Anne Bayefsky, a new contributor, is a professor of political science
at York University in Toronto and an adjunct professor at Columbia University
It was not an event that any of the big newspapers saw fit to cover,
but this past December, a draft United Nations resolution condemning
anti-Semitism was quietly withdrawn by Ireland, its sponsor in the General
Assembly. In a complicated exchange, Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen
had promised the measure to his Israeli counterpart Silvan Shalom, but
in the end Cowen refused to carry out his side of the bargain, pointing
to a lack of consensus on the issue. (Several Arab and Muslim states
had objections.)Thus went by the boards what would have been the first-ever
General Assembly resolution dealing directly with the problem of anti-Semitism.
And thus, too, has gone much else at the UN in the name of human rights.
Indeed, for veteran observers of the goings-on at Turtle Bay, the outcome
of the latest session was just one more episode in a long and ugly history.
Even when judged against the hypocrisy with which the UN has frequently
treated its own founding principles principles of tolerance, human dignity,
and national self-determination the international body's abiding hostility
to the just claims of Israel and the Jewish people remains a special,
and especially egregious, case.
The events of World War II and the Holocaust weighed heavily on the
founders of the United Nations. The starting point of the new organization's
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, was the determination
to overcome the "disregard and contempt for human rights"
that had "resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience
of mankind." Nazism had tried to eradicate one people, the Jews.
The UN 's core documents generalized from t hat case, declaring that
global progress depended on respect for fundamental freedoms without
distinction of race, sex, language, or religion. Human rights were to
be the new currency of international politics.
But even as some transgressions of these principles received juridical
attention in the UN's early years theft of cultural property, gross
deficiencies in education and labor standards, and the like no mention
was made of anti-Semitism. Not until 1959, when some 2,000 anti-Jewish
incidents, ranging from serious property damage to threats of bodily
harm, were reported in almost 40 countries (a large number of them in
West Germany), did the UN 's Commission on Human Rights pass a resolution
titled "Manifestations of Anti-Semitism and Other Forms of Racial
Prejudice and Religious Intolerance of a Similar Nature." By the
time the resolution reached the floor of the General Assembly, however,
the term "anti-Semitism " had been dropped.
Drafters of the UN's key declarations on human rights soon became masters
at evading the issue. When, in 1964-65, the American delegation (with
the assistance of Brazil) tried to include a reference to anti-Semitism
in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial
Discrimination, the effort failed, thanks to the Soviet Union, its satellites,
and its Arab allies, who among other things insisted that anti-Semitism
was a question not of race but of religion. When the UN finally got
around to adopting its first declaration on religious intolerance in
1981, anti-Semitism was again excluded. By 2003, the lead sponsor of
the perennial resolution on religious tolerance, Ireland, insisted with
a straight face that anti-Semitism should be omitted because it was
more properly considered under the rubric of race.
Against this unrelievedly dark record of omission, a few glimmers of
progress have appear ed over the past decade. After tumultuous multi-week
negotiations in 1994, the U.S. persuaded the UN Commission on Human
Rights to adopt its first resolution including the word "anti-Semitism"
in over 30 years and only the second in its history. Even so, a full
third of the commission's members refused to support it, and eight years
later, with the U.S. temporarily voted off the commission, it returned
to form, withdrawing its short-lived concern and excising anti-Semitism
from the racism resolution. Last year, after drawn-out negotiations,
the General Assembly did manage to permit references to anti-Semitism
in two resolutions on racism, one of them without effect or follow-up
and the second in the full knowledge that other elements in the resolution
would force the United States and Israel to vote against it.
By the summer of 2001, at the now notorious UN World Conference Against
Racism in Durban, South Africa, the notion that Jews were the target
of any special animus, now or in the past, was being treated with simple
contempt. References to anti- Semitism were removed from almost all
parts of the final declaration. Not only was there no mention of the
Holocaust in the conference's demand that those who incite racial hatred
should be brought to justice, but absent as well was any mention of
the need to study the Nazi war against the Jews. The only references
to the Holocaust and anti-Semitism appeared as part of a "Middle
East package" in which Palestinians were declared to be victims
of Israeli racism.
And what of today, as we experience the world's most virulent outbreak
of anti-Semitic deeds and speech in over a half-century? Concern over
this phenomenon did make an appearance, however fleetingly, in two reports
issued in 2003 by the UN special investigator on racism, Doudou Diene.
In one of them, his comment consisted of a short, va gue reference to
the controversy surrounding the recent broadcast on Egyptian television
of a series based on the infamous czarist forgery, The Protocols of
the Elders of Zion. Unnamed "authorities of the countries concerned,"
Diene wrote, were in the process of sending him further information
on this "allegation" of anti--Semitism.
In a second report published last year, this one addressed to the General
Assembly itself, Diene offered a seemingly new approach, promising to
turn his attention to the "clear resurgence of anti-Semitism."
But his only action to date has been to take note of the obvious fact
that attacks on Jews are "on the rise in Europe, Central Asia,
and North America." Entirely absent from his statements has been
any mention of the boiling cauldron of Middle Eastern anti-Semitism
a silence all the more remarkable in light of the multiple examples
of "Islamophobia" that he has documented with alarm.
In this connection, it is worth noting that, though Diene is now required
to produce annual reports "on discrimination against Muslims and
Arab peo- ples in various parts of the world," no report dedicated
to the problem of anti-Semitism has ever been produced by any organ
of the UN.
This indifference to anti-Semitism has been mirrored by the UN's growing
refusal over the decades to support the principle of self-determination
for the Jewish people that is, Zionism. The irony, of course, is that
the UN General Assembly was very much present at the creation of the
state of Israel, having endorsed the postwar partition plan for British-ruled
Palestine. But much has changed since 1948.
In general, and in the abstract, the UN has remained committed to the
ideal of self-governing nation-states. As one characteristic declaration
of the General Assembly puts it, "All peoples have a right to self-determination;
by virtue of that right they freely determin e their political status
and freely pursue their economic, social, and cultural development."
Indeed, over the years, the UN has developed and extended the principles
of self-determination, which are now taken to entail not just the basic
right of political independence but guarantees of non-interference by
other nations, a realm of domestic jurisdiction and national sovereignty,
and the preservation of historical, cultural, and religious particularities.
Where the UN has fallen markedly short is in the application of these
principles, and in no case more strikingly than that of Israel. The
key factor has been the changing composition of the international body.
From the late 1940's to the mid-60's, the original membership more than
doubled. Of the 67 new states joining in this period, 80 percent attached
themselves to the Group of 77 the UN 's third-world caucus, made up
of many former European colonies and some 40 percent had Muslim majorities.
By 1977, the five members of the
Arab League who helped to found the UN had been joined by all sixteen
To this radicalized and often Soviet-influenced contingent, self-determination
was invoked in UN circles not as a general principle but as a tool to
wield against the West, especially the U.S. and its increasingly stalwart
ally, Israel. Self-determination was a right of the oppressed, to be
exerted against oppressors. In the prosecution of this cause, the weight
assigned to historical claims was itself selective and discriminatory:those
who rejected the UN's 1947 partition plan for Palestine were labeled
the oppressed, while Jewish victims, from Palestine to Europe, were
characterized as the oppressors.
By this means has the UN negotiated the passage from omission to commission.
Not only has it consistently failed to appreciate or even to acknowledge
the state of Israel's preservation of Jewish independence and identity,
it has become the loudest and most determined foe of the Zionist project.
In 1975 the UN General Assembly passed its notorious resolution explicitly
equating Zionism with racism. Ever since then, and notwithstanding the
formal repeal of the resolution in 1991, the repellent imagery of Israelis
as racists has been a staple of UN rhetoric. Today, diplomats from Arab
and Muslim states states that effectively rendered themselves Judenrein
in the late 1940's refer to Israel's new security fence against terrorism
as an "apartheid wall." Palestinian towns and villages are
called "Bantustans." And the Palestinian Marwan Barghouti,
on trial in Israel for acts of terrorism, is labeled another Nelson
To judge by the UN 's official pronouncements, the Jewish state is the
world 's archetypal human- rights villain. Over the past 40 years, almost
30 percent of the resolutions passed by the UN Commission on Human Rights
to condemn specific states have been directed at Israel, which also
has the distinction of being the only state to which the commission
has devoted an entire item on its agenda.
As for the General Assembly, of the ten emergency special sessions it
has convened in its history, six have focused on the purported misdeeds
of Israel, from the Suez campaign of 1956 to the current dispute over
the security fence. The abuse of this process has gone so far that the
tenth session, originally convened in 1997, has become a permanent,
open-ended forum; it has now been "reconvened" twelve times,
most recently this past December.
Israel has been singled out in other ways as well. In the UN bureaucracy,
it is the only country with its own standing inter-state monitor: the
Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human
Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories.
p; Established as long ago as 1968, this body has issued annual reports
ever since. Another committee, on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights
of the Palestinian People, was established in 1975, on the same day
the General Assembly passed the Zionism-is-racism res- olution. Still
going strong almost three decades later, with 24 members and 25 observers,
it too sum- marizes its findings every year while at the same time sponsoring
a full program of meetings, conferences, and publications. In 2003 alone,
the UN bureaucracy generated 22 reports and formal notes on "conditions
of Palestinian and other Arab citizens living under Israeli occupation."
The UN 's response to an Israeli military incursion into the West Bank
town of Jenin in April 2002 typifies the organization's treatment of
the Jewish state. At the time, even a report by Yasir Arafat's Fatah
movement recognized Jenin as "the suicider's capital," a place
where organizations like Hamas and Islamic Jihad had sought shelter,
among civilians, for their ongoing murderous operations. But the UN
saved its venom for Israel's armed response to the violence directed
against its citizens. Terje Roed-Larsen, the organization's special
coordinator for the Middle East peace process, described the scene after
Israel's strike a strike expressly designed to limit civilian casualties
as "horrific beyond belief." Peter Hansen, commissioner general
of the UN Relief and Works Agency, called it "a human catastrophe
that had few parallels in recent history." A UN press release was
headlined, "End the horror in the camps." Only much later,
in mid-summer, did the UN Secretary General release a report on Jenin
noting that the Palestinian death toll from this "massacre"
was 52, approximately 35 of whom were armed combatants.
Israel's policies are, of course, fair game for legitimate criticism.
But the UN 's outrage is grossly selective, especially when one considers
the record of any number of other member nations. In 2003, the General
Assembly passed eighteen resolutions that singled out Israel for criticism;
human-rights situations in the rest of the world drew only four country-specific
resolutions. Nor, despite serious and well-documented charges of abuse
reported to the UN over the years from, among others, the organization's
own special rapporteurs, has
any resolution of the UN Commission on Human Rights ever been directed
at China, Syria, Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates,
Yemen, Pakistan, Malaysia, Mali, or Zimbabwe.
Consider the case of Sudan. This past year, members of the UN Commission
on Human Rights had before them the report of their own special rapporteur
on torture, which described the articles of the Sudanese penal code
mandating "cross amputation"the amputation of the right hand
and the left foot for armed robbery and, for other offenses, "death
by hanging crucifixion." The report also took note of various cases
in which Sudanese women had been stoned to death for adultery after
trials conducted in a language they did not understand and in which
they were denied legal representation.
The response to these gruesome findings? On behalf of the Organization
of the Islamic Conference, Pakistan vehemently objected to a draft resolution
condemning this sort of "cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment
or punishment," declaring such views "an offense to all Muslim
countries. "The resolution went down to defeat; for good measure,
the commission terminated the ten- year-old position of rapporteur on
human rights for the long-suffering people of Sudan.
The justifications that are typically given for turning a blind eye
to human-rights violations in 95 percent of UN states are predictable
enough. In 2003, t eaming up to defeat a resolution condemning Russian
behavior in Chechnya, Syria and China called it "interference in
the internal affairs of that country." India said that "every
state had the right to protect its citizens from terrorism. "When
it came to reproving Zimbabwe, South Africa objected to "naming
and shaming," while Libya, complaining that the resolution was
"an attempt to
make the commission a forum to settle differences between countries,"
declared its preference for "the language of cooperation and dialogue."
How is it, one might wonder, that such reservations never give the UN
a moment's pause when it comes to the organization's relentlessly one-sided
prosecution of Israel a democratic state with an independent judiciary
that, unlike all these others, can point to a long and distinguished
record of respect for human rights? The demonization of Israel would
seem to be about something else entirely.
What that something is has become too
clear to deny: over the past several decades, the UN has fashioned itself
into perhaps the foremost global platform for anti-Semitism.
The leading agent of this process, needless to say, has been the Palestine
Liberation Organization (PLO), Israel's supposed "partner in peace,"
in close cooperation with Arab and Muslim members of the UN. In presentations
to the UN Commis- sion on Human Rights, Palestinian delegates have repeatedly
devised new variations on the medieval blood libel, accusing the Israelis
of such things as needing to kill Arabs for the proper observance of
Yom Kippur and of injecting Palestinian children with HIV-positive blood.
By Palestinians and others, Israelis are now routinely condemned with
Nazi terminology current
resolutions speak of the "Judaization" of Jerusalem or are
themselves likened to Nazis. As the Algerian representative recently
observed, in an especially memorable outburst:
Kristallnacht repeats itself daily. . . . Israeli sol- diers are the
true disciples of Goebbels and of Himmler, who strip Palestinian prisoners
and inscribe numbers on their bodies. . . . Must we wait in silence
until new death camps are built. . . . The Israeli war machine has been
try- ing for five decades to arrive at a final solution.
The nadir of the UN 's record in these matters was the conference on
racism and xenophobia held under its auspices in Durban in 2001. It
would have been bad enough if (as we have already seen) the event had
simply refused to acknowledge the growing problem of anti-Semitism;
but it went much farther, turning into a festival of hatred against
Though the Durban conference concluded with a formal meeting of government
representatives, its first half consisted of an NGO forum a meeting,
that is, of the various nongovernmental organizations purportedly devoted
to combating racism.
NGO's play a key role in the UN system, with some of them receiving
formal status, but here Jews have once again been singled out for discriminatory
treatment. Over the years, attempts have been made to impede groups
like Hadassah, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and the International Association
of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists from obtaining official accreditation.
Durban gave some idea why.
At the conference's NGO forum, the Arab
Lawyer's Union freely distributed books containing cartoons of swastika-festooned
Israelis and fanged, hooked-nosed Jews, blood dripping from their hands.
Another best-selling title was The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Hundreds of flyers were distributed with a picture of Hitler and the
words, "What if I had won? The good thing there would be no Israel."
Appeals to the conference's secretary- general, UN High Commi ssioner
for Human Rights Mary Robinson, to demand the removal of this anti-Semitic
literature went unheeded.
The NGO forum at Durban did sponsor a single event on anti-Semitism,
but it was disrupted by an angry mob of protesters, shouting, "You
are killers! You are killers!" A news conference the following
day, called by a broad range of national and international Jewish organizations,
was similarly interrupted, this time for the benefit of the TV cameras,
and was finally called off.
As the NGO forum drew to a close, the Jewish caucus, like all the other
caucuses, submitted provisions for the conference's final document.
The group's contribution stated that anti-Semitism could take many forms,
including the equation of Zionism with racism, the attempt to de-legitimize
the self-determination of the Jewish people, and the targeting of Jews
throughout the world for violence because of their support of Israel.
When the time finally came for a vote, a representative of the World
Council of Churches called for the deletion of this language; the Jewish
caucus was alone in voting against the motion. Jewish NGO's from all
over the world walked out in protest, even as representatives of Amnesty
International, Human Rights Watch, and the Lawyers Committee on Human
Rights stood by in silence. No statement proposed by any other caucus
Did the UN system learn a lesson from this fiasco? To the contrary.
Just months after
Durban, Vladimir Petrovsky, director-general of the UN office in Geneva,
declared the conference "the most extensive and momentous expression
of the global resolve to combat the scourge of racism and intolerance
in all its forms and at all levels." Commissioner Mary Robinson
agreed, telling a subsequent UN human-rights gathering that the Durban
conference's International Youth Sum- mit a part of the NGO foru m at
which young Jews from all over the world were jeered, heckled, and threatened,
before eventually walking out had been "an inspiring event."
In the two years since Durban, whose outrages were quickly overshadowed
by the events of 9/11, anti-Semitism voiced under the auspices of the
UN has taken a new and, arguably, even more dangerous turn. In every
UN body, Arab and Muslim
states have opposed any effort to give meaningful definition to the
notion of terrorism, largely because of its obvious implications for
the Palestinian "uprising." The UN Counter Terrorism Committee,
set up by the Security Council in the wake of 9/11, has yet to identify
publicly a single terrorist organization or state sponsor of terrorism.
Worse still, organs of the UN have taken to glorifying terrorist violence
against Israeli targets. In 2002, John Dugard, a special rapporteur
for the Commission on Human Rights, could barely contain his admiration
for the murderous enemies of the Jewish state: "The Palestinian
response is equally tough: while suicide bombers have created terror
in the Israeli heartland, militarized groups armed with rifles, mortars,
and Kassam-2 rockets confront the IDF [Israeli army] with new determination,
daring, and success."
In 2003, as Israel suffered successive waves of attack against its civilians,
the commission itself put forward a resolution affirming the legitimacy
of suicide bombing, declaring that movements against "foreign occupation
and for self-determination" were entitled to "all available
means, including armed struggle." The only members to vote against
the resolution were Australia, Germany, Peru, Canada, and the United
States. (France and the United Kingdom abstained.) The American and
Canadian delegates protested that the resolution was "contrary
to the very concept of human rights" and "deeply repugnant
to the commission's core values." It carried by a wide margin.
It is no accident that a UN apparatus which, for decades, has ignored
anti-Semitism and distorted beyond recognition the idea of Zionism would
seek to isolate Israel from the global community. At the UN, Israelis
and Jews are, by definition, oppressors, as are the nations and organizations
that rally to their cause. The energy with which these hateful views
are expressed has ebbed and flowed over time, but there is no reason
to think that the underlying reality will change anytime soon.
To appreciate the dimensions of this tragedy one need only recall the
lofty promises of the UN Charter, ratified in the hope of securing the
"equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small."
By this plain and unambiguous standard, anti-Semitism is not some necessary
if unfortunate by-product of multilateral progress, as some would suggest.
It is an out-and-out malignancy, and it has compromised the integrity
of the entire organism. Perhaps it is time to stop holding seminars
and conferences on whether the UN glass is half-full or half-empty.
The contents of the glass have been poisoned.
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