How to get serious with U.N. bias
Samantha Power, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, this week sounded an unusually strong—and therefore welcome—warning about the continuing bias against Israel in the corridors of the world body.
On a visit to Israel, Power spoke publicly about the experience of ZAKA, an Israeli humanitarian aid organization, in its efforts to gain accreditation at the U.N. After describing Zaka’s venerable record of assistance not just in Israel, but in New York City after the 9/11 atrocities and in Haiti after the devastating earthquake there in 2010, the ambassador pointed out that when, in 2013, the agency applied for accreditation to the U.N.’s NGO committee, it was flatly denied. It took another five attempts before the same committee until the accreditation was granted, thanks to pressure from Power herself along with Israeli diplomats.
In the same speech, Power reflected that “bias has extended well beyond Israel as a country [to] Israel as an idea.” In particular, she noted the insidious role of the U.N.’s Human Rights Council. Power said, “The only country in the world with a standing agenda item at the Human Rights Council is not North Korea, a totalitarian state that is currently holding an estimated 100,000 people in gulags; not Syria, which has gassed its people—lots of them. It is Israel.”
It should be remembered that the Human Rights Council was created in 2006 to replace the old Commission on Human Rights. At the time, the outgoing U.N. secretary general, Kofi Annan, expressed hope that the new Council would break with the past, by preventing serial human rights abusers from gaining membership as easily as they had with the previous Commission, and by shifting away from the excessive focus on Israel. So Power’s remarks confirm that this goal has yet to be attained.
She’s right, too, about the bias in the U.N. against Israel “as an idea.” The roots of the rot go very deep.
Fifty years ago, when the West Bank was still occupied by Jordan, the Soviet Union began a campaign that was to culminate in the 1975 U.N. General Assembly resolution equating Zionism with racism. The Israeli scholars Joel Fishman and Yohanan Manor have unearthed how, in the October 1965 proceedings of one of its sub-committees, the Soviets responded to a joint U.S.-Brazil resolution condemning anti-Semitism with an amendment urging the inclusion of “Zionism” as well. So let there be no doubt: Before there was an “Israeli occupation,” there was a demonization campaign against the Jewish nature of the state underway.
By the time the General Assembly passed Resolution 3379 in 1975, the key slander it contained—the bracketing of the national liberation movement of the Jewish people with South African apartheid—was already a familiar one in the halls of the U.N. It fed on the same poisonous atmosphere, marked by terrorism and the constant threat of a Middle East war, that birthed such horrors as the Red Army Fraction, a group of well-heeled German students who hijacked planes and murdered Jews and others in the name of the Palestinian cause. And it remained on the books for 16 years before it was rescinded in a curt, single-line resolution on the eve of the historic 1991 Middle East peace conference.
The problem is that the U.N. continues to behave as if it regards Zionism as a form of racism. And the reason for that is simple. Structurally, nothing has changed at the U.N. since the coming, and then going, of Resolution 3379. The systemic bias identified by Power remains because the same bodies that have targeted Israel in the past continue to do so now.
It’s not just the Human Rights Council. On the same day that it passed the Zionism-is-racism resolution, the General Assembly created the memorably named “Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People,” along with an entire “Division of Palestinian Rights” for research, information, and propaganda requirements. For more than 40 years now, the U.N. has annually spent several million dollars of member-state money on NGO conferences on the Palestinian territories, “fact-finding” junkets composed of minor officials who decide that Israel is guilty before they even reach the airport, and endless resolutions and reports that cement the false image of Israel as a rogue state.
The Palestinian People Committee’s report to the General Assembly for its 2015 activities tells you all you need to know about how anti-Israel bias works its way through the U.N. system. Inter alia, we learn that one “Noam Chomsky, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,” delivered a lecture as part of the “International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.” We are told about the economic costs of the “occupation,” but the rife corruption in the Palestinian Authority that has eaten billions of dollars in aid money isn’t mentioned. At another point, we are informed that calculating the “occupation’s cost” is “complex and multidimensional, requiring expertise in economics, law, history, and politics.” Preferably acquired at the Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang, I’ll wager.
These and similar ignominies are documented on a regular basis by U.N. Watch, which also reports diligently on those human rights crises ignored by the U.N. But what hasn’t yet happened is an international discussion about the future of the Palestinian People Committee and its associated bodies.
Hence my suggestion. Since the U.N. doesn’t like abolishing existing committees, why not replace the Palestinian People Committee with another body dedicated to all stateless nations and minorities? That would include the Palestinians, but also the Kurds, the Sahrawis, and the Tibetans. It would underline international awareness of vulnerable minorities like the Yazidis in the Middle East. And it could avoid political controversies by focusing on education and human rights.
True, this new committee would carry its own set of problems, whatever final form it takes: nothing is ever easy at the U.N. But democratic member states need to understand that as long as the bodies dedicated to anti-Israel propaganda remain active within the U.N. structure, very little is going to change. Are we going to have this same conversation for the next 50 years?
Ben Cohen, senior editor of TheTower.org & The Tower Magazine, writes a weekly column for JNS.org on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics. His writings have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Haaretz, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. He is the author of “Some of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Antisemitism” (Edition Critic, 2014).