September 22, 2013
The UN General Assembly, set to convene in New York next week, will confront a daunting set of complicated matters. One issue, however, is clear-cut, and it would be relatively easy to resolve if judged on the merits rather than on political considerations.
The UN Charter states: "The Organization is based on the principle of sovereign equality of all its Members." However, one member state is not treated equally: Israel.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon himself acknowledged this on August 16, when he told a group of Israeli students that "Israel has been weighed down by criticism and suffered from bias and sometimes even discrimination." And after a subsequent off-the-cuff response by the secretary-general to a reporter's question seemed to retract the claim, his office confirmed that he stood by his original statement.
What is the "bias" and "discrimination" against Israel to which the secretary-general refers?
* While disagreements and conflicts are common at the UN, Israel is the only member-state that has been targeted for annihilation by another member, Iran. Although ostensibly devoted to the pursuit of global peace and security, the world body has done nothing about it.
* UN member-states are organized into five regional groups, and it is these that determine membership on key UN bodies, such as the Security Council and the specialized agencies. The Asian Group, where Israel naturally belongs, denies her membership. Israel has only temporary membership with WEOG (the West European and Others Group) in New York, and no group status whatsoever at the UN's Geneva offices.
* Israel is the only UN member with a permanent agenda item devoted to scrutinizing its actions at the UN Human Rights Council. Not surprisingly, more than half of all the Council's resolutions are aimed against Israel. In striking contrast, many countries that are serial human-rights abusers get a free pass, and -- the height of hypocrisy -- some even have seats on the Council.
* A built-in, automatic anti-Israel majority in the General Assembly ensures an annual battery of resolutions attacking Israel in that body, irrespective of anything actually going on in the Middle East.
* The Palestinians are the only "refugee population" in the world not covered by the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). They have, instead, an agency devoted just to them, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which -- unlike the situation with other refugee groups -- counts all the original refugees' descendants as refugees as well. And whereas UNHCR has a mandate to resettle refugees, UNRWA deliberately keeps them in camps, nurturing their anger and frustration.
* There are standing UN divisions devoted to ongoing support for the Palestinian cause and the demonization of Israel, such as the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People, and the Division for Palestinian Rights in the UN's Department of Political Affairs, as well as special rapporteurs in Geneva. There is no remotely comparable UN apparatus aimed at any other country in the world.
There is considerable irony to this anti-Israel bias. The world body recommended the creation of Israel in 1947, when it voted to partition the British mandate over Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. The Jews accepted partition and declared the State of Israel, but the Arab world rejected it and launched full-scale war, which it lost. That there is no Palestinian state today -- the grievance that ostensibly motivates the UN's hostility toward Israel -- is entirely the fault of those Arab leaders, then and now, who could not and cannot abide the original UN decision to recognize a Jewish state.
The facts are unequivocal: The secretary-general's charge that Israel faces discrimination at the UN is clearly true. Will anything be done to rectify the situation this fall?
Don't hold your breath.
Lawrence Grossman is the American Jewish Committee's director of publications.