 1974, for example, the General Assembly invited Yasser Arafat to address the body. Arafat gave his speech and spoke of carrying a gun and an olive branch while famously having his gun holster attached to his hip.
In 1975, the Assembly awarded permanent representative status to the PLO, which then opened an office in midtown Manhattan. Later that year, 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.1a
On December 16, 1991, the General Assembly voted 111-25 (with 13 abstentions and 17 delegations absent or not voting) to repeal Resolution 3379. 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. No Arab country voted for repeal. The PLO denounced the vote and the U.S. role.
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.”2
Less than a week before repealing the measure, the General Assembly approved four new one-sided resolutions on the Middle East. On December 11, 1991, it voted 104-2 for a resolution calling for a UN-sponsored peace conference that would include the PLO. Also that day, it 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, demand Israel's withdrawal from “occupied territories,” including Jerusalem and denounce Israeli administration of the Golan Heights. Another resolution expressed support for Palestinian self-determination and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
As Herzog noted, the organization developed an Alice-In-Wonderland perspective on Israel. “In the UN building...she 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.3
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.” Today, approximately 20 committees are dedicated to the Palestinian issue. In 2004-2005, the UN allocated $5.5 million to the Division for Palestinian Rights, $255,000 for the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, $60,000 for the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, and $566,000 for Information Activities on the Question of Palestine.3a
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.
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 the Jewish State. 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.
The U.S. consistently opposed PLO attempts to upgrade its status in the General Assembly and UN-affiliated bodies. This was particularly true in 1989, when Arafat tried to have the PLO admitted as the “State of Palestine” and otherwise elevate its status in the World Health Organization, the World Tourist Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Because of the determined opposition of Congress and the Administration, the PLO was defeated everywhere but the FAO. Given that organization's decision to provide agricultural aid through the PLO, the U.S. withdrew.
In 2003, the UN called an unprecedented three emergency sessions to discuss Israel — two to condemn Israel’s security fence and one criticizing Israel for openly considering the expulsion of Arafat.
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, which began with a statement of support from the UN Secretary-General, the Palestinian observer to the UN, Nasser al-Kidwa, said that “violence in self-defense in the occupied Palestinian territories is not terrorism.” Other speakers complained about Israel's security fence, suggesting a variety of conspiratorial reasons for its construction, such as a lust for Palestinian trees (which were supposedly uprooted from the West Bank and replanted on Israel's side of the fence) and a desire to control the West Bank ground water.4 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.5
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.5a
In July 2005, the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People sponsored a conference in Paris that urged the international community to sanction and boycott Israel.
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 UNDP’s logo. U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said, “Funding this kind of activity is inappropriate and unacceptable.”5b
In 2005, even after a series of positive changes at the UN, a series of public events in support of Palestinian cause were held on November 29, including a conference to mark “an international day of sympathy with the Palestinian people” and a press conference attended by members of the Palestinian delegation to the UN, held under the title, “Promoting the Palestinian cause through dance and cultural events.” A Palestinian exhibition was displayed at UN headquarters and the General Assembly held a special session to discuss a report by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People on “The Question of Palestine.”5c During the celebratory events, a map of the Middle East was exhibited that did not have the UN member state of Israel. Instead it was replaced by “Palestine.”
Similar problems arose on November 29, 2007, when the UN again held its “day of solidarity with the Palestinian people.” This coincided with the 60th anniversary of the General Assembly vote to partition Palestine and create a Jewish and Arab state. The day was marked by speeches from all UN leaders in a room adorned with just two flags, the UN flag and a Palestinian flag.5d
In December 2007, the General Assembly passed its first ever non-political resolution introduced by Israel. The resolution on the implementation of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in Those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa called on member states to assist in the agricultural growth of developing nations in need of agricultural infrastructure and stability. The resolution ensures that bringing agricultural technology to nations in need will remain a top priority of the United Nations.
In March 2013, the United States sent a letter to the president of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in which the U.S. lamented what they see as blatant ant-Israel bias within the council.
The United States remains extremely troubled by this Council’s continued biased and disproportionate focus on Israel. The Human Rights Council must treat all countries by the same standards. This standing agenda item exemplifies the blatantly unfair treatment that one UN member state receives in this body. The legitimacy of this Council will remain in question as long as one country is unfairly and uniquely singled out under its own agenda item. The absurdity and hypocrisy of this agenda item is further amplified by the resolutions brought under it including, yet again, a resolution on the “human rights in the occupied Syrian Golan” motivated by the Syrian regime, at a time when that regime is murdering its own citizens by the tens of thousands. The United States implores Council members to eliminate these biased resolutions and permanent agenda item seven.5d-2
Israel was the only country in the world singled out as a violator of “health rights” during the UN World Health Organization's (WHO) annual assembly in May 2015. Although Israeli hospitals provide health care for injured Syrians and Palestinians daily, the WHO decided to turn a blind eye to health crises in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, and North Korea, and instead single out Israel as a major violator of health rights. The WHO passed a resolution calling for “health-related technical assistance for the Syrian population in the Occupied Syrian Golan,” in a vote of 104-4, but considered no similar resolution for any other area in the entire world.26
One dramatic change from the Obama administration to the Trump administration was evident at the United Nations. Obama ended his term by abstaining of Security Council Resolution 2334 condemning Israeli settlements. Trump’s ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, by contrast, was a vigorous and outspoken champion of Israel before resigning her post at the end of 2018. She is credited with devising a diplomatic strategy of “pairing initiatives hostile to Israel with U.S.-led counter-initiatives that demand UN members hold the other side accountable for its part in the conflict,” according to Michael Wilner. “Resolutions calling on the UN to condemn Hamas and Hezbollah, Haley charged, put members in an uncomfortable dilemma – forcing them either to change course or reveal their biases.”26a
Haley delivered a briefing on the situation in the Middle East to the UN Security Council on June 20, 2017. In her remarks she stated that the Security Council must,
unite to say that enough is enough, and work to
On December 6, 2017, President Trump announced the official U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and the beginning of the process of moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The Security Council drafted a draft resolution calling for the decision to be reversed. Every member voted for it except the United States, which used its veto. The General Assembly subsequently voted overwhelmingly in favor of a similar resolution calling for the U.S. to withdraw its recognition of Jerusalem on December 21, 2017.
During the 2017 calendar year, out of 22 Israel-related resolutions, 21 were adopted with a vote and one was adopted by consensus. The United States opposed 19 and abstained on two –“Assistance to Palestine Refugees” (A/RES/72/80) and “The Occupied Syrian Golan”(A/RES/72/88).
After the United States blocked action in the Security Council, the General Assembly approved a Palestinian-backed resolution in June 2018 solely blaming Israel for Palestinian deaths during the March of Return. The resolution condemns Israel’s
excessive use of force against the Palestinian protestors seeking to infiltrate the border and massacre Israelis and makes no mention of the violent nature of the protests instigated by Hamas. A U.S.-proposed amendment to the resolution that would have castigated Hamas for instigating the riots and firing rockets into Israel was defeated, and the original resolution passed by a vote of 120-8 with 45 abstentions.
During the 2018 calendar year, 23 Israel-related draft resolutions were discussed in the General Assembly. The only one that was not adopted was proposed by the United States and Israel, “Activities of Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza” after Hamas launched a massive rocket barrage from Gaza into Israel in November 2018. The resolution condemned Hamas for “repeatedly firing rockets into Israel and for inciting violence, thereby putting civilians at risk,” and for its use of resources in Gaza to construct military infrastructure “including tunnels to infiltrate Israel and equipment to launch rockets into civilian areas.” Before the vote on the resolution was taken, however, a procedural measure was adopted requiring a two-thirds majority for passage. Consequently, the resolution failed when it garnered 87 votes in favor, 58 against, and 32 abstentions.
Before the votes, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said that despite more than 500 General Assembly resolutions condemning Israel, not one condemning Hamas has ever been adopted. She described the two-thirds decision, which passed by just a handful of votes, as “unfair.’”26b
The U.S. and Israel voted against the other 22 resolutions in 2018, which were all critical of Israel. Of the 193 UN member states, only 20 countries voted at least once against any of the 21 anti-Israel resolutions that came to a vote, an increase of four countries over the previous year, with Kiribati , Hungary, Moldova, and Japan joining the list. The Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Canada, and Nauru continue to vote with the United States on Israel-related issues in the General Assembly. Liberia had the largest improvement in voting coincidence with the United States on Israel-related issues increasing from zero percent in 2017 to 45 percent in 2018. Other notable increases came from Kiribati, Australia, Fiji, and Cote d'Ivoire. Palau had the largest decline in voting coincidence, dropping 37 percentage points from 2017 to 2018. Paraguay also had a large decline, dropping 29 percentage points.
In 2019, 17 Israel-related resolutions were adopted by the General Assembly (one by consensus). Of 193 UN member states, 27 countries voted at least once against any of the 16 anti-Israel resolutions, seven more countries than 2018. Eleven countries (Brazil, Papua New Guinea, Colombia, Estonia, Denmark, Bulgaria, Greece, Lithuania, Netherlands, Romania and Slovakia) joined the list, while four (France, Togo, Moldova and Japan) dropped off.
Following the release of the Trump peace plan, the Palestinians sought to have the UN Security Council adopt a resolution criticizing the plan and reasserting positions they advocate. In another example of the Trump administration’s strong pushback against those positions, it threatened a veto. The Palestinian hoped to have a majority to pass the resolution, but an official said, “Of the 14 member states, we had five who supported the draft resolution that was submitted. We chose not to humiliate ourselves and pulled the draft.”26c
As the chart below shows, between 2012 and 2020, the General Assembly voted on 180 resolutions related to Israel compared to 45 for the rest of the world.
General Assembly Votes On Israel vs. The Rest of the World
Resolutions Related to Israel
Resolutions Related to the Rest of the World
Source: UN Watch
The worst example of how the UN is used by the anti-Semites rather than standing against them, is the Human Rights Council. The HRC was established in 2006 to replace the former Commission on Human Rights, which had become a travesty after allowing some of the worst human rights violators to participate in deliberations and to adopt a steady stream of one-sided condemnations of Israel. The General Assembly created a new body ostensibly to erase the stain on the UN created by the original organization. In the first months of operation, however, the new Council proved to be worse than the original. Of the 47 members, a large number are from the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which is hostile toward Israel, repressive dictatorships such as China and Cuba and serial human rights abusers such as Saudi Arabia and Iran.
While Western nations struggled to focus the Council’s attention on the genocide in Darfur, the majority chose instead to produce a series of reports criticizing Israel. To give one example, the Council did not criticize Hezbollah for attacking Israel, kidnaping its soldiers, indiscriminately firing missiles at Israel, or using Lebanese civilians as shields, but it did condemn Israel for “violations of human rights and breaches of international humanitarian law in Lebanon.” When a report was produced in October that criticized Hezbollah as well as Israel, the Muslim members of the Council rejected it.
The most egregious example of anti-Israel bias at the UNHRC is the yearly discussion of agenda item 7. In June 2007, Council members adopted a resolution to address the Council’s working methods. In the resolution, Council members included the “human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories” as a permanent part of the Council’s agenda. At the time the agenda item was adopted, many UN member states and Council observers, including the United States, strongly objected to the Council focusing primarily on human rights violations by Israel.
Agenda item 7 mandates that at each UNHRC session, Israel’s record of human rights must be debated. No other country in the world has a yearly reoccurring agenda item dedicated to it. U.S. Ambassador to the UNHRC, Keith Harper, stated in 2015, “The United States strongly and unequivocally opposes the very existence of agenda item 7 and any HRC resolutions that come from it.”20 Over the years, the United States and other like-minded Council members have made unsuccessful efforts to reverse the Council’s decision.
The Council Becomes and Embarrassment
After these votes, the Council had become so embarrassing that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned the Council might be discredited as was its predecessor. He noted that in its first five months the Council had focused heavily on the Arab-Israeli conflict, holding three special sessions to approve resolutions condemning alleged violations by the Jewish state. “There are surely other situations, besides the one in the Middle East, which would merit scrutiny at a special session,” he said. “I would suggest that Darfur is a glaring case in point.”5e
In March 2007, the United States announced that for the second year in a row it would not to seek a seat on the Council because of its anti-Israeli bias and failure to scrutinize countries such as Cuba, Myanmar and North Korea. The United States continued to have only an observer role.
In May 2008, Richard Falk is scheduled to start work as the UN’s monitor of human rights violations by Israel in the Palestinian territories. He has no mandate to investigate Palestinian human rights abuses against Israelis. In addition, Falk comes to the position with a well-known bias, having compared Israel’s treatment of Palestinians with Nazi treatment of Jews during the Holocaust.5f
In March 2010, the council passed three resolutions condemning Israel and a fourth calling on Israel to compensate Palestinians in Gaza for damage and loss incurred during Operation Cast Lead. The United States opposed the resolutions.5g
In January 2013, the Human Rights Council presented a fact-finding report on the implications of Israeli settlements on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinian people throughout the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The report, submitted pursuant to resolution 19/17 in which the Council decided to establish the independent mission, called Israeli settlements illegal and went so far as to promote the international boycotting of goods produced in the settlements. The report states:
Private companies must assess the human rights impact of their activities and take all necessary steps — including by terminating their business interests in the settlements — to ensure they are not adversely impacting the human rights of the Palestinian People in conformity with international law.5i
The Israeli government, which had already cut ties with the Council in March 2012 as a result of its aggressive anti-Israel reports, reacted angrily at the report’s not-so-tacit encouragement of a boycott. The following is a quote from Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor:
“The report is so utterly misguided that it steps widely out of line in recommending a boycott that would harm Palestinians and Israelis alike ... The authors seem so enraged that they forget they have no authority on such issues, and their hubris leads them to decree as states, rather than opine as individuals.”5j
The Gaza Commission
The United Nations named experts in international law and human rights violations to a panel known as the Gaza Commission of Inquiry on August 11, 2014. The purpose of this commission was to investigate and determine whether war crimes were committed by either side during Operation Protective Edge. The commission included Doudou Diene from Senegal, and Canadian Professor William Schabas. The choice made by the UN to put Schabas in charge of this investigation was met with harsh criticism from Israel and its supporters. Schabas is openly anti-Israel and holds strong opinions on Israeli issues and people, stating at one point that he would love to see Benjamin Netanyahu “on the dock of the International Criminal Court.” Due to these views, Israeli government officials dismissed Schabas as a legitimate impartial investigator and claimed that no investigation needed to be done because the verdict was already decided by Schabas's vehement anti-Israel bias. In a letter to the UN Security General Ban Ki-Moon on August 12, 2014, Israel’s ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor wrote: 21
“Mr. Schabas’s agenda is clear. He has repeatedly called for the prosecution of Prime Minister Netanyahu and former President Shimon Peres saying, “My favorite would be Netanyahu within the dock of the International Criminal Court.”
In light of his hate-fueled rants, one doesn’t need to be a fortune teller to predict the outcome of any inquiry led by Mr. Schabas. Furthermore, the exploitation of the UNHRC by some of the world’s worst human rights abusers is a grave misfortune for the millions of oppressed people around the world. While the Council is singularly focused on its anti-Israeli agenda, the world’s most murderous tyrants continue brutalizing their people.
I call on you to publicly denounce the appointment of Mr. Schabas. His selection is a disgraceful stain on the values that the UN claims to stand for.”
Hamas members praised the appointment of Schabas to the commission; Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri stated “Hamas welcomes the decision to form an investigation committee into the war crimes committed by the occupation (Israel) against Gaza and it urges that it begin work as soon as possible.”22 The Gaza Inquiry Commission was due to present its findings to the UNHRC in March 2015.
On August 25, 2014, it was announced that former New York Supreme Court Judge Mary McGowan Davis was going to be the third member of the commission, alongside Schabas and Diene.
Israel refused entry into the country to the members of the commission on November 12, 2014, announcing that they will not be cooperating with the Human Rights Council and their appointed commission. Members of the commission arrived in the Jordanian capital of Amman and requested entry into Israel but were denied by officials in Jerusalem.
Israel began a campaign against the commission of inquiry in mid-January 2015, in an attempt to ensure that the 47 countries who established the commission will not be endorsing the report generated by the inquiry. The findings of the commission were due to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council on March 23, 2014, less than one week after Israeli elections. The goal of this campaign by Israel was to get as many countries as possible to refute the findings, abstain from the vote, or just not show up for the vote altogether. The campaign also aimed to discredit the head of the investigation, William Schabas. Because Israel refused to cooperate with the commission and refused them entry into the country, the committee gathered information and testimony through technological means and conducting interviews in Jordan.23
Due to rampant accusations of bias, on February 2, 2015, William Schabas resigned as the director of the investigation. After facing much criticism for his involvement in 2012 as a consultant for the Palestine Liberation Organization, and for his blatant bias against Israel and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Schabas conveyed his resignation from the Gaza Commission of Inquiry in a letter written to the UNHRC. He stated in the letter that although his views on Israeli-Palestinian issues had been well-known, he had pledged to serve the inquiry commission with “independence and impartiality.” He was replaced the following day with former New York State Supreme Court Justice Mary McGowan Davis, a member of the panel already. The council's acting president appointed McGowan Davis instead of bringing in an outside individual because the council had almost finished gathering their evidence.24 McGowan Davis was expected to be more balanced towards Israel, especially after it was evidence presented by her that caused Richard Goldstone to recant the conclusions of his investigation, titled the Goldstone Report.
The commission of inquiry requested more time to complete their investigation in March 2015, citing the need to re-evaluate and adjust their work due to the resignation of Schabas. In addition to the increased workload due to the departure of Schabas, McGowan Davis stated that they had received a significant amount of submissions, documents, and witness reports during early 2015 that slowed their process further. The commission was originally scheduled to present their findings to the UN Human Rights Council on March 23, 2015. The president of the UN Human Rights Council approved their request for more time to finish their investigation.
The UNHRC adopted the report prepared by the Gaza Commission of Inquiry on July 3, 2015, calling for investigations into war crime accusations directed at both the Palestinians and Israelis. The report was approved by a vote of 41-5-1, with only the United States voting against. India, Kenya, Ethiopia, Paraguay and Macedonia abstained from voting. India’s abstention from the vote reflects an increasingly warm relationship between Israel and the Indian subcontinent. This was the first time that India did not support the Palestinian cause at the United Nations. This abstention came on the heels of the June 2015 announcement that Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi was to become the first Indian premier to visit Israel later in 2015.
The UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) concluded their annual meeting on March 20, 2015, by issuing a condemnation of only one country's women's rights record: Israel. Instead of highlighting the gross treatment suffered by women all over the world in places such as Syria, Iran, Sudan, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia, the UNCSW chose to single out Israel and not even mention the violence and unfair treatment women sustain in these other countries. The commission repeated this again at the conclusion of their 2016 meeting.
The United States Ambassador to the UNHRC, Keith Harper, laid out staunch criticism of the council in March 2015 after the members discussed and adopted four anti-Israel resolutions under agenda item 7. While they discussed these four resolutions on Israel, the UNHRC discussed one resolution on Syria, one on North Korea, and one on Iran, some of the world's worst human rights violators. Harper told the members of the council that “we are disappointed that this council continually singles out Israel for criticism without acknowledging the violent attacks directed at its people, nor the obligations and difficult steps required of both sides. In short, such singling out undermines the credibility of the council.”25
Harper spoke out against a resolution calling for Israel to return the Golan Heights to Syria, despite the continued bloody civil war plaguing the country. Resolutions voted on over the subsequent days also included topics such as Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders, the Palestinians right to self-determination, human rights violations committed by Israel in the Palestinian territories, and settlement building. The United States was the only country out of the 47 members of the UNHRC to vote against these resolutions, with many others abstaining but none taking a stand. Although the European Union has expressed disdain for the singling out of Israel by UNHRC agenda item 7 in the past, they in fact voted in favor of all of these resolutions.
In a 32-0-15 vote on March 25, 2016, the UNHRC approved a measure under agenda item 7 calling for a database to be established of businesses “involved in activities” in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem. The intention was to create an annually updated blacklist to identify companies that could be targeted for boycotting because their business raises “particular human rights concerns” like facilitating the construction, expansion or maintenance of Israeli settlements or the demolition of Palestinian housing and property. Danny Danon, Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations, accused the UNHRC of “obsessive” anti-Israel behavior. 27 The adoption of this measure, which had been pushed by BDS-promoting organizations, was condemned by U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby: “We [the United States] continue to unequivocally oppose the very existence of that agenda item and therefore any resolutions... that come from it.”28
In 2017, the HRC began to compile the blacklist to facilitate the BDS campaign to isolate Israel. The HRC apparently hopes the publication of the list will make it possible to blackmail companies to stop doing business in Israel. The CEO of Bezeq, a major Israeli telecommunications firm, for example, received a letter accusing the company of providing cellular services in territory the council believes should be part of a Palestinian state and warning it would be placed on the council blacklist if it did not cease operations in the West Bank. The United States and Israel opposed both the compilation and release of the HRC database, which delayed the preparation and publication of the blacklist.36 In February 12, 2020, however, the HRC published a list of 112 companies, most Israeli, but also some international companies, including U.S.-based companies Motorola Solutions, General Mills, Airbnb, TripAdvisor, and Expedia.
The UNHRC closed their month-long session on March 24, 2016, by proclaiming Israel the most egregious violator of human rights in the world: issuing five council resolutions on Israel and only one each on the human rights situations in Syria, North Korea, and Iran. Frequent human rights violators such as Saudi Arabia and China were not mentioned in a single resolution.
The United States boycotted a UNHRC session on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in March 2017, citing the council’s
long-standing bias against Israel. Following this session, representatives from the United Kingdom said that they were putting the UNHRC
on notice over its
disproportionate focus on Israel. Members of the UK mission to the UNHRC expressed their concern with the
growth in illegal demolitions and settlement activity, but qualified that observers
must also recognize the continuing terrorism, incitement and violence that Israel faces. Representatives from the United States voted against five anti-Israel resolutions at the conclusion of the UNHRC session in March 2017.
In 2017, for the second year in a row, the world’s Western democracies snubbed the UNHRC by not attending the council’s presentation on agenda item 7. According to UN Watch,
the U.S., Canada, Australia, all European Union member states, Japan, and other established democracies boycotted the debate.32
U.S. Withdraws From Council
Citing rampant anti-Israel bias as well as the council’s ongoing admission of gross human rights violators to its ranks, the United States announced it would be withdrawing from the UN Human Rights Council on June 20, 2018. Great Britain warned that it would follow suit if the disproportionate focus on Israel continued. The Trump administration has cited Israel’s removal from the Council’s permanent agenda as a condition for the United States rejoining the Council.
It is not only Western countries that view the HRC as biased. Dr. Dan Mou, a longtime member of the Nigerian government observed, “You are aware that the US has withdrawn support for the Commission under President Trump. And the reason was because they had targeted Israel and Trump was of the opinion that the Arab Lobby has used money to force the Commission to be against Israel. I agree with his position … you cannot be partial and expect to be respected. The Commission was becoming increasingly partial in dealing with the issue of Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab nations. When you are so partial, you lose your integrity, autonomy and impartiality, so it becomes very difficult for people to trust your judgement.”43
On August 23, 2018, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton stated in an interview with the Associated Press at the U.S. mission in Geneva that the United States would be completely stopping their contributions to the UN Human Rights Council. The United States provided approximately 22% of the organization's budget, and according to Bolton the United States will calculate how much of it's annual UN budget goes to the UNHRC and reduce it's allowance by that amount.40According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the HRC has held 28 special sessions between July 2006 and May 2018, 8 of those were devoted to Israel.41 The HRC has “condemned Israel more than all other nations of the world combined” without ever censuring countries such as China, Russia, Cuba and Zimbabwe.” While Israel is routinely criticized for its behavior in the “occupied territories,” the only references by the HRC to terrorism are applied to “extremist Israelis.”42
Members of the United Nations Human Rights Committee chose Israeli law professor Yuval Shany to lead them in July 2018.37 The committee is different from the notably anti-Israel United Nations Human Rights Council. It is a body of 18 independent experts that monitor implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by its 162 member states and meets four times each year for three-week sessions. Shany is the first Israeli ever chosen to lead the committee, and second to serve on the Committee after Professor Dan Kretzmer served from 1995 to 2002.5h
Biden Returns to Council
In a reversal of Trump’s position, the Biden administration announced its intent to rejoin the UN Human Rights Council, initially as an observer. The Trump team considered the HRC a “cesspool of political bias” where Israel is regularly condemned by council members who are among the worst human rights abusers, and whose own actions, along with those of other serial human rights violators are ignored. Mark Cassayre, Biden’s representative in Geneva explained the justification for the change in policy: “We know that this body has the potential to be an important forum for those fighting tyranny and injustice around the world. By being present at the table, we seek to ensure it can live up to that potential.”44
In a first test of whether the U.S. would have any influence on the Council following Israel’s Operation Guardian of the Wall in Gaza, the HRC voted on May 27, 2021, 24 to 9, with 14 abstentions, to appoint a commission of inquiry to investigate possible war crimes and other abuses committed in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. No mention was made of Hamas, which precipitated the fighting, or Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which was also responsible for indiscriminately firing more than 4,000 rockets into Israel.
The New York Times noted this was the third time in seven years the HRC created a one-sided commission to investigate Israel, but this one is different because it is ongoing and will examine “all underlying root causes of recurrent tensions, instability and protraction of conflict, including systematic discrimination and repression based on national, ethnic, racial or religious identity.”45
The U.S. Mission to the UN in Geneva said: “The United States deeply regrets today’s decision by the Human Rights Council to establish an open-ended Commission of Inquiry into the recent violence between Israel and the Palestinians....We all should be working to find real solutions to help the Palestinian people and ensuring that terrorist organizations, including Hamas, do not exploit the situation on the ground, including by indiscriminate firing of rockets, to further their own destructive aims. The actions of the Human Rights Council today do not contribute to peace…. We will continue to advocate for Israel to be treated fairly in the Human Rights Council.”46
In testimony before Congress, U.S. ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield said it was “appalling that the Council has one standing agenda - and that's Israel - when there's so many other countries that are committing human rights violations, and we see it every day in the news.” She added, “We've seen that countries that have put Israel on the agenda on a regular basis have expressed views that are antisemitic, and many of those countries are in the Middle East.”47
The United Nations took up the refugee issue and adopted Resolution 194 on December 11, 1948. This called upon the Arab states and Israel to resolve all outstanding issues through negotiations either directly, or with the help of the Palestine Conciliation Commission established by this resolution. Furthermore, Point 11 resolves:
that refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which under principles of international law or in equity should be made good by Governments or authorities responsible. Instructs the Conciliation Commission to facilitate the repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of refugees and payment of compensation... (emphasis added).
The emphasized words demonstrate that the UN recognized that Israel could not be expected to repatriate a hostile population that might endanger its security. The solution to the problem, like all previous refugee problems, would require at least some Palestinians to be resettled in Arab lands.
The resolution met most of Israel's concerns regarding the refugees, whom they regarded as a potential fifth column if allowed to return unconditionally. The Israelis considered the settlement of the refugee issue a negotiable part of an overall peace settlement. The Arabs were no more willing to compromise in 1949, however, than they had been in 1947. In fact, they unanimously rejected the UN resolution.
The General Assembly subsequently voted, on November 19, 1948, to establish the United Nations Relief for Palestinian Refugees (UNRPR) to dispense aid to the refugees. The UNRPR was replaced by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) on December 8, 1949, and given a budget of $50 million.
UNRWA was designed to continue the relief program initiated by the UNRPR, substitute public works for direct relief and promote economic development. The proponents of the plan envisioned that direct relief would be almost completely replaced by public works, with the remaining assistance provided by the Arab governments.
UNRWA had little chance of success, however, because it sought to solve a political problem using an economic approach. By the mid1950s, it was evident neither the refugees nor the Arab states were prepared to cooperate on the large-scale development projects originally foreseen by the Agency as a means of alleviating the Palestinians' situation. The Arab governments and the refugees themselves were unwilling to contribute to any plan that could be interpreted as fostering resettlement. They preferred to cling to their interpretation of Resolution 194, which they believed would eventually result in repatriation.
While Jewish refugees from Arab countries received no international assistance, Palestinians received millions of dollars through UNRWA. Initially, the United States contributed $25 million and Israel nearly $3 million. The total Arab pledges amounted to approximately $600,000. For the first 20 years, the United States provided more than two-thirds of the funds, while the Arab states continued to contribute a tiny fraction. Israel donated more funds to UNRWA than most Arab states. The Saudis did not match Israel's contribution until 1973; Kuwait and Libya, not until 1980. As recently as 1994, Israel gave more to UNRWA than all Arab countries except Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Morocco.
The United States is still by far the organization's largest contributor, donating nearly $90 million in 2000, approximately 31 percent of the organization's $293 million in receipts. Meanwhile, for all their rhetorical support for the Palestinians, the Arab states contributed only 2 percent of the UNRWA budget.7
The UN's continuing anti-Israel bias was exemplified by its sponsorship of the eighth “North American NGO [Non-governmental organization] Symposium on the Question of Palestine” in 1991. “The ensuing parade of luminaries repeated, ad nauseam, virtually every anti-Israel canard imaginable,” wrote an observer who attended the conference.8
“Is it not the Jews who are exploiting the American people and trying to debase them?”—Libyan UN Representative Ali Treiki.9
“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.10 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.11
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.12
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.
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.
In response to complaints, UN spokesman Farhan Haq said, “His views are his own, not those of the United Nations. The United Nations believes any comparison between conditions in Gaza and those of Nazi concentration camps is irresponsible. Such a comparison does not reflect the views of the secretary-general.” Dissatisfied by the failure to take punitive action against Ziegler, 70 members of Congress wrote to Secretary-General Annan to express their concern and call on him to take steps to end anti-Semitism within the UN and to fight against anti-Semitism worldwide.12a
An Israeli display at the UN focusing on various Israeli topics was deemed “inappropriate,” and censored by UN workers on April 2, 2016. The presentation, 13 panels entitled “Israel Matters,” was set to be displayed at the UN headquarters in New York City on April 4, 2016, but three of the panels were removed in the days leading up to the exhibit opening. The removed panels dealt with Zionism, Jerusalem, and Israeli Arabs. Israel’s UN envoy Danny Danon spoke out against the censorship and urged UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to reverse the “scandalous” decision.29
Because the Security Council established the diplomatic parameters for solving the Arab-Israeli conflict, UN Resolutions 242 and 338, many people outside the UN still believe it can play a useful role in bringing peace to Middle East. A careful analysis of the Security Council’s actions on the Middle East, however, 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 15 Arab League members have.13 In fact, for a long time, Israel was the only one of the U.N. member states ineligible to serve on the Security Council.
Every UN member state belongs to one of the five regional groups. Geographically, Israel should be part of the Asian bloc, but Arab states successfully prevented Israel's inclusion. A breakthrough in Israel’s fifty-year exclusion from these bodies occurred in May 2000, when Israel accepted an invitation to become a temporary member of the Western European and Others (WEOG) regional group in New York. This historic step helped end at least some of the UN’s discriminatory actions against Israel and opened the door to the possibility of Israeli participation in the Security Council.
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 to the WEOG was initially limited. Israel was not allowed to present candidacies for open seats in any UN body for two years and was not permitted to compete for major UN bodies, such as the Economic and Social Council, for a longer period. Also, Israel agreed it would not seek membership on the UN Security Council through WEOG.
In 2003-2004, Israel was successful in presenting candidates for six UN posts. Israel also twice assumed the rotating chairmanship of WEOG. Israel was originally asked to reapply for membership every four years, but, in 2004, the first time Israel reapplied, it was granted an indefinite extension.
In November 2013, Israel was admitted into the WEOG in Geneva as well, giving it more power to help shape UN policy on sit on more UN bodies, most especially the Human Rights Committee. Before its inclusion in the Geneva WEOG, Israel was only an observer not accorded the rights of full membership in discussions and consultation meetings. Israel is still not a full member of WEOG at UN headquarters in Nairobi, Rome and Vienna.
In the future, Israel still hopes to gain membership in the Asian group. In 2005, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman announced that Israel will, for the first time ever, seek a temporary seat on the Security Council.13a Even if their application is accepted by WEOG, Israel would not be able to hold any seat on the council until 2018, as every seat has already been reserved until that time.
In July 2012, Israeli attorney David Scharia was appointed as legal coordinator for the Counter-Terrorism Committee executive directorate, a position that oversees a team of international legal experts who advise the Security Council on its counterterrorism efforts. While the appointment would not be notable otherwise, the promotion of an Israeli and a former Israeli government worker is extremely uncommon in the UN and especially in the Security Council. Of the more than 44,000 international employees within the United Nations, only 124 were Israeli as of the summer of 2012 and none serve in the top ranks of the most sensitive political jobs, which are responsible for maintaining international security, mediating peace deals and coordinating humanitarian assistance.
“I am very proud to welcome a very talented Israeli into the U.N’s senior ranks,” said Ron Prosor, Israel’s U.N. ambassador. “One of my priorities is to bring many more bright minds from the Holy Land into the U.N.’s halls, where Israelis have long been underrepresented."13b
In what some viewed as a vengeful parting shot at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, with whom the president had a dysfunctional relationship, Obama decided to abstain rather than veto UN Security Council resolution 2334, which condemned Israeli settlements as illegal. The resolution, sponsored by New Zealand, Malaysia, Venezuela, and Senegal, was approved by a vote of 14-0 on December 23, 2016. Though administration officials claimed to play no role in the introduction and wording of the resolution, it is inconceivable that a serious policy statement about Israel could be considered in the Security Council without direct and extensive U.S. involvement.
According to resolution 2334, settlements have no legal validity and “any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem,” are considered a “flagrant violation under international law.” Going beyond new construction in disputed areas, the resolution applies to historically Jewish areas that were captured by Jordan during the War of Independence and taken back by Israel during the 1967 War. The implication is that the Temple Mount and Western Wall, the two holiest sites in Judaism, are considered “occupied territories.”
President Obama's Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes explained the U.S. abstention from the vote, stating “Netanyahu had the opportunity to pursue policies that would have led to a different outcome today... In the absence of any meaningful peace process, as well as in the accelerated settlement activity, we took the decision that we did today to abstain on the resolution.”31
Netanyahu and others, however, noted the resolution was one-sided and did not account for the Palestinians “unwillingness to engage in negotiations, entertain concessions for reaching an agreement or accept any pervious offers that would have established a Palestinian state.” It is the Palestinians’ refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state or agree to a state coexisting with Israel that is the main obstacle to peace, Israel’s defenders asserted, not the existence of Jewish settlements.
During the following weeks partisan battles raged in Washington between those who saw the abstention as consistent with U.S. support for a two-state solution, and those who saw it as a broken commitment and betrayal of one of America’s closest allies. Members of Congress outraged by the UN action and the administration’s failure to use its veto introduced a resolution expressing “grave objection” to the United Nations vote in December and calling for the United States to work to have it repealed or significantly altered. The U.S. House of Representatives approved the resolution calling for a repeal of UNSC resolution 2334 in a 342-80 vote on January 5, 2016.
Israeli officials announced that they were “reducing ties” with 12 members of the United Nations Security Council in response to the vote, and Prime Minister Netanyahu called officials from 10 Security Council members to Jerusalem to speak with them concerning the vote. Netanyahu referred to the United States refusal to veto the resolution as “shameful” and “underhanded.”
During a “farewell” speech delivered five days after the Security Council vote, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry lambasted Israel for expanding settlements, and rejected the notion that the United States had abandoned Israel by abstaining from the vote on resolution 2334.
The United States House of Representatives passed House Resolution 11 on January 5, 2017, expressing their objection to United Nations Security Council resolution 2334.
During Israel’s Operation Guardian of the Wall in Gaza in May 2021, the United States blocked proposals for a UN Security Council joint statement on the violence three times because it would be “unhelpful” in de-escalating the situation. The statements focused on criticizing Israeli actions and failed to condemn the rioting by Palestinians or missile barrages by Hamas.
Though Israel was admitted for U.N. representation almost immediately after its establishment, it has time and again been rejected for membership in U.N. committees and official organizations.
In 2002, Israeli candidates 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. Similarly, in early 2003, an Israeli candidate was defeated for a position on the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. In 2005, Israel submitted its first application to sit as a temporary member on the Security Council, but even if accepted they could not join the council until at least the year 2018.
A few breakthroughs have been achieved, however, through which Israeli officials hope a step toward normalizing Israel's place at the UN can occur.14
In 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.
In April 2003, Israel won its second post, joining the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs.
A further advance occurred in July 2005 when Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman, was elected 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. Meir Itzchaki, the Foreign Ministry's deputy director for arms control, took up the UNDC post and was part of the Commission's eight-member presidency.14a
In October 2005, Israeli architect Michael Turner, chairman of the Israeli World Heritage Committee, was chosen for the first time to serve as a member of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.
In May 2006, Israel was appointed to a spot on the United Nations committee on non-governmental organizations. The committee of the U.N. Economic and Social Council meets twice annually and reviews applications for special status with the commission.
In December 2007 when Israel was voted by WEOG to represent the grouping in consultations for two Nairobi-based UN agencies: HABITAT, the UN Human Settlement Program, and UNEP, the UN Environment Program.
In February 2012, Israel was granted its first ever seat on the executive board of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). “This is a milestone in Israel’s integration to the global agenda of the UN,” said Israel's Deputy Permanent Representative Haim Waxman. “Furthermore, this is the expression of a journey that we have taken from being a developing nation born in adversity to becoming a developed nation, a member of the OECD and now a full member of the UNDP as a representative of the West.”
Since then it has become more common for Israelis to hold official positions on various UN bodies. As of October 2019, 103 Israelis work in the UN, including 29 at the US headquarters. That month, Natalia Nadal, a long-time UN employee, became the first Israeli to serve as the chief of enabling and outreach service, which puts her in charge of improving relations between the UN and companies it engages for products and services.14b
On January 24, 2005, the UN General Assembly held a commemoration of the 60th Anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps. This marked the first time that the General Assembly convened to commemorate the Holocaust, and the first time that the General Assembly convened a Special Session at Israel's initiative. The session was intended to strengthen international awareness of the Holocaust and the struggle against anti-Semitism, and the related significance of the rebirth of the State of Israel and the Jewish people. Israel enlisted the assistance of 30 countries (the U.S., the 25 EU states, Russia, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) in presenting a joint request to the UN Secretary General to convene the special session.
In November 2005, the United Nations adopted a resolution establishing January 27 as Holocaust Remembrance Day at the United Nations. It also calls on member states to include the Holocaust in their educational curriculums and condemn manifestations of Holocaust denial. In addition, it calls on the secretary-general to create programs under the rubric of “The U.N. and the Holocaust” and report to the General Assembly on the programs’ progress. This was the first Israeli-initiated resolution the General Assembly has ever passed.
Israel also achieved a milestone in 2007 when for the first time the General Assembly passed a non-political resolution sponsored by the Jewish State. The resolution called for UN member states to assist in the agricultural growth of developing nations in need of agricultural infrastructure and stability.
Debates on Israel abound, and the 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. What takes place in the Security Council “more closely resembles a mugging than either a political debate or an effort at problem-solving,” declared former UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick.15
The Arab League contingent on the Council has been reinforced by members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and “nonaligned” governments that do not recognize Israel. Since the end of 1991, leading nonaligned nations such as India and China have established diplomatic ties with Israel; the Soviet Union, which broke off relations with the Jewish State after the Six-Day War, was replaced on the panel by Russia, which has full diplomatic relations with Israel. Though it was hoped this might result in a more balanced handling of the Arab-Israeli conflict by the Security Council, that has not been the case as Russia has continued to vote consistently against Israel.
In 2003, Israel sought to gain support for a resolution of its own, the first it had introduced since 1976. 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 hundreds of Israeli children in terrorist attacks, and after a similar resolution had been adopted on November 6, 2003, 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
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-Aqsa 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 Bush Administration has more aggressively sought to prevent UN bodies from unfairly targeting Israel and has been less hesitant to vote against resolutions singling Israel out for criticism. 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-Aqsa 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.17
Despite the Bush Administration's stated resolve, it too has been unwilling to oppose every one-side anti-Israel resolution. In May 2004, the U.S. abstained on a resolution condemning Israel for its actions in Gaza during a military operation aimed at stopping terrorism and weapons smuggling.
The Arabs can also 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. In December 2002, for example, the United States voted for the first time (in the past the U.S. abstained) against a UN resolution calling on Israel to repeal the Jerusalem Law, but the resolution still passed 154-5.
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 abstaining roughly two-thirds of the time.18
From 2004 to 2011, the Security Council issued no fewer than 55 resolutions related to Israel and the conflict in the Middle East, the majority being critical of Israeli policies or overly supportive of the Palestinian cause. Over that same period the United States vetoed just 5 critical resolutions - three that called for an immediate end to Israeli operations in Gaza, one that condemned Israel for assassinating Hamas leader Sheik Yassin, and a fifth that condemned all Israeli settlement building as illegal. The U.S. did voice their support for using the veto again in late 2011 to block a vote on unilateral Palestinian independence, but as of February 2012 no such vote has been brought for discussion in the Security Council. Since then, the United States has vetoed only two resolutions, one condemning America’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the other condemning Israel’s response to rioting during the “Great March of Return.”
In 2019, 100 resolutions passed with a vote in the UN General Assembly, 17 of which were characterized as anti-Israel by the United States. Israel has consistently been at or near the top of the list of America’s top UN allies. In 2019, Israel was far ahead of the pack, voting with the United States 96 percent of the time, followed by Micronesia with a coincidence rate of 73 percent. Major U.S. allies such as Canada (66 percent), Australia (66 percent), Great Britain (64 percent), and France (60 percent) lagged far behind.
Among the Arab states, Sudan surprisingly voted with the United States most often, but still just 29 percent of the time. As a group, the Arab states voted against the United States on 78 percent of the resolutions. Somalia was at the bottom of the list, opposing the United States 91 percent of the time.19
The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia published a report on March 17, 2017, that accused Israel of engaging in the practice of apartheid against the Palestinians. The conclusion offered by the Commission, which comprises 18 countries, is that Israel has established
an apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole. This was the first time that this accusation, often repeated by anti-Semites and Israel’s detractors, was published in an official UN report. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres requested that the Commission remove the report from its website, and stated through a spokesman that he was not consulted about the report prior to its publication, and that the report does not reflect his views on the subject.
The United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO)has named several sites in Israel “World Heritage Sites,” however, in recent years the organization has become politicized and the Palestinians have tried to use the agency to gain recognition for a Palestinian state. That campaign also involves an effort to delegitimize Israel and to erase the Jewish connection to sites in Israel and the disputed territories. For a detailed discussion, click here.
Professor Itamar Grotto, a high-ranking official at the Israeli Ministry of Health, was named to the executive committee of the World Health Organization (WHO) in September 2017. This marked the first time in 21 years that a representative from Israel had a voice in the international body. The WHO is a specialized agency of the United Nations, established in 1948.33
Israel was the only country in the world singled out as a violator of “health rights” during the UN World Health Organization's (WHO) annual assembly in May 2015. Although Israeli hospitals provide health care for injured Syrians and Palestinians daily, the WHO decided to turn a blind eye to health crises in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, and North Korea, and instead single out Israel as a major violator of health rights. The WHO passed a resolution calling for “health-related technical assistance for the Syrian population in the Occupied Syrian Golan,” in a vote of 104-4, but considered no similar resolution for any other area in the entire world.26
1Jewish Telegraphic Agency, (September 20, 2006).
1aChaim Herzog, Who Stands Accused? (NY: Random House, 1978), pp. 4-5.
2New York Times, (December 17, 1991).
3Herzog, p. 130.
3aBenny Avni, “Bolton Scores U.N. on Stance Toward Israel,” The New York Sun, (January 13, 2006).
4Jerusalem Post, (September 4, 2003).
5Jerusalem Post, (April 26, 2004).
5aReuters, (March 1, 2005).
5bJerusalem Post, (August 18, 2005).
5cYnetnews.com, (August 18, 2005).
5dReuters, (December 2, 2007).
5d-2Mission of the United States, (March 18, 2013).
5eEYEontheUN, (November 29, 2006).
5fAP, (April 8, 2008).
5gJTA, (March 25, 2010).
5hJTA, (September 12, 2012).
5iReport of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission, United Nations Human Rights Council (January 2013).
5jTimes of Israel, (January 31, 2013).
6Jerusalem Post, (December 4, 2003).
7Report of the Commissioner-General of the United Nations, Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, 1 July 2000-30 June 2001.
8Near East Report, (July 22, 1991).
9Speech before the UN, December 8, 1983, quoted in Harris Schoenberg, Mandate For Terror: The United Nations and the PLO, (NY: Shapolsky, 1989), p. 296.
10Speech to UN seminar on religious tolerance and freedom, delivered December 5, 1984, quoted in Anti-Defamation League, News, (February 7, 1985).
11Morris Abram, "Israel Under Attack: Anti-Semitism in the United Nations, The Earth Times, (Dec. 16-31, 1997).
12aWashington Times, (July 11, 2005).
13Near East Report, (November 26, 1990).
13aUnited Nations, (September 20, 2005).
13b Colum Lynch, "David Scharia Named UN Security Council's Top Counterterrorism Lawyer," Washington Post, (July 17, 2012).
14Anne Bayefsky, "Israel second-class status at the UN," National Post, (February 18, 2003); JTA, (April 30, 2003).
14aHerb Keinon, “Israel receives another significant UN appointment,” Jerusalem Post, (July 27, 2005).
14b“Israeli Elected To Serve In Top U.N. Position,” Jerusalem Post, (October 27, 2019).
15New York Times, (March 31, 1983).
16Jerusalem Post, (November 26, 2003).
17Washington Post, (July 26, 2002).
18U.S. State Department.
19“Voting Practices at the United Nations - 2019,” U.S. State Department.
20Tovah Lazaroff, “US affirms it stands with Israel at UNHRC, continues Agenda Item 7 boycott,” Jerusalem Post, (March 23, 2015).
21Ron Prosor, “Letter to UN Secretary General on the Appointment of William Schabas,” Embassy of Israel, (December 8, 2014).
22Stephanie Nebehay, “U.N. names panel to investigate war crimes in Gaza; Israel slams it,” Reuters, (August 11, 2014).
23“Report by U.N. panel probing Gaza war crimes postponed for 3 months,” Jewish Journal, (March 9, 2015).
24Lori Lowenthal Marcus"Bias Schabas Resigns, Must Scrap Tainted "Investigation" and Report,” Jewish Press, (February 16, 2015).
25“US was the only country to stand with Israel and to vote against four resolutions that dealt with the Palestinian territories and the Golan Heights,” Jerusalem Post, (March 27, 2015).
26 “UN casts Israel as the only violator of health rights in the world,” UN Watch, (May 26, 2015).
26aMichael Wilner, “Top 10 Headlines of 2018: American Politics,” Jerusalem Post, (December 30, 2018).
26b“US resolution to condemn activities of Hamas voted down in General Assembly,” UN News, (December 6, 2018).
26cDaniel Siryoti and, Ariel Kahana, “Fearing ‘humiliation,’ Palestinians pull UN resolution against Trump peace plan,” Israel Hayom, (February 11, 2020).
27“Israel slams U.N. body's call for ‘blacklist’ of settlement companies,” Yahoo News, (March 24, 2016).
28 Arshad Mohammed. “U.S. condemns U.N. call for list of firms operating in West Bank,” Reuters, (March 30, 2016).
29“UN censors exhibit on Israel set for NY headquarters,” Times of Israel, (April 4, 2016).
31“For Obama and Netanyahu, a Final Clash After Years of Conflict,” New York Times, (December 23, 2016).
World’s Democracies Snub Annual Israel-Bashing ‘Item 7’ Debate at UN Human Rights Council Geneva Gathering, Algemeiner, (June 19, 2016).
First Israeli named to WHO's executive committee in 21 years, Jerusalem Post, (June 19, 2016).
34Judy Siegel-Itzkovich. “Israel to become official member of UN Committee on Space Affairs,” Jerusalem Post, (February 2, 2016).
Overcoming opposition, Israel elected to UN space committee, Times of Israel, (October 18, 2017).
36Adam Kredo, “UN Accused of ‘Blackmailing’ Israeli Telecomm Company to Cut Services to Jews,” Washington Free Beacon, (October 16, 2017).
For the First Time, an Israeli Will Head UN Human Rights Committee, Haaretz, (July 4, 2018).
Watchdog Group: UN Ignores Anti-Semitism, De-Judaizes Holocaust, Jerusalem Post, (July 10, 2018).
Palestinians to Lead U.N.’s Biggest Bloc of Developing Countries New York Times, (July 25, 2018).
Bolton presses Russia about meddling in US election process, Boston Globe, (August 23, 2018).
41Luisa Blanchfield and Michael A. Weber, “The United Nations Human Rights Council: Background and Policy Issues,” Congressional Research Service, (April 20, 2020).
42Clifford D. May, “United Nations Human Rights Council delegitimizes Israel,” Washington Times, February 18, 2020); Lahav Harkov, “UNHRC’s game is rigged, so Israel isn’t playing – Analysis,” Jerusalem Post, February 12, 2020).
43“Racism: UN Human Rights Council must be forthright over Africa’s petition – Dr Mou,” The Sun (Nigeria) (August 31, 2020).
44Michele Kelemen, “Biden Administration To Rejoin U.N. Human Rights Council,” NPR, (February 8, 2021).
45Nick Cumming-Bruce, “U.N. Rights Council Orders Inquiry Into Israel After Gaza Strife,” New York Times, (May 27, 2021).
46“UN Human Rights Council Session on the Israeli-Palestinian Situation,” Press Statement, U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Geneva, (May 27, 2021).
47 Ali Harb, “US envoy says criticism of Israel at UN is ‘appalling,’” Middle East Eye, (June 16, 2021).