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History: The United Nations and Israel
by Mitchell Bard

Starting in the mid-1970s, an Arab-Soviet-Third World bloc joined to form what amounted to a pro-PLO lobby at the United Nations. This was particularly true in the General Assembly where these countries—nearly all dictatorships or autocracies—frequently voted together to pass resolutions attacking Israel and supporting the PLO.

In 1974, for example, the General Assembly invited Yasir Arafat to address it. Arafat did so, a holster attached to his hip. In his speech, Arafat spoke of carrying a gun and an olive branch (he left his gun outside before entering the hall). In 1975, the Assembly awarded permanent representative status to the PLO, which 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.1

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 On December 16—the very day it repealed the Zionism measure—the UN voted 152-1, with the U.S. abstaining, to call on Israel to rescind a Knesset resolution declaring Jerusalem its capital. Another resolution demanded Israel's withdrawal from “occupied territories,” including Jerusalem, and the right of return for Palestinians. It also denounced Israeli administration of the Golan Heights.

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.”

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. has continued to oppose 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 organizations decision to provide agricultural aid through the PLO, the U.S. withdrew.

Anti-Semitism at the UN

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.4

Since the early 1970s, the UN has become permeated with anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist sentiment. The following comments illustrate how ugly the atmosphere has become:

“Is it not the Jews who are exploiting the American people and trying to debase them?”—Libyan UN Representative Ali Treiki.5

“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.6 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.7

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.8

The Security Council

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 Councils 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.9

Every UN member state belongs to one of the five regional groups. Geographically, Israel should be part of the Asian bloc, but Arab states such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia have successfully prevented Israel's inclusion. As a temporary measure, Israel has sought acceptance in the West European and Others Group (WEOG), which includes not only the democracies of Western Europe but also Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Turkey and the United States. Despite the efforts of the United States and others, Israel has not been admitted to this group either.

Israel therefore cannot be elected to the Security Council nor can it join other key agencies, such as UNICEF, the World Court, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the Commission on Human Rights.

A Hostile Bloc

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. It remains to be seen whether these changes will result in a more balanced handling of the Arab-Israeli conflict by the Security Council.

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.10

The American Veto

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.

From 1967-1991, 82 resolutions and drafts dealing with Israel were voted on in the Council. Sixty-nine were critical of Israel. The U.S. supported these resolutions 28 times. By abstaining on 26 more votes, the U.S. effectively joined in the Councils condemnations. Hence, the U.S. opposed Israel on 78 percent of the critical votes.11 In that time, the U.S. used its veto 15 times.

America's Most Reliable UN Ally

While Israel cannot always rely on the U.S. at the UN, Americans can count on Israeli support more often than any other nation. For years, Israel has been America's top UN ally. In 1996, Israel voted with the U.S. 95 percent of the time. By contrast, the United Kingdom and France voted with America 79 and 78 percent of the time, respectively. Meanwhile, figures compiled by the State Department show that only a few points separated the voting scores of “moderate” and “radical” Arab governments. Egypt, at $2.3 billion a year the second largest recipient of American aid, opposed the U.S. on more than 60 percent of the votes. The figures for Jordan and Saudi Arabia were similar. On average, Arab states voted with the U.S. 37 percent of the time.


1Chaim Herzog, Who Stands Accused? (NY: Random House, 1978), pp. 4-5.

2New York Times, (December 17, 1991).

3Herzog, p. 130.

4Near East Report, (July 22, 1991).

5Speech before the UN, December 8, 1983, quoted in Harris Schoenberg, Mandate For Terror, (NY: Shapolsky, 1989), p. 296.

6Speech to UN seminar on religious tolerance and freedom, delivered December 5, 1984, quoted in Anti-Defamation League, News, (February 7, 1985).

7Morris Abram, "Israel Under Attack: Anti-Semitism in the United Nations, The Earth Times, (Dec. 16-31, 1997).


9Near East Report, (November 26, 1990).

10New York Times, (March 31, 1983).

11Calculations made by the authors based on UN Security Council votes.

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