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Fatal Failure
The U.N. won't recognize the connection between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.


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Anne Bayefsky

Last June, the United Nations held its first-ever conference on anti-Semitism. Though the organization’s very raison d’etre rises from the ruins of Auschwitz and Belsen, it has never produced a single resolution dedicated to combating anti-Semitism or a report devoted to this devastating global phenomenon. For those who saw light at the end of the tunnel, this week the prospect of enlightenment at the General Assembly came to an inglorious conclusion. One mention of “anti-Semitism” made it into one paragraph of a general resolution on religious intolerance. Fifty-four U.N. states–of the 153 members that cast votes–refused to support even that.

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What’s going on? Let’s connect the dots. Immediately before voting against concern for anti-Semitism, the same countries refused to support a call for governments “to ensure effective protection of the right to life…and to investigate…all killings committed for any discriminatory reason, including sexual orientation.” Anti-Semitism and killing people because of their sexual orientation are acceptable to almost every one of the 56 members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

The resolution involving killing homosexuals is only one of many U.N. human-rights resolutions in which the OIC stands with the violator, not the victim. The real question is: How do they get away with it, let alone pass themselves off as seriously interested in human rights, including those of Palestinians?

Arab and Muslim states unabashedly take the offensive, hijacking the medium of human rights to serve a political agenda aimed at denying Jewish self-determination and destroying the Jewish state–the ultimate form of anti-Semitism. The willing vehicle for such a heist is the United Nations. The U.N.’s June anti-Semitism conference served to invigorate their well-versed two-track approach: Put the Jews on one side, Israel on the other, and divide and conquer.

Uh, Germany…

Track One works this way. Over the last three months the possibility of a U.N. resolution dedicated to anti-Semitism has been under discussion. A full-fledged resolution offers the potential of serious examination of the phenomenon, including new forms of anti-Semitism with the Jewish state as its victim. The battle associated with presenting a new and substantive stand-alone anti-Semitism resolution, however, scared off every democratic U.N. member state. The next idea was to have the European Union (EU) sponsor a resolution on anti-Semitism modeled on the Berlin Declaration, which was adopted in April by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). The OSCE had eked out: “…international developments or political issues, including those in Israel or elsewhere in the Middle East, never justify anti-Semitism.” Europeans could not quite bring themselves to say that terrorism aimed at ethnically cleansing Israel of Jews was also a form of anti-Semitism. But the Berlin Declaration’s mention of the word “Israel” in the context of “anti-Semitism” put Arab and Islamic states at the U.N. on the warpath (yet another one).

Some hoped the Germans would take a leadership role in campaigning for a specific anti-Semitism resolution at the General Assembly. In true gangland style, Germany was soon given to understand that such a role would jeopardize its hoped-for permanent seat on the Security Council, and any sense of historical responsibility vanished. Nor was any other EU member prepared to confront Arab and Muslim opposition. More sympathetic EU-wannabe states were afraid to annoy the EU gatekeepers. The U.S. State Department was content to leave the matter to European initiative (or lack thereof). And given that an Israeli-sponsored resolution has virtually no chance of being passed at the General Assembly, Israel chose not to go it alone.

Climbing way down the ladder, efforts turned to a general resolution on religious intolerance. One proposal would have included in the preamble the words “welcoming the Berlin Declaration” of the OSCE. But Berlin contained the dreaded reference to “Israel.” Hence, despite the declaration’s European parentage, the proposal was rejected by the European Union on the grounds that Arab and Islamic states said no. Then began EU-OIC negotiations, which weaken and debilitate so many U.N. outcomes. References to Islamophobia and Christianophobia and language accommodating all other religions were added. Islamophobia was taken out of alphabetical order and put first before anti-Semitism. And there the EU finally made its stand. The OIC still balked, but their efforts to defeat the reference failed. They had, however, successfully managed to reduce it to a single mention, and to exclude the Berlin reference and any other detail that might have connected anti-Semitism with Israel.

In the meantime, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights will soon receive another annual report on Islamophobia and the “situation of Muslim and Arab peoples in various parts of the world.” It continues to adopt annual resolutions expressing “deep concern at…intolerance and discrimination in matters of religion or belief” that mention only Islam.

Now for Track Two and the demonization of Israel. In the intervening five months since the one-day U.N. conference on anti-Semitism ended, the U.N. anti-Israel campaign was ramped up. The U.N.’s judicial organ, the International Court of Justice, decided in July that Israel’s security fence violated its version of international law. The contortions necessary to arrive at this conclusion resulted in a decision that there is no right of self-defense under the U.N. Charter when terrorists are not state actors. But just in case anyone missed the point, Judge Tanaka spoke of “the so-called terrorist attacks by Palestinian suicide bombers against the Israeli civilian population” (emphasis added) and Judge Elaraby (Egyptian ambassador to the U.N. until 1999) affirmed a “right of resistance” on the grounds, judicially speaking of course, that “violence breeds violence.”

The U.N. General Assembly held another emergency session in July to condemn Israel for building a wall to prevent terrorism, but not to name and condemn Palestinian terrorists, their Palestinian Authority patrons, or their state sponsors. This fall, another 20 anti-Israel resolutions are in the process of adoption at the regular session of the General Assembly. Another of the annual U.N.-sponsored NGO conferences “in support of the Palestinian people” was held at U.N. Headquarters in September. Participants studied “such sterile paradigms as ‘Israel’s self-defence,’” how to “promote a sporting, cultural and economic boycott” of Israel, and “to challenge Christian Zionism in moderate Christian communities.” A damage register was created for alleged victims of Israel’s security fence, but nothing for victims of Palestinian terrorism. The chief of UNWRA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency), Peter Hansen, gave a spirited defense of employing Hamas members.

Three more reports of U.N. “experts” were produced for the General Assembly taking direct aim at Israel. One expert has a mandate only to address human-rights violations by Israel in the territories and not Palestinian human-rights violations in Israel. He started this year’s report by analogizing Israel to apartheid South Africa, despite the fact that Arab states have virtually purged themselves of Jews, while in Israel the 20 percent Arab population enjoys more democratic rights than anywhere in the Arab world. The U.N. expert on the right to food focused on a concocted Israeli-driven humanitarian food crisis in the territories, but refused to say a single word about the millions going hungry in Zimbabwe because of discrimination and manipulation of the country’s food shortages to punish political opponents. And then there was the expert report on racism and xenophobia that blamed Israel for the rise of anti-Semitism, but that was still studying whether “alleged” ethnic motivations had anything to do with the genocide and displacement of more than a million people in the Darfur region of Sudan.

“You are talking anti-Semitism.”

The inequality and injustice of the treatment of Israel becomes most obvious in comparison with the U.N.’s treatment of human-rights violations elsewhere in the world. A U.N. General Assembly resolution on Iran could only be adopted last week after any notion of creating a single investigator into human-rights abuse in that country was eliminated. No resolution was even attempted on countries like China, where 1.3 billion people are without basic civil and political rights, or Saudi Arabia, where gross discrimination against women is endemic and more than a million female migrant workers are essentially slaves. Resolutions put forward on Sudan and Zimbabwe were prevented this week from even coming to a vote. The grand total of the GA’s 2004 country-specific criticism of human-rights violations around the globe in the 190 U.N. members, excluding Israel: One resolution for each of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iran, Myanmar, and Turkmenistan. It was on November 24 that the U.N. General Assembly defeated action on Sudan and Zimbabwe. Simultaneously, U.N. delegates in the adjoining room adopted nine resolutions condemning Israel.

The record is incontrovertible: double-standards applied only to Israel; the lack of interest in states with much worse human-rights records; and the resulting demonization of Israel through overt manipulation of human-rights rhetoric and mechanisms. Even the underlying anti-Semitism becomes plain with the overt attempt to eliminate concern with anti-Semitism.

And still the self-appointed human-rights professionals claim they don’t get it. In the latest effort to rend Jews from the state of Israel a new formula has emerged. Taking objection to anti-Semitism in the form of egregious discrimination against the Jewish state is said to be motivated by a desire to eliminate any criticism of Israel. As Ken Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, told the Jerusalem Post on November 4, “There is a cottage industry of people out there who try to accuse of bias those who criticize Israel’s human-rights record not because the criticisms are unwarranted but as a way of simply defending Israel from any criticism.” Reading from the same script, Mary Robinson, the former U.N. high commissioner for human rights, in a lecture at Brown University on November 7, worried about “blur[ing] the line between anti-Semitism and legitimate criticism of Israel…[S]ome…regard any criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic.” But “Israel’s supporters” should not, said Robinson, “use the charge of anti-Semitism to stifle legitimate discussion.” Similarly, Esther Benbassa, an invitee to a November 11-13 U.N. meeting in Barcelona that was convened to advise the U.N.’s expert on racism and xenophobia, has complained of “the dangerous phase of intimidation” that “eagerly sees behind each word, each gesture, and each criticism of Israeli policy, an anti-Semite.”

What an incredible outrage. A cursory glance at the newspapers in the democratic state of Israel, or the decisions of its vibrant judiciary, or the myriad discussions, conferences, and writings of Jews across the globe reveal a cacophony of public and self-driven criticism. The failure to acknowledge the deep connection between discrimination and demonization of individual Jews and discrimination and demonization of the Jewish state is not just ignorant–it is lethal. This failure also answers the original question of how Arab and Muslim states, and all those who have jumped on the Arafat bandwagon, pass themselves off as interested in human rights rather than the defeat of Jewish self-determination.

In a 1968 appearance at Harvard, Martin Luther King said, “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You are talking anti-Semitism.” But Martin Luther King would not find a home at the United Nations or its allied nongovernmental human-rights organizations.

Anne Bayefsky is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a visiting professor at Touro and Metropolitan Colleges in New York..



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