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The United Nations and Israel

The U.N.'s Dirty Little Secret

by Anne Bayefsky - December 8, 2003
The international body refuses to condemn anti-Semitism.

Last week, the U.N. once again proved itself incapable of rising to the moral challenges embraced in its founding Charter: "tolerance," "the dignity and worth of the human person" and "equal rights." A draft resolution on anti-Semitism--which would have been a first in the U.N.'s 58-year history--was withdrawn in the face of Arab and Muslim opposition.

Daily incidents of anti-Semitic violence around the globe are reported in the media. Yet while leaders of the Free World condemn synagogue bombings in Turkey, firebombings of Jewish schools in France, and the hate speech of Malaysia's president who now heads the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the U.N. moves in the opposite direction, encouraging the proliferation of this centuries-old hatred.

In marked contrast, other forms of intolerance continue to consume the U.N.'s attention and resources. A special rapporteur mandated by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights reports regularly to the U.N. on "discrimination against Muslims and Arab peoples in various parts of the world" including any "physical assaults and attacks against their places of worship, cultural centers, businesses and properties." An entire 2003 Commission resolution "combating defamation of religions," mentions only prejudice against Muslims, Arabs and Islam.

Condemnation of anti-Semitism--which ought to be axiomatic--engenders controversy and intransigence at the U.N. At this year's General Assembly, Ireland assumed the role of gatekeeper, slamming the door in the face of a resolution to protect Jewish victims. Ireland has shepherded resolutions on religious intolerance through U.N. bodies for nearly 20 years without introducing anti-Semitism. In mid-November current events prompted demands in the Irish Parliament for an explanation of this omission from Foreign Minister Brian Cowen. The shabby excuse offered at that time was to sacrifice Jewish rights on the U.N.'s alter of "consensus and a wide level of co-sponsorship."

In plain language, to Ireland, Arab and Muslim opposition to condemning anti-Semitism meant . . . cut and run! Irish unwillingness or inability to stand up for principle at a time when it is assuming the Presidency of the European Union, does little to enhance the credibility of either the U.N. or the EU as honest brokers in the Middle East peace process.

The behind-the-scenes story of this Machiavellian plot involves an Irish breach of a deal struck between Foreign Minister Cowen and Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom only two weeks ago. Israel agreed to drop efforts to include "anti-Semitism" in the religious intolerance resolution in exchange for a promise from Ireland to introduce a new resolution specifically on anti-Semitism. But after the General Assembly's Third Committee adopted the resolution on religious intolerance minus any reference to anti-Semitism, Ireland refused to carry out its side of the bargain.

From the common era to the modern age, genocidal persecution of Jews has been justified by whichever label has served the perpetrator's interests: Religion, race, ethnic origin or nationality have all functioned, at one time or another as grounds for anti-Semitism. Ironically, the U.N. today can find none of these grounds sufficient to launch the vital campaign required to prevent the atrocities this hatred inspires. Instead, U.N. diplomats use the multiplicity of alleged Jewish crimes to place anti-Semitism between the stools. When the U.N. passed a major treaty on racial discrimination in 1965, they omitted "anti-Semitism" on the grounds that it "was out of place." Yet, a matching treaty on religious intolerance, promised by the General Assembly in 1962, was never acted upon.

Now, Mr. Cowen and company are claiming that anti-Semitism is, indeed, a matter of racial discrimination rendering it unsuitable for the resolution on religious intolerance. This self-serving reversal has been perversely justified in the name of the U.N.'s infamous 2001 Durban Racism Conference, which actually served as a platform for anti-Semitism.

The Durban Declaration excluded virtually all references to anti-Semitism and the Holocaust when it came to the specifics of taking action, and in a devil's bargain between the European Union and Arab states permitted a minimal reference to anti-Semitism in exchange for including a condemnation of alleged Israeli racism. Last week the U.N. General Assembly permitted reference to anti-Semitism in a resolution on follow-up to the Durban Conference, knowing that the United States and Israel would be forced to vote against.

At the heart of the U.N.'s problem with anti-Semitism lies rejection of the very idea of Jewish victimhood. Instead of ensuring that victimhood brooks no discrimination, on Nov. 26 a resolution condemning terrorist attacks on Israeli children failed to make it through the General Assembly while one on Palestinian children was adopted with only four states opposed. Israel was forced to withdraw its resolution because Egyptian amendments deleting "Israeli" before every mention of the word "children" were guaranteed an automatic U.N. majority.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan--who has occasionally paid lip-service to the problem of anti-Semitism--ignored the requests of both NGOs and the state sponsors of the anti-Semitism resolution to weigh in on the importance of the issue with U.N. members, or to press the point with the Organization of the Islamic Conference, just as he has never convened a conference or written a report dedicated to anti-Semitism. The unwillingness of the U.N.'s principal organs and its secretary general to confront and take meaningful action against this scourge, including its Muslim and Arab sources, is not merely a sin of omission.

The U.N. is an organization founded on the ashes of the Jewish people, and whose core human rights principles were drafted from the lessons of the Holocaust. The inability of the organization to address seriously one of the very evils it was intended to prevent is a scandal of global proportions. In 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declared, "disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind." Fifty-five years later the outrage is gone, the silence of the U.N. when it comes to anti-Semitism is deafening, and the only ones benefiting are those planning future barbarous acts against Jews everywhere.

Ms. Bayefsky, an adjunct professor at Columbia University Law School and professor of political science at York University, Toronto, is a member of the governing board of UN Watch.

©2003 Wall Street Journal

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