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UN’s Jewish Problem

February 8, 2015 | by Anne Bayefsky

How the UN mixes anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, and Israeli war crimes.

On January 22, 2015 the United Nations General Assembly held its first ever session dedicated to combating anti-Semitism.1 On January 27 and 28, 2015 the UN marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz Birkenau and the “International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust.”2 On January 31, 2015, other divisions of the UN started gearing up to indict Israelis for war crimes as a consequence of defending themselves against a genocidal foe.3 Unfortunately, there is method in this madness.

The UN was founded in 1945 on the ashes of the Jewish people, and the motivation for the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights acknowledged the debt in its preamble to the “barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind.” But for 70 years the primary organ of the UN representing all its member states, the General Assembly, never devoted a single meeting to the subject of anti-Semitism.

The General Assembly officially allocates days to “jazz” and “yoga,”4 but focusing the world’s collective energy on combating the world’s oldest hatred never made the list.

Over the years, there were focused reports to the UN Commission on Human Rights on Islamophobia and the “situation of Muslim and Arab peoples in various parts of the world,”5 but never a report focusing on Jews. Multiple resolutions expressed “deep concern about…intolerance and discrimination in matters of religion or belief” mentioning only “Islam”6 or Muslim victims, but not one resolution focusing on understanding and combating Jew hatred.

A Soviet-Arab cabal succeeded in deleting “anti-Semitism” from the draft of the 1965 convention on all forms of racial discrimination as a trade-off for omitting Zionism from the treaty’s list of racist offences.7 At the 1993 Vienna World Conference on Human Rights – the second of only two human rights world conferences in history – attempts to place “anti-Semitism” into the Vienna Declaration failed because it was deemed “too controversial.”8 A backroom effort in 2004 to adopt a focused General Assembly resolution on anti-Semitism never made it to the introduction phase after Germany and the European Union refused to confront Arab and Muslim opposition.9]

In 1994, when for only the second time in 30 years “anti-Semitism” appeared in a resolution of the Commission on Human Rights, it had to get past a roll-call vote.10 After the word eked its way into a minor place on the UN scene, Arab and Islamic states stymied any possibility of serious focus on anti-Semitism – which continues to this day.

Sometimes “anti-Semitism” has been upstaged alphabetically by becoming discrimination against “Jewish communities” and inserting discrimination against “Arab communities” first.11 Other times, the alphabet has been entirely ignored and “Islamophobia” placed first.12 Sometimes, the list has been expanded to include variously “blacks,” “Negrophobia,” “Africans,” “people of African descent,” “people of Asian descent,” “Christianophobia,” “all religious communities,” “communities of indigenous people,” and “other communities.”13 On other occasions, the list has been challenged as too long, or thrown out altogether.14]

The UN does not want to deal with anti-Semitism because the organization would be exposed as the global platform for anti-Semitism.

While focusing on anti-Semitism has been studiously avoided, the subject of the Holocaust has served as the consolation prize. The 2004 closed-door defeat of a General Assembly resolution on anti-Semitism was followed by a 2005 resolution on the Holocaust.15 Indeed, three-quarters of the speakers at the January 22, 2015 Assembly event on anti-Semitism mentioned the Holocaust. The reason that there is less of an allergic reaction to the Holocaust than to anti-Semitism is manifest from another measurement. Less than one-fifth of the speakers at the same meeting mentioned Israel or connected the dots between hatred of individual Jews and of the Jewish state.

The United Nations does not want to deal with anti-Semitism because the organization would be exposed as the global platform for anti-Semitism. Despite the verbiage about the victims of the Holocaust and the Paris kosher market attack, the reality is that the foreign policy of the majority of nations today condones and even promotes anti-Semitism.

Grossly differential treatment of Israel at the United Nations is indisputable

The General Assembly’s anti-Semitism event was a case study in prejudice:

  • In 2014, the General Assembly adopted 20 times more resolutions condemning Israel for human rights violations than any other country, and only seven such resolutions on all of the other 192 UN member states combined.

  • Five of all the ten emergency sessions of the General Assembly in its history attack Israel. The Assembly did not hold one emergency session about genocide in Rwanda or Sudan.16]

  • One-third of all the resolutions and decisions ever adopted by the UN’s top human rights body, the UN Human Rights Council, condemn only Israel.

  • In advance of every regular session, regardless of the facts, the Council sets aside time specifically to condemn only one state – Israel.17]

  • 38 percent of the special sessions and urgent debates ever held by the Council have been convened to condemn Israel. Not a single such session has been held on countries violating the rights of millions – like China, Iran, Saudi Arabia or Russia.

There is a word for patently obvious double-standards and discrimination against the Jewish state and for using the nomenclature of human rights to demonize and delegitimize the self-determination of the Jewish people – anti-Semitism.

This is the conclusion: the nations of the world and UN leaders dodge, conceal and deny. Ironically, it was even clearer from the General Assembly event on anti-Semitism itself.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon – who did not even bother to show up at UN headquarters for the historic meeting except by videotape – opened the session with these words, “Criticisms of Israeli actions should not be summarily dismissed as anti-Semitism.”18 Lebanon declared, “When we criticize Israel and condemn its policies…it is never because of the Jewish character of the majority of its population.”19 Turkey claimed: “Turkey’s stance is not directed at the Jewish people either in Israel or elsewhere, but solely against the conduct and practices of the government of Israel.”20]

Invited guest Elisa Massimino from “Human Rights First” (formerly known as the “Lawyers Committee for Human Rights,” an NGO that refused to vote against the NGO Durban declaration’s claim that Zionism is racism) argued about the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict – “…only a fool would deny that it exacerbates anti-Semitism.”21 The stand-in for the President of the General Assembly (who was also a no-show), Vice-President Alvaro José de Mendonça e Moura of Portugal, enthusiastically quoted her words and added: “The crucial point is to distinguish any anti-Semitic attitude and…fair criticism of the policies of the State of Israel.” “Criticism of the State of Israel cannot be equated with an attack on Jews.”22]

The straw man argument is unmistakable. No one outside or inside Israel’s vibrant democracy “summarily” dismisses all criticism as anti-Semitism, or “equates” any criticism with anti-Semitism, or denies the legitimacy of “fair criticism” of Israeli policies. And no one believes that the policies of increasingly Islamist Turkey or Hizbullah-driven Lebanon are unrelated to their antipathy towards any Jewish state.

But most insidious is the ignorant and twisted claim that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, rightly or wrongly, exacerbates anti-Semitism. At the root of this assertion is the idea that the victims of anti-Semitism have a responsibility to ameliorate the pathology of their enemies.

The fact is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is rooted in the rejection of a Jewish state and the denial of Jewish self-determination.

The fact is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is rooted in the rejection of a Jewish state and the denial of Jewish self-determination. It is itself quintessential anti-Semitism. The conflict legitimizes anti-Semitism for anti-Semites. The solution to the conflict is to call the discrimination, demonization, and intended destruction of Israel on the battlefields of the United Nations and the Middle East, by its name – anti-Semitism.

Instead, the General Assembly was treated to this contribution from Saudi Arabia, speaking on behalf of the 57 members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC): “The practices of the occupation and colonization have fueled anti-Semitism….Occupation itself is an anti-Semitic act. It threatens humankind….Persecution of the Palestinian people…is also an example of anti-Semitism.”23]

Lebanon added, “Anti-Semitism may be a misnomer as Arabs are Semites too,” and fantastically announced that, “There have never been any Arab pogroms” and “the Muslims never imposed their religion by force on Jews and Christians.”24]

The endeavors to divorce anti-Semitism from Israel and individual Jews from the Jewish collective also stood out in the commentary about the murders of four Jews in Paris in January 2015. Though selected for death because they were Jews and not because they were French, the representatives of Brazil, the European Union, Japan, Luxembourg, India and Costa Rica, all expressed “solidarity with the people of France” and not with the Jewish people or the Jewish state.

Similarly, the palpable discomfort among UN actors with addressing anti-Semitism head-on, resulted in the subject matter being repeatedly generalized and alleged Muslim victims of “Islamophobia” constantly injected. The Secretary-General: “Jews remain targets, as do Muslims…”25 The General Assembly President: “We must condemn without reservation all manifestations of intolerance, including anti-Semitism, including Islamophobia…”26 Argentina: “…violence and hatred for others feeds anti-Semitism, anti-Arabism, Islamophobia…”27 Denmark even thanked the Organization of Islamic Cooperation for its showcase UN resolution on religion that is a notorious assault on free speech.28]

South Africa, whose current government welcomed the world’s decades-long attention to apartheid, lashed out at the whole concept of one event on anti-Semitism:

“We limit the scope at which we can address these challenges when we single out one particular form of intolerance without highlighting others, including the rise in Afrophobia, Nazism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, anti-ciganism [anti-Romani] as they all lead to violence worldwide. The issue of anti-Semitism falls within the anti-racism agenda within the UN and should be addressed within the spectrum of all forms of intolerance to avoid creating confusion.”29]

Less confusing, according to South Africa, were the anti-Semitic “anti-racist” 2001 Durban conference and declaration – that they asserted remain “the cornerstone in combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.”30]

The UN event on anti-Semitism did not even avoid what is so often heard at UN meetings – an open display of anti-Semitism.

The UN event on anti-Semitism did not even avoid what is so often heard at UN meetings – an open display of anti-Semitism. Lebanon retold the lie of Jews having no ties to the land and analogized Israelis to Nazis: “No code of morals can justify the persecution of one people in an attempt to relieve the persecution of another…[T]he relief of Jewish distress may not be accomplished at the cost of inflicting a corresponding distress upon an innocent and peaceful population.”31]

The UN press office issued a scandalous release after the session, apparently reading from a UN playbook rather than the actual content of the statements. The press release fabricated the remarks of keynote speaker Bernard-Henri Lévy, piecing together disparate references to ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and a later comment on Palestinians. The release reads: “Mr. Lévy…called for a second meeting…to reveal the truth of the past decades – of the horror of the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Palestine.”32]

Beyond Israel, only two states reached the crux of modern anti-Semitism: Canada and the tiny country of Palau. Canada sent a Cabinet Minister, Steven Blaney, to speak truth to diplomatic power:

“Israel has every right to exist as a Jewish state… Our Canadian government has adopted an unequivocal approach against groups that…are in favour of terrorist acts committed against the State of Israel. … Canada has taken a zero-tolerance approach to anti-Semitism and all forms of discrimination including in rhetoric towards Israel, and attempts to delegitimize Israel such as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.”33]

The Canadians provided a very stark contrast to the input of the Obama administration, whose UN Ambassador Samantha Power shamefully made no mention of Israel at all.34]

This is not semantics. It is the way we know whether the pro forma “Never Again,” tripping easily off the lips of UN speakers, means anything.

The more than one hundred states represented could have mentioned the 3.5 million Israelis endangered by Hamas rocket fire just a few months ago,35 the three Israeli teens kidnapped and murdered on their way home from school, the four-year old child mortally wounded by shrapnel seconds away from a safe-house, the construction worker who fell to his death after his cables were cut, or the 3-month old killed when her stroller was rammed by a car.36 Or the 66 Israeli soldiers killed this past summer in the line of duty – because virtually all 18-year old Israelis have had to take up arms to defend their loved ones from anti-Semites for the past 67 years. But they did not.

The explanation lies between the lines. States frequently referred to the Paris shoppers as “innocent,” and to Holocaust victims as “innocent,” but not to innocent Israelis. This is the sickening nature of modern anti-Semitism – a strategic calculus over where to draw the politically-opportunistic line between innocent and culpable Jews.

At the end of the anti-Semitism meeting – which was informal because formal agreement by the General Assembly to address the subject would have run smack into Arab and OIC intransigence –a joint statement was issued.37 The lack of formality meant it could not take the form of an official UN resolution. It does not explicitly mention Israel, but it is tangible. Fifty states signed on to what could be called the New York declaration on anti-Semitism.

Tellingly, 90 percent of the signatories are fully free democracies (on the Freedom House scale), while only 45 percent of all UN member states are fully free. The countries that participated in the event but refused to sign the commitment to combating anti-Semitism, not only included Lebanon, Turkey, Qatar and Russia, but, disgracefully, Brazil, India, Mexico, New Zealand, South Korea, South Africa, and Switzerland.

Less than a week later, at the UN Holocaust commemoration held on January 28, 2015 in New York, listeners heard the gut-wrenching story of one of the few surviving twins of the Nazi Dr. Mengele’s hideous experiments. Jona Laks concluded her account of the horrors of Auschwitz and surviving the Nazi death marches, only to be turned away from her former home in Poland, with this: “In 1948, an orphan, and completely alone, I made my way…to the soon to be born State of Israel. I began to rebuild my life. Only then, I began to get the feeling that I was a human being again, with a name and no more just a number.”38]

It was a precise and authentic message understood long ago by the majority at the United Nations, but no longer.

On January 31, 2015, the UN Human Rights Council finished the first phase of its latest legal pogrom against the State of Israel when an inquiry that it commissioned wrapped up so-called fact-finding on the Gaza war. Although the inquiry’s Chair, William Schabas, was forced to resign on February 2, 2015 when it was revealed he had been a paid legal advisor to the PLO in 2012, all the hearings and preparatory work that he managed and directed will form the basis of the report due in March. Before he had even started, Schabas had been recorded on camera calling for “Netanyahu in the dock of the International Criminal Court.”39 His “impartial and objective” successor,40 Mary McGowan Davis (one of the two remaining inquiry members), chaired the Council committee to implement the infamous Goldstone report that charged Israel with war crimes in the previous Gaza war.41]

The devotion of Hamas to genocide is spelled out in its Covenant42 and reiterated continuously by its leadership.43 During the Gaza War, Israel was forced to respond to 4,564 rockets and mortars in just 50 days that deliberately targeted its civilian population.44 In the first 26 days alone, 597 of those rockets specifically came from Palestinian civilian sites.45 These are archetypal war crimes.

Pursuing Israel and its democratically-elected, accountable leaders for war crimes – after they dutifully acted to protect their citizens from Palestinian war crimes – is an attempt to ravage the essence of Israeli sovereignty: the right of self-defense. This move aims to cast asunder the promise that a Jewish state made to Jona Laks and to all Jews after the Holocaust.

How is it possible that in a matter of days the UN apparatus went from discussing anti-Semitism, to the Holocaust, to Israeli war crimes?

Tragically, one can only assume it is because the lessons of the Holocaust have never been absorbed, and the stage is being set for a repetition.

This article originally appeared on

See the footnotes.

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