Is the United Nations an irredeemably anti-Israel and anti-American body?
For a vast majority of the speakers and attendees at a Nov. 18 conference entitled “Hijacking Human Rights: The Demonization of Israel at the United Nations,” the answer was an emphatic “Yes.”
“Today’s conference represents the first direct challenge to the UN’s annual ritualistic condemnation of Israel, and to the blatant hypocrisy and double standard involved in it. Enough is enough,” said Anne Bayefsky, senior fellow of the Hudson Institute and principal organizer of the event.
The conference, held at a hotel across the street from the UN, was co-sponsored by the Hudson Institute, Touro Law Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust, and the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists. About 250 people attended, including ambassadors, academics and members of Congress.
The General Assembly stands poised to introduce a raft of anti-Israel resolutions in the coming weeks, and will likely approve a committee report setting into motion planning for the 2009 Durban II conference, which many say promises to be a repeat of a UN conclave many criticized as overtly anti-Semitic.
“The UN is far from being a harmless talking shop as some believe, but rather is dedicated to undermining the self-determination of the State of Israel,” Bayefsky said. Asked if there is any point for Israel and the U.S. to remain engaged in the UN, Bayefsky said emphatically, “The UN is certainly not a forum to protect human rights or to foster peace and security.”
Bayefsky also termed the advent two years ago of an annual observance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day at the UN on Jan. 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, as “an insidious effort to divide Jews from Israel,” remarking, “One day a year, the UN remember the Holocaust, and over the course of the rest of the year it holds dozens of meetings to condemn Israel.”
Stating that Holocaust remembrance “is being used to make the demonization of Israel OK,” Bayefsky said, “This is too high a price to pay for a history lesson.”
The only voice among the 23 speakers at the event to make the case that the UN is sometimes useful to Israel was Ambassador Daniel Carmon, Israel’s deputy permanent representative to the UN.
“When I check with my [Israeli] colleagues who were at the UN from 20 or 30 years ago, I see there has been a considerable [improvement],” he said, although he acknowledged that General Assembly members — including 56 Muslim countries and over 60 other so-called Third World ones — form an “automatic majority” ready to continue passing virulently one-sided anti-Israel resolutions.
Nonetheless, Carmon said, “there are three major clusters of activity for Israeli foreign policy that are going through the UN: the process with the Palestinians, activities related to Iran, and issues related to south Lebanon.”
Stating that the Israel Mission to the UN works effectively with the UN Secretariat, headed by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Middle East matters, Carmon added, “It is no secret that Israel doesn’t want the UN acting as a mediator between us and the Palestinians, yet we recognize the UN has a role in providing humanitarian help to the Palestinians. UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency) is doing a relatively valuable job in this regard.”
Carmon said that Israel “supports and values” recent Security Council resolutions demanding Iran end its pursuit of nuclear energy and added, “The last report of the secretary general [on the implementation of the cease fire between Israel and Hezbollah in south Lebanon] was a relatively good one.”
After his remarks, Carmon was taken to task by several in the audience, including Esther Kandel, a Los Angeles-based pro-Israel activist, who has lobbied on Capitol Hill to have the U.S. cut off funding for UNRWA, which she accused of massive corruption and publishing anti-Semitic textbooks. Kandel told The Jewish Week, “It doesn’t help when we are working on educating members of Congress about the fraud and evil-doing in UNRWA to have a representative of Israel say that UNRWA is a good thing. I feel undercut and undermined by the government of Israel on this issue.”
Another Israeli diplomat, Ambassador Itzhak Levanon, the permanent Israeli representative to the UN in Geneva, gave a presentation more to the liking of the audience. He traced the metamorphosis of the old UN Human Rights Commission —which included the participation of perpetual human rights abusers such as Libya, Sudan, Zimbabwe and Cuba — to the new, supposedly more moderate UN Human Rights Council. The new body has actually been passing anti-Israel resolutions at a faster clip than the old one.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton, who has become increasingly outspoken in criticizing the Bush administration in recent weeks, said in a speech that he is unhappy the administration has maintained a tight-lipped response to the Sept. 6 Israeli air strike at a Syrian target rumored to have been a nuclear facility under construction.
“There is no reason for withholding from the U.S. public what the facility was about,” Bolton said. “North Korea, Syria and Iran really constitute an axis of evil, not in metaphorical terms, but in a very concrete way. If and when the U.S. or Israel use military force against Iranian reactors … we’ll be in a safer world.”
Sen. Norman Coleman (R-Minn.), who took the lead in demanding accountability from the UN during the oil-for-food scandal and is now pushing for a cutoff of U.S. funding for the UN Human Rights Council, remarked, “I didn’t want our money used to fund nations that engage in Israel-bashing. The combined annual contribution to the UN of the 132 nations [of the Islamic and Third World blocs] is less than the U.S. contribution. We have to play hardball with these countries.”
Some members of the audience said they hoped the conference would lead to the launching of a grass-roots American Jewish campaign to change the UN.
“This is a wonderful conference, but I hope it is only the first step,” said Carole Handwerker of Brooklyn, who identified herself as a pro-Israel activist unattached to any organization. “There are a lot of people like me out there waiting for someone to tell us what we can do to fight against the defamation of Israel at the UN. We want to be mobilized.”
Harris Schoenberg, the longtime director for United Nations Affairs for B’nai B’rith International and today president of UN Reform Advocates, was less rhapsodic. “Neither the United States nor Israel … are willing to give up on the UN,” he said. “Accordingly, we prefer to let it continue doing what it does best — creating international norms in such significant areas as climate change — while we continue major UN reform campaigns which, in the past, have succeeded in repealing the Zionism-is-racism libel and moving the UN in good measure from condoning to condemning and combating international terrorism.”
Rabbi Arthur Schneier, president of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, who recited Kaddish at the UN’s observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day in January 2006, the first time in the history of the UN that a religious prayer was allowed there, took issue with Bayefsky’s assertion that the UN cynically adopted Holocaust remembrance to mute Jewish criticism of its anti-Israel position.
“One has nothing to do with the other,” Schneier said. “Let’s not forget that it took a tremendous amount of sustained effort by Israel and Jewish organizations to get the UN to adopt Holocaust Remembrance Day. While we must continue to work to get the UN to treat Israel with justice, we must not throw away such a hard-won achievement.”