Tuesday (Nov. 9, 2021) and Thursday (Nov. 11, 2021) the United Nations General Assembly’s Fourth Committee (the “Special Political and Decolonization” Committee) will vote on a number of anti-Israel draft resolutions that will then go on to the full General Assembly for final passage. Though this is a committee vote, it usually ends up mirroring the final vote at the GA, as countries rarely change their vote after the committee votes.
Though this is not the only avenue for anti-Israel votes at the UNGA (resolutions also come out of some of the other committees and are also occasionally brought straight to the GA floor, bypassing the committees entirely), the votes being taken at the Fourth Committee this week represent a chunk of the annual resolutions attacking Israel at the UNGA.
Among the important resolutions being voted upon are:
The “Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices…”
This is the most critical vote this week. The “Special Committee” is one of three pro-Palestinian propaganda bodies that are embedded within the U.N. in New York. The other two—the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP) and the Division for Palestinian Rights (DPR)—were renewed last year for the first time with two year mandates, so they will not come up for a vote this year. Unlike most of the other GA resolutions, which are usually declarative in nature, these three have a special budget that come out of your tax dollars, and the Special Committee is the only one up for a vote this year.
B’nai B’rith and our affiliate AJIRI-BBI have been working throughout the year in New York, Washington, Israel, Latin America, Europe and around the world to advocate that countries move in more positive directions with their votes on these three resolutions. And, indeed, there has been a noticeable erosion on the vote in favor. Last year, only 76 countries voted in favor of the Special Committee (less than half of all U.N. member states), and the number of European countries turning from mere abstentions to “No” votes on CEIRPP and DPR is thought to be a reason that the Palestinians started making it a two-year mandate—to avoid having to take votes every year that were getting increasingly embarrassing. While it is great that the movement is in a positive direction, the situation is still bad—all three mandates still pass (and CEIRPP and DPR now for two years at a time) and cause damage to Israel and all who believe in the dream of a peaceful Middle East.
The Special Committee is perhaps less well-known than the other two bodies, but no less dangerous. It acts as an amplifier of talking points and lies spread by Palestinian NGOs, the Palestinian Authority and other actors hostile to Israel. It is part of the continual noise machinery of the U.N. focused squarely (and only) on Israel. The resolution calls on the committee to carry on doing what it is currently doing, especially “investigating” the conditions of (terrorist) prisoners. It also, with no small amount of chutzpah, demands that Israel—as a U.N. member state—cooperate with the committee whose sole purpose is to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state. The resolution continues to fund the operations of the committee and gives it support staff through the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The resolution will pass, as always, but it will be interesting to see if the voting trends on this resolution improve this year when it is the only of the three “Palestinian committees” to get a vote.
This resolution seeks to put the onus of the moribund state of the peace process on Israel, claiming that the Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria (or, if you prefer the term imposed during the Jordanian occupation of 1948-1967, the West Bank) are the main obstacles to peace. Whatever one may think about these communities, they are not the obstacle—it is the Palestinian leadership’s refusal to negotiate with Israel’s government that has consistently sidelined the peace process.
This resolution also obsesses (by devoting multiple operative paragraphs) over “settler violence,” which is not a phenomenon that is incredibly widespread, unlike Palestinian terrorism, which has been the ultimate foil of all peace efforts since the 1990s. To show what goes for balance at the U.N., acts of violence and terror on “both sides” are quietly condemned too, but the drawing of a moral equivalence in this case does not show balance—it shows the moral bankruptcy of the institution. Palestinian terrorism, after all, has led to the deaths of thousands of Israelis and Palestinians.
Finally, there is also a roundabout call for boycotts, divestments and sanctions (BDS). The roundabout is necessary because only the Security Council has the power to enforce sanctions on entities. This resolution calls on the U.N. to abide by a UNHRC resolution on businesses in the settlements. Again, the UNHRC does not have the power to issue any orders on business activities, but the elements hostile to Israel at the U.N. are falsely trying to make it appear as if this is call is legitimate. It is not.
Unfortunately, this resolution—which, it should be underlined, is declarative and has no teeth—will also likely pass, and easily.
The Golan Heights
You might think that a resolution sponsored by the Syrian regime complaining about Israel’s presence on the Golan Heights—which Israel won in a defensive struggle in the Six Day War following years of harassment and threats to annihilate the Jewish state by invasion from the strategic area—could not possibly be taken seriously. But alas, this is the U.N. In fact, it will pass, however, the voting on this resolution has also turned a corner since Assad went on a genocidal rampage against his own people.
More countries recognize the absurdity of this resolution but not enough to have it banished forever, sadly. Adding to the absurdity—there are more annual resolutions at the UNGA and the UNHRC about Israel’s Golan Heights than about all of the horrors happening next door in Syria, committed not only by Assad, but also by his allies Iran and Hezbollah.
Assistance to Palestinian Refugees
This is a resolution praising the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). No mention is made of the longstanding issue of hate being taught at UNRWA schools, although there is a section that acknowledges (note: not affirms or endorses) UNRWA’s commitment to operate under the principles of “neutrality, humanity, independence and impartiality,” which is undoubtedly a nod to the scandals that have hit the agency in recent years, especially the blatant anti-Semitism in educational materials. This commitment is not really credible, though, given UNRWA’s history.
Operations of UNRWA
A companion resolution to the one above, this is a very long plea for donor countries to keep funding or even increase contributions to UNRWA, which claims its budget is in a big hole. The resolution does not address the causes of why countries might be pulling or holding back funding. UNRWA is not merely a humanitarian and educational agency, unlike UNHCR, which handles all other refugee situations. UNRWA regularly engages in politics and pushes a nonexistent “right of return,” in which all descendants of Palestinians who fled in 1948 would be allowed access to immigrate to Israel, thereby ending the existence of the democratic Jewish state. Beyond that and the incitement mentioned above, UNRWA facilities have been used by terrorists. During the latest conflict, a tunnel was found under an UNRWA school. Prior to that, rockets were found to be stored in an UNRWA facility. This resolution addresses that—as only the U.N. could—by calling on Israel to safeguard the security of UNRWA facilities, even though it is Hamas who actually puts those facilities in danger by using them for military purposes.
The resolution will, of course, pass by wide margins. But given the controversies surrounding UNRWA (those mentioned above and also, not insignificantly, a corruption scandal), it’s clear that there is a reason why donor countries have been holding back on funding this agency.
This week’s votes are important, but they are only the beginning of the annual Israel-bashing cycle at the UNGA. Another series of votes will be taken at the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Issues) next week, followed by final consideration of all of these resolutions (and any other resolutions brought straight to the floor) at the full General Assembly, starting after the observance of the U.N.’s self-declared International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People at the end of the month.
Oren Drori is the Program Officer for United Nations Affairs at B’nai B’rith International where he supports advocacy and programming efforts that advance B’nai B’rith’s goals at the U.N., which include: defending Israel, combating anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, and promoting global human rights and humanitarian concerns. He received a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Minnesota in 2004 and an M.A. in International Relations from the University of Chicago in 2006. Click here to view more of his additional content.
On Oct. 22, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Ganz announced that six Palestinian civil society groups (some of them with significant backing from the European Union) have been designated as terror organizations, asserting that they worked on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, surrounded by dictatorships like Cuba, Venezuela, Libya, Somalia and many others among the 47 members of the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC), has again criticized and challenged the Israeli government.
Michelle Bachelet said that Israel’s blacklisting of six Palestinian organizations for their alleged ties to the PFLP terror group is an attack on human rights defenders, on freedom of association, opinion, and expression and on the right to public participation, and she called for the move to be immediately revoked.
The list of organizations: Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees; ADDAMEER—Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association; Bisan Center for Research and Development; Al-Haq Organization; Defense for Children International—Palestine; and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees.
Bachelet said that these organizations are not terrorists, but defenders of Palestinian human rights, mainly of those who are in jail. But she did not say that most of those who are in jail have murdered Israeli civilians. On the contrary, she urged the Israeli government to prove the accusation. The Israeli government responded that there is ample proof of the connection of the organizations with the PFLP.
In 2019, the Ministry of Strategic Affairs published a report about several Palestinian organizations using the nongovernmental organization (NGO) label but in fact laundering money and recruiting young people for the PFLP, which has been designated as a terrorist group by many Western countries. According to the report, the Palestinian organizations have received 200 million dollars from the EU between 2014 and 2021. Why there has not been any investigation, or at least some serious checking, into where the money goes is a remaining unanswered question.
One of the six organizations, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, has a name that invites people to believe in serious civil work and assistance. Two main members of this “NGO,” Summer Arabid and Abd a-Razak Farage, are members of the PFLP. They have been identified and accused of being part of a terrorist attack that killed Rina Shnerb, 17 years old, in August 2019, while she was walking with her father along an Israeli road on their way to enjoy hiking.
ADDAMEER, another organization of the six named as terrorists by Israel, is linked with issues concerning terrorists in jail in Israel. Khalida Jarrar, the former President of ADDAMEER, is an active member of the PFLP.
Al-Haq says it is a defender of human rights. Ganz was very clear: the whole board of Al-Haq are members of the PFLP and all of them have taken part of terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians.
An NGO must prove that its work really is the work of an NGO work. It is not a title—there must be facts on the ground. But if it receives funds and it is not held accountable, if the dictatorships that are members of the UNHRC support them unequivocally, if the High Commissioner shows trust to these organizations and publicly dismisses what a democratic state like Israel says, and—last but not least—if the main target of the UNHRC is to attack Israel and delegitimize its right to defend itself, the whole panorama is dark and very dangerous.
The Israeli Government is taking the necessary steps to defend its citizens from ongoing terrorism. It is unacceptable that the permanent denial of Israeli rights come out in an outrageous litany from the UNHRC. And it is also outrageous that real democracies accept sitting together with cruel dictatorships. This acceptance is destroying the credibility that still may remain.
Eduardo Kohn, Ph.D., has been the B’nai B’rith executive vice president in Uruguay since 1981 and the B’nai B’rith International Director of Latin American Affairs since 1984. Before joining B’nai B’rith, he worked for the Israeli embassy in Uruguay, the Israel-Uruguay Chamber of Commerce and Hebrew College in Montevideo. He is a published author of “Zionism, 100 years of Theodor Herzl,” and writes op-eds for publications throughout Latin America. He graduated from the State University of Uruguay with a doctorate in diplomacy and international affairs. To view some of his additional content, click here.
In January 2020 the Jewish community came together in New York City to rally against anti-Semitism.
The rally was in response to a series of attacks against Jews in December 2019 that included two events of horrific violence targeting Jews in Monsey, New York and Jersey City, New Jersey. Earlier that year, in April 2019, a synagogue was attacked by a white supremacist, resulting in the murder of a congregant.
One year before that attack, in October 2018, the Jewish community in America mourned following the attack against the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Congregation synagogue that killed 11 worshippers at Shabbat services.
In response to these events, B’nai B’rith created and introduced a program called “None Shall Be Afraid.” This program is a way to stand against anti-Semitism, hatred and intolerance in our communities. It was created to help bring awareness to how words and actions matter. It provides tools to help understand the fight we face as Jews. Anti-Semitism is not new—we know of the long history of Jew-hatred in most of the places Jews have lived. While there may have been times of tranquility, Jews have faced the worst experience during the Holocaust, as the Nazis sought to wipe out the Jewish people. While the Holocaust can be referenced between a beginning and end in physical years and occurred decades ago, we are not surprised to see the glorification of Nazis and the denial of the Holocaust itself play out each day today online or in anti-Semitic symbols painted in public places. A key component of the None Shall Be Afraid program is the promotion of a very important tool to help define anti-Semitism. This includes endorsement of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism.
B’nai B’rith has spoken out against anti-Semitism at times when there are attacks against the Jewish people in places around the world. It also takes the opportunity to educate when events, even when they are not violent, offer a teachable moment.
B’nai B’rith, via staff and international leadership, have participated in international conferences and forums that focused on anti-Semitism. For example, in July 2021, B’nai B’rith International CEO, Daniel S. Mariaschin addressed the 7th Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism (GFCA) in Israel that was organized by the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Diaspora Affairs to serve as a think tank for the global Jewish community. His presentation focused on contemporary anti-Semitism and its manifestations in history. His approach offered several suggestions to be an advocate for the Jewish people. This includes working with friends and allies of Israel on every level of government. It means sharing this important information with friends, family and colleagues. It calls for educating ourselves as well as others about Jewish history, especially the contribution that Jews have made to make the world a better place. B’nai B’rith is also involved in many coalitions on the subject, adding our voice to speak out when Israel and Zionism are attacked on the street, as well as at international meetings sponsored by the United Nations, such as the Durban IV Conference held last month.
You can get involved by taking a deeper look at the None Shall Be Afraid program here. None Shall Be Afraid offers answers you need to become and encourage others to be an advocate for the Jewish people. This also includes an important first step that you can take. Take our pledge to fight anti-Semitism here.
The title of None Shall Be Afraid comes from the letter exchange between President George Washington and Moses Seixas, writing on behalf of the congregation of the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode
Island in 1790. In it, George Washington quotes Micah 4:4—”Everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
The letter would find its place in history as the promise of the United States to the Jewish citizens to provide a place they could live and be free of bigotry and persecution. It was to be no place for intolerance, hatred and violence. We take that promise seriously and will continue to speak out in response to threats to Jews and around the world. Help us spread this important message by taking the pledge today. If you have already signed on, take another step and send it to friends and family asking them to get involved. Mention it at the next virtual program you attend and provide the link. The more voices that become part of this call to educate, the stronger our advocacy.
If you are getting together with family this Thanksgiving, print out the pledge and share it with your guests. Share your own experiences with anti-Semitism and listen to your children and grandchildren about what they face on campus. Let your parents share what they experienced in the past. It will offer a glimpse into Jewish history, especially if you have the fortune to have the precious Holocaust survivors in your family. Write down their experience to share as part of your family’s legacy and please share your stories with me at firstname.lastname@example.org so that we can include this in our Annual Yom Hashoah programming in April 2022.
Rhonda Love is the Vice President of Programming for B’nai B’rith International. She is Director of the Center of Community Action and Center of Jewish Identity. She served as the Program Director of the former District One of B’nai B’rith. In 2002 she received recognition by B’nai B’rith with the Julius Bisno Professional Excellence Award. Rhonda has served on the B’nai B’rith International staff for 41 years. To view some of her additional content, click here.
CEO and Director of U.N. Affairs Joint Op-ed in JNS: At the UNHRC, why not focus on countries with egregious human-rights records?
The United States was again elected this month to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) after an absence of more than three years. The United States fully deserves to be recognized as a global leader in promoting human rights.
Often, however, election to the world’s preeminent human-rights body is not founded upon countries’ merit but political horse-trading. In fact, none of the 18 vacant seats to be filled at the start of 2022 was contested; each will essentially have been claimed in advance by a “candidate” government without assurance of governments’ actual performance in protecting human rights or of equal opportunities for a stint on the council.
Case in point: Since the establishment of the council, around 120 of the 193 U.N. member states have enjoyed membership on it, some repeatedly.
Among the countries perennially left out is one subjected to far more harsh treatment by the body than any other: Israel.
This comes as no surprise to those within the U.N. system. After all, Israel is one of the United Nations most longstanding members, dating back to 1949, and it has also gotten more than its fair share of attention from the Security Council. Yet it has not been one of the 130 countries to have had at least one term in that powerful forum either. That’s unlike Algeria, Libya, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.
To sum it up: Over the course of nearly 75 years, one side of the Arab-Israeli conflict has repeatedly had a voice, and vote, on relevant matters in key international institutions. The other hasn’t.
One side has wielded an automatic majority in these critical settings—there are some 60 Arab and Muslim U.N. member states—and the other is the world’s only Jewish state, Israel.
But the inequity is not limited to questions of mere representation.
When the United States withdrew from the Human Rights Council in 2018, The New York Times characterized the pullout as protesting “frequent criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.” No country is immune to fair criticism, but this portrayal, sadly commonplace, represents nothing short of journalistic malpractice. What the council dishes out to Israel is not “criticism” but simple demonization—delegitimization and double standards.
The Human Rights Council was formed 15 years ago to replace its corrupt and utterly ineffective predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights. But the council has been little better, particularly when it comes to Israel and the human rights of its diverse citizens.
At the council, what is the only country permanently probed under a dedicated agenda item? Israel. The only country even tarred as racist under yet another agenda item? Israel. The country targeted with more condemnatory resolutions than all others? Israel. The country that has been the subject of more “emergency” sessions than all others? Israel. The country repeatedly targeted with so-called fact-finding missions whose one-sided findings are endorsed in advance? Israel. The country scrutinized in perpetuity, though not its violent adversaries, by a “special rapporteur”? Israel. The only country subjected to a discriminatory corporate blacklist? Israel.
Too many outsiders assume that the U.N.’s sky-high output of anti-Israel excoriations reflects the real-world misbehavior of a uniquely and wildly aggressive Israel.
In actuality, Israel serves as a convenient target for scapegoating and unjust isolation at the world body, despite an astonishingly humane record in the face of practically unequaled and unending existential threats.
Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad—all openly committed not to limited territorial or political claims but to the outright destruction of the Jewish state—have never been condemned by the Human Rights Council for their fanaticism and terror.
Meanwhile, more Arabs have been killed in just 10 years of civil war in Syria than in nearly a century of conflict over Jews’ return to sovereignty in their small and sole ancestral homeland.
Fortunately, with more and more Arab and Muslim leaders now recognizing not only the permanence of Israel but also its legitimacy and potential to help forge a thriving Middle East, forces long accustomed to weaponizing the United Nations for cynical political purposes may find increasingly little enthusiasm for that stale cause.
As America rejoins the UNHRC, it must make clear that the body’s own legitimacy rests upon abandoning bias and bigotry in the pursuit of human dignity. Only concrete and substantial change at the council will make the body worthy of American membership and sustained investment. That change should start with ending the council’s singular fixation upon defaming Israel at the expense of highlighting the world’s most egregious and systemic human-rights abusers.
Earlier this month, I visited Pittsburgh ahead of the anniversary of the Tree of Life tragedy.
Three years earlier, on October 27, 2018, a far-right extremist committed the deadliest attack against Jews in the history of the United States – killing 11 worshipers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax and Irving Younger of blessed memory were beloved members of three different congregations. Other worshipers, as well as law enforcement officers and first responders, were seriously wounded. So too, the sense of safety of American Jewry.
The threat of antisemitic attacks is part of the day-to-day of Jewish life in Europe. Metal detectors and security guards are ubiquitous at all Jewish venues. A kippah is worn both with pride and with trepidation, as the numbers of recorded antisemitic incidents have steadily risen in recent years.
But the heart wrenching attack in Pittsburgh’s Squirrell Hill neighborhood – the same community Mr. Rogers’ spoke about – surfaced an unlikely question: Can Jews feel safe in the United States?
What I felt being in Pittsburgh was a reverberating communal “yes”.
U.S. statistics about Jews’ sense of safety mirror those in Europe. A large majority of Jews feel antisemitism is a real and present danger, a reflection of the staggering rise in violent incidents.
The resounding, collective “yes” from the Jewish community and its many allies in Pittsburgh is not ignorant to this reality – on the contrary – it is determined to overcome it: not just survive, but thrive – openly and without fear.
A community of solidarity
The outpouring of love and solidarity following the attack three years ago was experienced not only in Pittsburgh, but around the world. I was truly inspired. Yet in hindsight, I didn’t fully understand the nearly-universal show of support until I was there in person.
It’s been three years, but Squirrell Hill houses on every block still boast signs: Stronger Than Hate. The city symbol, the Steelmark – continues to lend one of its four-pointed starlike figures to a Star of David. At the Tree of Life Synagogue, a long fence surrounding the building is covered in drawings sent in from schools across the country, turning security into solidarity and inspiration.
I had the chance to see once again a full-page newspaper ad in memory of two victims, Cecil and David Rosenthal. It read: “The entire Rosenthal Family wishes to extend our sincerest thanks and gratitude to the Pittsburgh community and around the world for your outpouring of support and kindness. Your thoughts, prayers and kind gestures have given us strength to get through this difficult time.”
In the town of the Steelers – #PittsburghStrong has a new meaning, and it has nothing to do with metal. It’s a collective commitment to beat back hate.
The Eradicate Hate Global Summit
One of the ways in which this commitment materialized was the inaugural edition of the Eradicate Hate Global Summit, which took place just last week in Pittsburgh. This was an unprecedented effort to convene leading researchers, practitioners, journalists, law–makers and tech companies to develop collaborative and multidisciplinary responses to hate. Among speakers were UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide; Alice Wairimu Nderitu, Judge Theodor Meron, President and Judge, International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals; U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, heads of policy for major tech companies, and, most importantly, the family members of the Tree of Life victims, who were the driving force and beating heart of the event.
Panels explored novel civil and criminal law remedies to hate, the role of tech and the ability of the justice system to address extremism, the role of COVID-19 in accelerating hate, community preparedness, free speech protections, the role of art, and many more and diverse themes.
During the Summit, I had the opportunity to share insights from Europe as part of a panel reflecting on global government responses: the state of antisemitism, but also what’s being done, what works, what can be modeled elsewhere. I spoke about the new European Union (EU) Strategy on Combating Antisemitism and Fostering Jewish Life, the collaborative approach between policy-makers and civil society, the significant advancements by EU legislators in placing liability on platforms through new reporting and due diligence obligations, important data collection commitments, and the Strategy’s cross-cutting approach, mainstreaming the topic across policy areas.
Antisemitism serves as a foundation for most conspiracy ideologies. It cuts across the political spectrum, is fueled by polarization, accelerated by algorithmic augmentation, and rests on Holocaust denial, distortion and trivialization. In that, antisemitism is ultimately the epitome of hate. Ensuring that experts in diverse fields understand it in its complexity is essential not only to providing a sense of safety and security for the global Jewish community, but to maintaining an open and democratic society all together – a premise that the Summit built on.
Now back home, taking stock, a key take away stands out beyond all others – the solidarity and kindness still emanating in Pittsburgh can serve as a motivating force for all of us.