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Home Page > Articles in English > Israel vs. the United Nations


Israel vs. the United Nations
Equal Rights

By Tekla Szymanski

Israel in the U.N.The U.N. charter calls for "equal rights of […] nations large and small." But only now, nearly 60 years after the adoption of the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights", has the U.N. brought us, as Jimmy Carter puts it, "to where we can begin to put principles over politics for the betterment of all."

On March 15, 2006, the U.N. approved 170 to 4 (the United States, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau) with 3 abstentions (Belarus, Iran, Venezuela) a new "Human Rights Council" to replace the current, controversial and highly discredited "Human Rights Commission", which included many of the world's worst human-rights abusing countries, while leaving others — mainly Israel — standing in the hallway.

The 47-member Human Rights Council (as opposed to 53 members in the Commission) will be open to all. Its members will be elected on May 9 individually, rather than as part of a regional group, for up to two consecutive three-year terms by an absolute majority of the 191 member states (96 votes). Members can be suspended by a two-thirds vote of the General Assembly if a mandatory periodic review finds them guilty of "gross and systematic" violations of human rights. The Council will convene on June 19; the Human Rights Commission will be abolished on June 16. The Council will have a year-round presence and will meet three times a year. It will, if all goes well, be able to intervene much more timely to global crises and human rights abuses.

The United States and Israel believe that even with the new regulations in place, the new Human Rights Council will still not have enough teeth to act and continue to be vulnerable to political abuses. "We want a butterfly," said the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, prior to the vote. "We don't intend to put lipstick on a caterpillar and call it a success." And according to the Anti-Defamation League in New York, the new regulations are no true reform because the new Human Rights Council "retains many of the faults of the now-defunct UNCHR, including a potentially problematic membership structure that will not prevent rights violators from getting a seat."

Before the U.N. can claim to have thoroughly reformed itself, however, next on its agenda is a long overdue change of attitudes toward the Jewish state, which are slowly shifting to the better. Nevertheless, as John Bolton puts it, the claim that Israel can and will be treated as a normal state is still a "fantasy," calling what he witnesses a "dumbing down diplomatic mush."

But there are a few cautious steps that the U.N. has taken in the past months to reduce Israel's marginalization and demonization within the U.N.:

  • In January, 2004, the U.N. officially commemorated, for the first time within its walls, the victims of the Holocaust in a daylong event at U.N. Headquarters in New York.

  • In November 2004, a resolution against religious intolerance passed by 177 member states, which condemned Anti-Semitism as well.

  • On June 20, 2005, Israel's Ambassador to the U.N., Dan Gillerman, was appointed vice president of the General Assembly, becoming the first Israeli to be elected in 52 years.

  • Israel's representatives were also elected to the U.N. Disarmament Commission, the Governing Councils of the U.N. Environmental Program and the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. And Israel has also declared its candidacy for the Security Council for 2018-2020, for the next available open slot.

  • In October 2005, in a historic first, the U.N. adopted an Israeli resolution, designating January 27 as an annual "International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust," which was officially observed in January 2006. The Israeli resolution also urged U.N. members to teach future generations the lessons of the genocide so that it will not be repeated in the future.

  • And after six decades of rejection, Israel was allowed to join the International Red Cross under its own banner, the Red Crystal. The price of admission, however, was relinquishing its symbol, the Red Star of David. "If that's a victory," quipped the Wall Street Journal in an editorial, "we'd hate to see a defeat."

A Black Sheep Among Nations

For decades, Israel has been the black sheep within the United Nations and the list of grievances against Israel is long:

  • Only in 1991, the U.N. abolished a resolution equating Zionism with racism.

  • Israel was the only country in the U.N. that for decades was excluded from full membership in the regional grouping system — until it was included in 2000 in the 30-member "Western European and Others" group, which also includes the United States, Canada and Australia.
  • Some 20 of the 70 annual U.N. resolutions address Israel-related issues — a country like Sudan and its involvement in the genocide in Darfur, however, has never received any censure. Six out of ten of all Emergency Special Sessions of the General Assembly have been devoted to criticizing Israel.

  • About 20 committees in the international organization openly operate against Israel. In the now defunct U.N. Commission of Human Rights, Israel had been the subject of nearly 25 percent of all debates and the target of half of the commission's 10 country-specific resolutions (the Commission had a separate agenda item focusing solely on Israel).

  • Israel was excluded in all of the Commission's regional groups (the Israeli representative was literally left standing in the corridor during the Commission's regional meetings).

  • Above all, Israel is frequently cast an enemy of human rights. And the U.N. continues treating the Mideast peace process as a zero-sum game, putting its thumbscrews mainly on Israel.

In 2003, Israel put forward its first resolution in nearly 30 years in the General Assembly; it had to withdraw it later, however, in the face of strong opposition by most member states. This draft resolution had called for the protection of Israeli children from terrorism — mirroring a similar resolution on Palestinian children that had effortlessly passed the General Assembly earlier.

And in 2005, the annual "International Day of Solidarity With the Palestinian People", held at the U.N. each year on Nov. 29 on the day the U.N. partitioned the British Palestine Mandate (which Kofi Annan described in 2002 as a "day of mourning and a day of grief"), had as a backdrop on the stage a large map of the Middle East, featuring Palestine — but not Israel.


For further reading:

The Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations

Transcript of U.N. press conference on the special session, held by Kofi Annan on Jan. 19, 2005

The official U.N. Web site dedicated to its special session commemorating the Holocaust, and an exhibition on the Holocaust

The Charter of the United Nations, signed on June 26, 1945

Mideast Truth: Links to resources, articles and documents on "Israel vs. the U.N."

Eye on the U.N., A project of the Hudson Institute, New York


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