The world is learning, in a truly frightening fashion, just why the World Health Organization (WHO) is so vital to the health of humanity. The WHO is the United Nations agency that works on many critical health issues, but the most important at the moment, of course, is its response to epidemics and pandemics, such as the coronavirus that the world is currently experiencing. Through expertise in combating infectious disease, the WHO can help to prevent or at least try to mitigate the spread of these illnesses. It is in some ways the U.N. as it should be—countries pooling resources and working together to address global emergencies.
But, there is a danger that the WHO could fall into the same trap that has plagued much of the U.N. system: politicization. It has flirted with doing so before, and—thankfully—pulled back, but we now can see clearly why that was flirting with disaster.
After UNESCO illegitimately recognized the Palestinian delegation as a “member state” in 2011, there was some noise about continuing to push this internationalization strategy and looking for similar recognition at other U.N. agencies, of which WHO is one. However, many countries did not take sufficiently into account (or did not care) what this status at UNESCO actually meant. The United States was forced by law to swiftly de-fund UNESCO for bestowing member state status upon a country that does not exist.
This de-funding was no small matter. The U.S. paid in about a quarter of UNESCO’s budget, leaving a huge hole. Once the Palestinians became members, they set on a path of politicizing the work of UNESCO through passing ludicrous resolutions—thanks to the automatic majority that the Palestinians enjoy—that sought to claim the Kotel as a Muslim site, or accused Jews of planting “fake Jewish graves” in a cemetery. These resolutions left the organization’s reputation in tatters, and it has still yet to recover. The U.S. and Israel have left completely, and the best the organization can seem to do is not pass any additional outrageous resolutions on the Middle East…for now.
If there was a silver lining in the tragedy of what has become of UNESCO, it is that the threat posed by the Palestinian internationalization agenda was exposed. Many countries did not want to see what happened to UNESCO repeated at other, more critical, agencies. The Americans and others put pressure on the Palestinians not to continue down this path. The results of this are mixed—the WHO and other agencies have so far been mostly spared, but the Palestinians decided instead to pursue member state status at the U.N. itself. In 2012, the General Assembly granted them “observer state” status, which allowed them to accede to international conventions, including the Rome Statute. We are in the midst of seeing the consequences of that vote now at the International Criminal Court.
Though the membership issue has not come up at the WHO, there are still politicization issues at play, not necessarily as much within the bureaucracy of the WHO itself, but in the World Health Assembly (WHA), which is the decision making body of the WHO. Since the WHA is made up of member states’ representatives, there is always the possibility for trouble, as often happens at the U.N. And we have seen this at the WHA, where Israel has been singled out yearly for an absurd stand-alone resolution. The next session of the WHA is set for the end of May, and there is no news yet on whether this will be held then or, as so much else in the U.N. system currently, postponed to an undetermined date.
Now is not the time for politics. It is a time for unity in fighting this deadly disease. That is the only thing that the WHO should be concerned about at this moment. But this moment shall pass and humanity will beat back this virus, in no small part thanks to the efforts of the WHO. What needs to be remembered once that happens (and that day cannot come soon enough) is the basic need that all of humanity has to have a WHO that is devoid of politics: a health bureaucracy that has a strong reputation and does not take absurd political positions forced upon it by some member states.
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.
By David Michaels
Giorgi Kvirikashvili, the prime minister of Georgia, visited Israel late last month.
Sadly, the visit was overshadowed by the violent attack on a security officer at Israel’s embassy in Jordan and tensions attributed to the short-lived introduction of basic security measures at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount after the gunning down of two (non-Jewish) Israeli policemen there. Coming in the run-up to Tisha B’Av, the date marking the destruction of Judaism’s single holiest place, the crisis again encapsulated the deadly consequences of wild anti-Israel and anti-Jewish incitement. Mainstream Palestinian leaders have both denied Jewish history on the Mount and claimed Israeli designs to “Judaize” it, even as Israel has remarkably preserved Islamic clerical administration of the site for 50 years and disallowed Jewish prayer there.
If widespread international ignorance of this Israeli conciliation weren’t enough, Palestinians again set a new standard for chutzpah by warning that the use of metal detectors outside the site—ubiquitous at vulnerable places worldwide, including at the adjoining Western Wall—would intolerably violate Muslim worshippers’ rights. The Palestinians have already long rejected the presence of cameras on the Mount to further document the vile agitation by clerics that ensures unending warfare against and with Israel.
While foreign capitulation to the Palestinian-led regional saber-rattling has been as dispiriting as it has been unsurprising, the overlooked visit to Israel by Georgia’s head of government deserves positive attention disproportionate to the size of a Georgian citizenry less than half that of little Israel. The trip, one of repeated and reciprocal high-level visits between the two countries, testifies to the strength and significance of Israel’s bilateral relations with an increasingly diverse set of states, even as conditions in the Middle East remain so precarious.
Although Israeli ties to foremost world powers, above all the United States—but also now India, whose prime minister made his own historic journey to Israel last month—will always be considered vital, some less powerful countries, particularly in Israel’s near-neighborhood, offer distinct importance on account of their geographic situation, natural resources, intelligence capabilities, market potential and shared strategic concerns, to name but a few tangible assets.
And so, size doesn’t always matter most in international relations; where once “traditional” powers like France and Germany, their continuing importance notwithstanding, may have privileged them among foreign policy priorities, today Greece and Cyprus, far smaller and less affluent than their northwestern neighbors, take a back seat to no one as focal points of Israeli diplomats and policymakers.
Similarly, the measure of Israel’s relationship with other countries cannot be contained to those countries’ votes on rote motions on Israel at the United Nations—even as there is cause for hope that member states can pull loose from ossified patterns of bloc voting on biased U.N. resolutions related to the Middle East.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—serving also as foreign minister—has sought positive voting trajectories in his broadening global outreach whose capstone undertaking, aside from the trailblazing alliances with India and the Aegean countries, has likely been the restoration of Israel’s long-dormant partnership with African states. Accordingly, now counted among Israel’s friends even at the inhospitable U.N. are not only the U.S., Canada and Australia but Togo and Burkina Faso. And these join Pacific island states like Micronesia and the Marshall Islands and such Latin American states as Guatemala and Paraguay, as well as central and southeastern European states including Bulgaria, Romania, the Czech Republic and Albania. And Georgia.
Some of these countries are courageous enough to vote outright against discriminatory motions at the U.N., while others at least begin to pull their neighbors in the right direction by refusing to support texts that recklessly malign Israel’s record or even whitewash Jewish history, discrediting the U.N. itself in the process.
Last month, B’nai B’rith leaders concluded a visit to Georgia, where we met with Kvirikashvili, and also to Azerbaijan—which Netanyahu recently visited in a first for an Israeli premier. Georgia is a historic Christian land, while Azerbaijan is predominantly Shiite Muslim; both are home to substantial, well-integrated Jewish communities largely spared the anti-Semitism found elsewhere, and both Caucasus countries maintain exceptionally close, critical ties with Israel. Tbilisi, Georgia, and Baku, Azerbaijan, are rare world cities where a visitor senses genuine safety in synagogues—and, even rarer, these are places where, walking down the street, one might come upon an Israeli flag flying side by side with a Georgian or Azeri one. Such a display of genuine international pluralism would not likely be found today in Brussels or Stockholm.
The upshot of Israel’s relationship with Georgia and Azerbaijan, as with so many other countries of varied location and culture, is that comity between peoples is possible. Indeed, it is here, even across faith boundaries. Israel is proud and eager to cultivate bonds of friendship with fellow members of the international community, whether of Muslim, Christian, Hindu or any other stripe. All that is needed for the achievement of a mutually rewarding coexistence in the Middle East is for Israel’s neighbors to recognize that it is at home in the region just as they are.
World attention has recently been focused on the shameful passage of an anti-Israel resolution on settlements at the U.N. Security Council. Resolution 2334 contains a litany of criticism of Israel while absurdly striking a tone on incitement and terrorism that puts the onus on both sides of the conflict.
The resolution condemns all building beyond the 1949 Jordanian-Israeli armistice line—a line created after Jordan and other neighboring Arab states invaded the newly independent State of Israel in an attempt to annihilate it from existence. The armistice line (also known as the “Green Line”) stood in place until 1967, when Jordan and other Arab states again tried to destroy Israel, only to lose significant territory in the Six-Day War, when Israel liberated the eastern part of Jerusalem (including the Old City) and Judea and Samaria (which Jordan had by then re-named the “West Bank”), among other territories.
The section in Resolution 2334 that could prove to be the most problematic in the long term is a vaguely worded passage that calls on states to “distinguish” between their dealings with Israel and territories Israel gained during the Six-Day War. It’s not clear how states should “distinguish” their actions, but it is clear how the Palestinians and the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement will read this phrase—they will clearly try to use this as international cover for a boycott.
More on the Latest Anti-Israel U.N. Resolution
On the same day that the Security Council passed Resolution 2334, the General Assembly’s 5th Committee (the U.N.’s administrative and budget committee) decided, by its usually lop-sided anti-Israel majority, to fund a Human Rights Council (HRC) decision from March to create a database of companies doing business in areas beyond the Green Line. There is no ambiguity about what is happening with this decision—the U.N. is being willingly co-opted to become the secretariat of the BDS movement, creating a list of companies that activists can draw upon for divestment campaigns.
Israel submitted an amendment to this 5th Committee resolution to strip the funding from the mandate, but only Australia, Canada, Guatemala, Palau and the United States sided with Israel. The European Union (EU) gave a statement saying that EU member states would vote against the amendment as a bloc (even though the EU did not support the original HRC decision in March, albeit only by abstention), because it was important to stand by a principle of not letting policy discussion distract from the budgetary process, which is often run by consensus. Apparently that principle is more important than the principle that the United Nations should not be co-opted for anti-Semitic purposes.
The EU has been trying on this issue to have its cake and eat it too. Some EU members have laws against boycotts of Israel (and EU leaders pay lip service to opposing a boycott), yet the EU Commission put out guidelines by which member states should label all Israeli products from the disputed territories. While the guidelines do not explicitly call for a boycott of goods from the settlements, it seems only reasonable to deduce that it is meant to enable one.
The U.N.’s database will contain Israel companies based in the disputed territories, of course, but it will also likely target outside corporations that do business in the territories, multinational corporations that help bring security for Israeli citizens regardless of whether they reside within the Green Line or not. And it could very well be broadened to include Israeli businesses not even based in the territories, but those such as banks and stores that operate wherever their Israeli customers reside.
These recent U.N. actions may have created an overreach that provides an opportunity to move the U.N. in the right course. The Security Council resolution has created a furor in Congress and the incoming administration, which has led to threats of action against the U.N. Because of this, we’re now hearing the use of a word that we have not heard in a while at the U.N.—“reform.” If there is to be any reform at the U.N., one of the first priorities must be to reverse the barely concealed anti-Semitic efforts to boycott Israel that so many member states seem willing to either promote or at the very least tolerate.
For a student of political science, these are illuminating, if often also unnerving, times.
Many of us had thought that we—perhaps as a species, certainly as a society—were more or less above, and also beyond, upheaval. We were governed by rationality, oriented to stability, predisposed to decency. In 2016, cold war was supposed to be a relic of a different century, holy war even more outdated. In an age of near-instant “fact-checking,” flagrant falsehoods were supposed to be deprived of any traction, and at a time of growing political correctness, demagoguery was supposed to be deemed distasteful, when not laughable.
Wherever one stands on the myriad global and domestic issues of the day, few of us, it is safe to say, are laughing at the moment.
In the year 2016, seven decades after World War II, our high-technology world has watched, with a mixture of wariness and impotence, a five-year-long Syrian civil war that has killed and maimed well over half a million people. As soon as that and nearby conflicts began to propel refugees outward, the European Union—that great exercise in regional collectivism and answer to the continental fissures of the past—began in earnest to crack, and now at least one of its leading members is headed for the door. The 20th century rivalry between East and West has also made a riposte in a territorial standoff on European soil, in Ukraine. And while the world has somehow grown numb to serial decapitations and other barbarisms in the Middle East, Europe has responded with the advancement of multiple rightist and other extreme parties. Much of France’s left, for its part, recently joined in advocating restrictions on Muslim women’s personal right to dress in accordance with their religious convictions.
Meanwhile, 77 years after Hitler was so brazen as to announce that a genocide of Jews would come if the Jews brought it on themselves, and 41 years after the U.N. General Assembly voted to equate Zionism with racism, members of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization have perfected a new perversion by effectively severing Judaism from its holiest of sites in Jerusalem by relabeling them as exclusively Arab and Islamic.
Perhaps not least disturbingly, much of the globe has been experiencing a wave of populism, authoritarianism and questioning of the rule of law. Vitriol or worse has been directed at religious and ethnic communities, civil society and political opposition, especially online, and a general “post-truth,” “fake news” age seems to have dawned. Even in the West, more than merely a coarsening of rhetoric or a lessening of civility, we’ve seen the risk of erosion of democratic norms.
During an American election season when both presidential candidates had children who either are Jewish or have Jewish spouses, Jews in particular have watched social networks overwhelmed by some “alt-right” aggressors posting sentiments like “dirty kike, get back in the oven.” Separately, the platform of a consortium called the Movement for Black Lives—despite the fact that many American Jews, but also Israelis, have been in the forefront of championing civil rights—singled out Israel for depiction as an “apartheid state” that commits “genocide,” and that is thus deserving of divestiture and a cutoff of defense assistance.
These and many other realities underscore the precariousness of social cohesion even in the contemporary period, with all its blessings. Simple parallels to previous eras would advisably be avoided, if only because ours and its conditions may in some ways be unique. But a general sense of malaise and uncertainty—whether founded upon security, economic, cultural or other concerns—can lead to worse, with fringe elements seeming actually invigorated by the prospect of chaos and conflict. At times of apprehension, more citizens are susceptible to shallow solutions—or worse, the politics of divisiveness. (In turn, journalists and politicians tend to romanticize popular passion—just look at conventional wisdom within so many countries’ chattering classes, where the unarticulated view is that the “Arab street” is so angry and formidable, like the Arab bloc at the U.N., its claims against Israel could never possibly be wrong.) This climate is conducive to the deepening of mutual estrangement and an ethos of plain offensiveness for the sake of offensiveness.
Even where we’ve seen one step forward, such a step has often been followed by another back. Jarred by the heightened uproar this year, some governments pledging not to repeat unprincipled voting at UNESCO on resolutions whitewashing Jewish ties to Jerusalem have proceeded to vote “yes” on motions doing the very same thing at other U.N. bodies.
On the eve of his exit from office, after a full decade at the helm, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon finally acknowledged that Palestinian grievances are not the cause of all the Middle East’s wars, that Palestinian terror and incitement continue unabated, and that “bias” is manifest when “[d]ecades of political maneuverings have created a disproportionate volume of resolutions, reports and conferences criticizing Israel.” He added, “rather than helping the Palestinian cause, this reality has hampered the ability of the U.N. to fulfill its role effectively.” But the secretary-general went on to say, beyond recycling the same old shoddy condemnations of Israeli policy, that “another troubling measure of the current state of play is that, during my tenure, the Security Council adopted only two resolutions on the Middle East peace process, the most recent almost eight years ago.”
Sadly, one week later, last Friday, the council took the entirely unhelpful step of adopting a new resolution, which, while calling in general terms for an end to violence and incitement, singled out Israel by name for condemnation over Jewish settlements, even communities in Jerusalem, deemed the primary impediment to peace. (No heed, of course, was paid to the fact that Israel has over the years uprooted entire settlements or frozen their growth—and offered Palestinians statehood and virtually all the territory publicly demanded by their mainstream leaders—only to receive unending terrorism and intransigence in return.) The U.S. abstained on the motion, enabling its passage. American enablement of the council resolution, though widely seen as a swipe at Israel’s prime minister, was ironically perhaps most stinging to the Arab leadership of Egypt, which had taken the political risk of agreeing to shelve the text just one day prior.
While withholding an American veto on this type of resolution is not unprecedented, it is a departure from the common practice over the course of many years, and a breach of the principle that Palestinians can achieve political goals only through direct talks and compromise with Israel, not lobbying the U.N. The day before Jews were feted with greetings of “Happy Chanukah” for the festival recalling the lighting of the menorah on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount—and the day before the birth of a Jew “in Bethlehem of Judea” was celebrated by Pope Francis at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome—the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., in a subtle escalation of a position merely deeming further settlement activity “not legitimate,” made reference to the presence of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria as having “no legal validity.” And, this week, Secretary of State John Kerry followed up with a speech on Middle East peace parameters in which he invoked a view that settlements are “inconsistent with international law.” He also employed, at a time when disputes over territory and demographics elsewhere continue to be wholly ignored by the international community, a straw-man assertion that regular criticism of Israel is often maligned as anti-Semitic.
The content of last Friday’s U.N. resolution is, admittedly, not very novel and, by itself, of limited direct impact on realities in the Middle East. What is significant about the resolution is its timing. Coming as the International Criminal Court (ICC) has been conducting preliminary consideration of Palestinian accusations against Israel, fresh Security Council action could push the ICC to direct a full probe at the Jewish state. At least until a new U.S. administration settles in, Palestinians will surely be emboldened to further pursue a strategy of combativeness and unearned, unilateral recognitions of statehood (notwithstanding the new resolution’s own censure of “all measures aimed at altering the… status of the Palestinian Territory”). And, not least, the resolution’s call for countries “to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967” will be used as fuel by partisan activists agitating for discriminatory boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
Arguably, coalition politics in Israel—the joining of those leaning rightward with those leaning to the left, or the recurrent succession of one by the other—have helped encumber Israeli efforts to advance a clear defense, in historic, security, legal and ethical terms, of the country’s settlement policies. After all, whatever the long-term future may be of any given settlement under a final peace agreement, these are communities in the heart of Jews’ ancestral homeland, with long roots prior to their various forcible displacements. The existence of the settlements has broadly shifted Arab focus from the elimination of Israel entirely to the resolution of a dispute over final borders. The settlements actually comprise a tiny fraction of the landmass of the West Bank, and none remain in Gaza. Their growth mirrors, but pales in comparison to, the continuous increase in size of the Arab population on the Israeli side of the pre-1967 lines. The applicability of particular international conventions regarding the settlement of contested lands is also highly dubious considering that the territory in question, acquired during a defensive campaign, lacked a previous sovereign.
This said, the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War is undoubtedly seen by Palestinians as an occasion to ratchet up a global diplomatic offensive against Israel. Whether the international community fully re-immerses in such combat will depend on an array of factors, from the course taken by new leaders in Washington and at the U.N. to the degree to which other crises, including the carnage in Syria and Iranian nuclear activity, allow focus to shift back to the Palestinian narrative.
Israel Is Strengthening Ties With Several Latin American States, But Will This Impact The Way These Countries Vote At The U.N.?
There are reasons to be optimistic about the progress of the bilateral relations between Israel and several Latin American states. Changes in the leadership of several countries, as well as a more proactive Israeli policy towards the region, are proving quite promising. On the other hand, it seems that there is still a long way to go when it comes to translating these good relations into changes in the voting patterns of some of these countries at the United Nations on resolutions involving Israel.
Let’s start with Paraguay. From the moment, Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes took office in August of 2013; the relations with Israel (which had already improved during the interim government of President Franco) got a strong boost. The Paraguayan government started to distinguish itself from other voices in the region and took a principled stance every time Israeli actions were judged by other nations. During the latest Gaza war, for example, there was an attempt at a meeting of Mercosur (the economic bloc that includes Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and Venezuela) to issue a joint communiqué strongly condemning Israeli actions. Paraguay opposed this measure. And it took similar positions in support of Israel in different international forums. Today, Paraguay abstains on almost all anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations.
An important step taken by Israel to strengthen the bilateral relations with Paraguay was the decision to re-open the Israeli Embassy in Asuncion (which was closed in 2002 for budgetary reasons). This was very well received in Asuncion by both the Paraguayan government and the local Jewish community.
Three key anti-Israel resolutions were put to a vote at the General Assembly a few days ago. These are the resolutions that renew, year after year, the mandates and the funding authorizations for the following entities: 1. the Palestinian Rights Division; 2. the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People; and 3. the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People. These resolutions are very important because they maintain a powerful anti-Israel propaganda apparatus that functions under U.N. auspices.
Paraguay kept its abstentions on these three anti-Israel resolutions this year. Even though these abstentions are highly appreciated, it would be desirable for Paraguay to go a step further and cast “no” votes, as abstentions unfortunately do not prevent resolutions from being approved at the General Assembly. Time will tell if Paraguay will be ready to make that positive move, in light of the increasingly close relations between this South American nation and Israel.
Israel’s relations with Peru have also improved in recent years. But Peru’s recent role at UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee was a cause for concern. The Peruvian representative actively supported a draft resolution (when the Committee met in Istanbul last July) that was quite insulting to Jews, referring to the most sacred places for Judaism only by their Muslim names (it was, of course, insulting to Christians as well). The draft resolution could not be put to a vote because of the attempted coup in Turkey but when it came up again in October, Peru abstained, which clearly showed that the ambassador received instructions in this regard from the new government of Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who took office in late July. The outlook of the new president, a brilliant economist who spent many years in the United States, and who has Jewish roots, bears well for the progress of the bilateral relations between Israel and Peru.
Peru has abstained on these anti-Israel resolutions at the General Assembly for many years now, and it kept these abstentions this year. As in the case of Paraguay though, it would be desirable for Peru to start voting “no.”
The arrival of Mauricio Macri to the presidency of Argentina in December of 2015, which put an end to the 12 years of “Kirchnerismo,” opened a window of opportunity for improving this country’s bilateral relations with Israel. And the positive signs are many. One of the first things President Macri did when taking office was to nullify the shameful “pact” that the previous government had signed with Iran to “jointly investigate” the 1994 terrorist attack against the AMIA Jewish Center (the worst terrorist attack ever suffered by Argentina or any other Latin American country). The president also promised to guarantee the independence of the judiciary so that the mysterious death of AMIA case Prosecutor Alberto Nisman, and the complaint that he had made against the government, are properly investigated.
Last April, the Executive Board of UNESCO approved a very troublesome anti-Israel and anti-Jewish resolution. The Argentine representative supported it but, when the resolution was taken up by the plenary last October, Argentina abstained. With regard to the three key General Assembly resolutions, since 2004, Argentina voted “for” two of these resolutions and “abstains” on one. Unfortunately, there were no changes this year in this regard.
Since Brazilian President Michel Temer took office last August, the country’s sometimes shaky relations with Israel appear to have entered a new phase. His Foreign Minister Jose Serra is close to the local Jewish community, and the government seems to be determined to get Brazil’s foreign policy a new turn. We still need to see if this will indeed happen, as Brazil’s powerful Foreign Ministry (Itamaraty) has proved over the years to be quite resistant to change. But there has been already a positive sign when it comes to Israel. Even though Brazil supported the troublesome resolution approved by UNESCO’s Executive Board last October, the Ministry issued a communiqué stating that unless the text is revised, Brazil will not support a similar resolution in the future. A small but positive step in the right direction. Brazil, however, supports, year after year, the three important General Assembly anti-Israel resolutions and, unfortunately, there were no changes this year.
Something very interesting happened in Mexico, a country that for many years has consistently voted against Israel at the United Nations and other international forums. President Enrique Peña Nieto traveled to Israel recently and promised that Mexico would not support the biased UNESCO resolution that was going to be put to a vote in October. His decision, however, was never transmitted by the career diplomats in the Foreign Ministry to Mexico’s new UNESCO representative, who happened to be Jewish. He cast a “yes” vote but not without protest. The local Jewish community then made its voice heard and Mexico (after trying unsuccessfully to modify its vote) decided to abstain in the plenary.
In addition, at the General Assembly, Mexico moved from “yes” to “abstain” on one of the three important resolutions, which is a pretty significant step.
Since President Tabaré Vasquez returned to Uruguay’s presidential office in March of 2015, that country’s relations with Israel made a turn for the better. Even though Vasquez belongs to the left-wing Frente Amplio party (the same party of former President Jose Mujica), he is a far more centrist leader and has interesting personal ties to Israel, as he had the opportunity to do post-doctoral studies at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot several years ago.
With regard to Uruguay’s votes at the General Assembly, like Argentina, Uruguay votes for two of the resolutions and abstains on one. There were unfortunately no changes this year.
Guatemala has given us a pleasant surprise this year. After a recent visit that President Jimmy Morales paid to Israel, during which the Israeli government pledged to support Guatemala on a number of areas, the Guatemalan U.N. representative cast a “no” vote on the three key anti-Israel resolutions, something that has no precedents in Latin America. This is a very important development and a strong sign of friendship between the two countries.
The bilateral relations between Israel and Honduras have improved considerably in the last few years. And this change has been reflected in the way Honduras votes at the U.N. This year, even though Honduras has kept its abstentions on two of the three important anti-Israel resolutions at the General Assembly, it cast a “no” vote on one of them, which is quite important.
Colombia continues to have excellent relations with Israel, even though President Santos does not have the same kind of personal ties that Former President Uribe had both with the Jewish community and Israel. Colombia has abstained on the three key anti-Israel resolutions at the UN for a number of years now and there were no changes this year.
Panama was, until now, the only Latin American country that voted “no” on one of the three key anti-Israel resolutions (the Special Committee to Investigate Human Rights Practices). This was a decision made by Former President Martinelli, who had excellent ties with Israel and the Jewish community. This year, Panama’s U.N. representative cast a “yes” vote when this resolution was put to a vote at the General Assembly’s Fourth Committee. A pretty dramatic change as it is unusual for countries to move from “no” to “yes.” The local Jewish community reached out to President Carlos Varela and this is probably why, when the resolution was taken up by the plenary, Panama abstained. Still, this move from “no” to “abstain” represents an important setback in the bilateral relations between Panama and Israel.
The current political environment is certainly favorable for the relations between Israel and Latin America to grow. And there is a lot that Israel can contribute to the countries of the region in the fields of agriculture, technology, security, science, education, etc. But Israel must ensure that the improvement of its ties with several Latin American states has a certain impact in the way these countries vote at the U.N., especially when it comes to resolutions that makes it possible for a powerful and strongly biased anti-Israel propaganda apparatus to operate under the U.N. roof.
Last week, the United Nations marked its International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, a day created by the U.N. to further promote the continuing Palestinian narrative of victimhood and, of course, bash Israel. The date chosen for the international day—Nov. 29—was no accident. This was the date of the passage in 1947 of General Assembly resolution 181, which recommended partitioning the land into a Jewish state and an Arab state. The Jews accepted this plan and declared independence; the Arabs rejected it and, along with neighboring states, embarked on a war of annihilation against the newly independent Jewish state. Israel beat back the invading Arab armies and the Zionist dream became a reality.
As a result of the fighting, many Arabs fled their homes and became refugees. An even greater number of Jews from Arab countries were expelled from places that had seen thriving Jewish communities for centuries (some of these communities went back to ancient times, preceding the Arab invasion of the North Africa). The Jewish refugees were absorbed by Israel while being completely ignored by the international community. The U.N. created a refugee agency—United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)—only for Palestinian refugees, who, unlike any other refugee population, can pass their refugee status on to their descendants. Billions of dollars (and euros) later, UNRWA now claims to serve over 5 million refugees.
After the Arabs lost the war they initiated in 1948, the Jordanians occupied an area known to Jews as Judea and Samaria (that the Jordanians later renamed the West Bank), along with eastern parts of Jerusalem (including the Old City); the Gaza Strip was occupied by Egypt. No Palestinian state was established during this time of Arab control over these lands. The Palestinians have also rejected multiple Israeli peace offers and walked away from the negotiating table at nearly every turn.
The Palestinians see Nov. 29 as a catastrophe, and so the U.N.—which does not even attempt to hide its own pro-Palestinian bias—has adopted this narrative.
At the international day commemoration by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP), a U.N. body funded by our tax dollars to attack Israel, the president of the General Assembly wore a scarf with the kaffiyeh and a Palestinian flag on it. Not normal attire at the usually buttoned-up U.N. Beyond the odd choice of neckwear, the GA president also endorsed a right of return in his speech, a non-existent “right” which the Palestinians would like to exercise for all five million of their UNRWA-designated refugees to flood Israel. The deputy secretary-general of the organization talked of the U.N. General Assembly’s decision to upgrade the U.N. status of the Palestinians to non-member state in 2012 as a “historic milestone.” Neutrality goes out the window when there is an opportunity to parrot the Palestinian talking points. Is there another conflict situation where the diplomats behave like this? I have yet to encounter one.
And this was before the U.N. member states, whose pronouncements on Israel can be far more unhinged, had their chance to vilify and demonize the Jewish state at the CEIRPP session and a later GA session in which a number of condemnatory resolutions (including ones continuing the operation of CEIRPP and other costly Palestinian propaganda bodies embedded deep within the U.N. system) were passed.
Algeria complained, rather absurdly considering the importance of Jerusalem to the Jewish people, about the “increasing Judaization of Jerusalem.” Qatar decried the seven decades of occupation, meaning not only areas in dispute from Israel’s victory in the Six Day War of 1967, but Israel’s very existence from 1948.
The vilest speech, though, at this year’s international day activities was delivered by Ecuador. Ecuador’s ambassador, quoting the recently-deceased former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro (who received not one, but two different moments of silence during the day’s proceedings), declared, after condemning the Holocaust, that there was nothing more similar to the Holocaust as the “genocide” committed against the Palestinian people.
This display of overt anti-Semitism from a U.N. platform was truly beyond the pale and B’nai B’rith has called on Ecuador to replace the ambassador. But the problem goes beyond the hate-filled words of certain diplomats. When the U.N. sacrifices historical truth and simply repeats and amplifies all manner of lies against Israel, the end result does not improve the lives of anyone in the Middle East. It only encourages more anti-Semitism.
Nov. 29 should be recognized for what it was, a date in which the international community voted to affirm the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in our homeland. The rejection by the Palestinians of that compromise (and all of the offers that came in later years) to live in peace next to a Jewish state has led to the current state of affairs. And there should be some recognition, finally, for the Jewish refugees that were violently pushed out of Arab countries throughout the Middle East.
If the international community is serious about a peaceful resolution to the conflict, then it is time to send the message to the Palestinians that if they want a state, they need to negotiate with Israel. It’s long past time to close down the Palestinian propaganda bodies at the U.N. and to end the incessant biased attacks against Israel. These are distractions that lead nowhere, but especially not toward peace. Without a change in direction by the international community, the Palestinians can look forward to many more years of ultimately meaningless speeches at the U.N. while more missed opportunities for peace continue to slip by.
Nov. 29, 1947 is a date the United Nations should always remember as a day of serious accomplishment of the principles on which it was founded.
This was the day Resolution 181 established the Jewish State and an Arab State.
But, in the last 40 years, the U.N. changed its own history. Every Nov. 29, the UN General Assembly celebrates the “International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People,” a shameful fabrication.
History has been erased by the U.N.
When the USSR vanished and Iran penetrated Latin America, perpetrating two terrorist attacks in Argentina (in 1992 and 1994), anti-Israeli leaders came out. First, it was Hugo Chavez, the late president of Venezuela, who was faithfully followed by his heir Nicolas Maduro. Evo Morales from Bolivia, Rafael Correa from Ecuador, Daniel Ortega from Nicaragua followed the same steps. Venezuela and Bolivia broke diplomatic relations with Israel; Chavez cursed Israel and other Latin American presidents did the same. Even a president who did not break relations with Israel took the opportunity to curse it: Jose Mujica, the former president of Uruguay, said that “Israel was perpetrating a genocide in Gaza (2014)” and anti-Semitism came out in Uruguay as it was never known before.
In this frame of anti-Semitism, hidden behind the mask of anti-Israelism, it is not surprising that Horacio Sevilla Borja, the Ecuadorean ambassador to the U.N., equated Israel with Nazism last week on the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. It is not only the Iranian style of Jewish hatred but also the Jewish hatred experienced in several Latin American countries over the last decade.
Sevilla Borja said: “We repudiate with all our strength the persecution and genocide that in its time unleashed Nazism against the Hebrew people. But I cannot remember anything more similar in our contemporary history than the eviction, persecution and genocide that today imperialism and Zionism do against the Palestinian people”.
On Monday, Dec. 5, Israel’s Foreign Ministry summoned Ecuadorian embassy’s third secretary, Enrique Ponce, for an “urgent meeting,” to protest Sevilla’s remarks.
Diplomatically, this is what Israel has to do and can do.
But let´s clarify a little more. Sevilla Borja is not a newcomer in diplomacy. He has been an ambassador in Latin American and European countries. He has been serving Ecuador a long time in the international field. He is a very distinguished and awarded lawyer and professor in international law.
The decision to equate Israel with Nazi Germany is a perverse diplomatic action which was carefully thought out before it was said. It was not his personal decision but a decision of the Foreign Ministry of Ecuador. Clearly, he spoke on behalf of his country. And he, of course, agreed to relay this message, full of hatred and incitement.
We do not know if Ecuador is going to excuse itself. If it does not, it would be much more sincere than if it does. The spreading of Jewish hatred has not diminished. During the 2014 Gaza war, the accusations against Israel in the region came from unions, academia, the media, but first were presidents like Rafael Correa, among others.
Ambassador Sevilla Borja is to be blamed. He expressed his hateful message because he believed in it. But let´s not stop with the messenger. His statement has not been an exception or an accident. It has been the result of policies of hatred which will not stop. Not soon, at least.
The U.N. and its system of “specialized agencies” is famous for barring down indiscriminately on the world’s only Jewish state—Israel—and serving as a kangaroo court to heap abuse on the only country in the Middle East that boasts democratic elections, peaceful transfer of power and an independent judiciary that ensures equality for all citizens. According to figures compiled by Fiamma Nirenstein, a journalist and former Italian parliamentarian, the U.N. Human Rights Council has adopted 135 resolutions from 2006 to 2015, of which 68 have been against Israel; the General Assembly has approved 97 from 2012 to 2015, of which 83 have been against Israel; and UNESCO adopts ten country-specific resolutions every year, and all of them against Israel.
This travesty continues despite the U.N.’s abysmal failure, since its establishment in 1945, to achieve its chief goal to “maintain international peace and security.” The number of deaths attributed to the 100-year old Israeli-Arab conflict are estimated at some 120,000—compared to the grotesque number of deaths attributed to other wars, massacres, slaughters and oppressions are upward of 200 million in the 20th Century. Still, the U.N. system continues to undermine its credibility by finding new and imaginative ways to attack Israel, serving as one of the chief enablers of anti-Semitism—a term which today includes, by most versions, anti-Israel bias.
The most recent series of tainted resolutions have come from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which is headquartered in Paris. In October, the Executive Board voted three times on resolutions that have denied the Jewish connection to Judaism’s holiest site—the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The resolutions, promoted by the Palestinians (which became a full member state at UNESCO in 2011), the Arab bloc and others, were allowed to pass—with diminishing majorities—by the feckless abstentions cast by many member states. This included Christian-majority countries that ostensibly have a vested interest in maintaining the Judeo-Christian historical narrative of the late Second Temple period in the cradle of Christianity.
These resolutions were so outrageous that they even elicited a rare written condemnation by UNESCO Secretary-General Irina Bokova of Bulgaria and expressions of remorse by the presidents of Mexico, Brazil and Italy at their country’s vote. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi went as far as to tell Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a subsequent telephone conversation that: “To say that the Jewish people have no connection to Jerusalem is like saying that the sun creates darkness.” Renzi promised to vote against such resolutions in the future, and to act to convince other European governments to adopt his position.
All of these efforts by world bodies whittle away at the legitimacy of Israel's presence in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the region, but they have little impact on the ground. These resolutions in fact are so outrageous that they have provided Israel with a perfect cover for keeping out recurrent committees of investigations that the U.N. has tried to send here—usually populated by "experts" whose anti-Israel bona fides are quite evident— in an effort to ignite an already flammable situation.
The UNESCO resolutions could in fact be credited for the record number of Jewish visitors to the Western Wall and the Temple Mount during the Sukkot holiday. On Oct. 23, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (Shas) called on all Israeli Jews to converge on the Western Wall for the Priestly Blessing. On a Facebook post he said: "This year, we’ll come, in our masses, to Jerusalem, to the Western Wall, to the Priestly Blessing. This Wednesday…we’ll all be there. We’ll send a clear message—nobody will separate us from our holy places.”
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the Rabbi of the Western Wall, responded to the UNESCO decision by saying that, "In all of world history I don't know of an 'occupying power' whose land is full of the relics of its ancestors. The holiness of the Temple Mount and the Western Wall for the Jewish people goes back many generations. It does not need anyone's approval. It is ridiculous to deny the (archaeological) discoveries that are occurring all the time. The millions of worshipers who come to pray at the Western Wall in front of the Temple Mount are the Jewish answer to UNESCO."
And as if in perfect timing, two major archaeological discoveries that reinforce the Jewish narrative and connection to Jerusalem came to light just as the international community sought to deny it. On Oct. 27, compelling evidence of the breaching of Jerusalem’s so-called “third wall”—which was said to have surrounded the city during the Roman destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E.—was announced by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). The new archaeological find included scores of ancient ballista and sling stones that the Romans fired from catapults at the Jewish guards stationed on top of the tower to defend the wall.
The excavation directors described the find: “This is a fascinating testimony of the intensive bombardment by the Roman army, led by Titus, on their way to conquering the city and destroying the Second Temple.” And a day earlier the IAA displayed an unprecedented document containing a reference to Jerusalem from the First Temple period.
Written in ancient Hebrew script and dating back to the Kingdom of Judah during the 7th century B.C.E., the rare relic—a shipping document made of papyrus—was seized from now-jailed Palestinian antiquities plunderers in a complex IAA unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery operation. The papyrus was pillaged from a remote Judean desert cave and represents the earliest extra-Biblical source yet found to mention Jerusalem in Hebrew writing.
While UNESCO's words might not yet have caused any physical harm, they do undoubtedly provide the grist for ongoing Palestinian efforts to engage in widespread damage to the physical elements of Jewish patrimony in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel. Those archaeological finds provide incontrovertible evidence of Jewish primacy in the Holy City from the time of King David and beyond.
As an avid hiker in the less traversed mountains and valleys of Judea and Samaria, I am confronted with this sad reality on a regular basis in all areas under Palestinian control: plundered Jewish burial caves, mikvas and wine presses. Nowhere is this destruction more prevalent than on Temple Mount controlled to this day by the Muslim Waqif (Holy Trust). In an article released on Oct. 27 at an IAA conference in Jerusalem spotlighting major archeological finds over the past decade, Yuval Baruch, IAA Jerusalem Region director, describes the vast destruction caused by the Waqif in 1999. Heavy machinery was used on the Temple Mount to dig out an entrance to "Solomon's Stables," which turned it into the largest mosque in Israel. In 2007, the Waqif dug a channel for laying electrical cables on the mount.
The debris from the first incident—dumped unceremoniously in the Kidron Valley—is still yielding artifacts that corroborate the biblical story. One of the most significant discoveries was presented by experts just last month—geometrically patterned marble floor tiles believed to have covered the porticos atop the Temple Mount during the Second Temple period. The tiles are so vivid, intricate and novel in design that you can still read the Talmudic teaching that “whoever has not seen Herod's building has not seen a beautiful building in his life.”
The second incident was approved and overseen by Baruch and yielded some of the only First Temple artifacts to be found in situ on Temple Mount. But other senior archaeologists fault IAA for what they argue is a continuing pattern of non-intervention in the Waqif's design to damage and destroy vestiges of Jewish presence on and around Temple Mount. They fault the state for allowing the Temple Mount artifacts to remain buried due to considerations of expediency (i.e. that such digs would cause turmoil in the Muslim world).
While confronting—with considerable success—the diplomatic war against the Jewish people's chronicle in Jerusalem, the State of Israel must do more to ensure that our physical patrimony is not eliminated under the same motivation. If Israel is unable at this time to engage in a comprehensive expert and vetted archaeological dig on Temple Mount—something which is long over do—due to political, diplomatic and other temporal considerations, it must ensure that these artifacts remain in situ until future generations will have the fortune to do so.
Alan Schneider is the director of B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem, which serves as the hub of B'nai B'rith International activities in Israel. The World Center is the key link between Israel and B'nai B'rith members and supporters around the world. To view some of his additional content, Click Here.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director-General Irina Bokova is not guilty of the hypocrisy, indifference and lack of responsibility of the member states of the organization who are promoting resolutions to incite hatred and create very negative frameworks in a place which should be devoted to expand and preserve culture. UNESCO should never support rage or erase history.
But, the facts overcome the eventual good intentions of the UNESCO general-director.
It is not necessary to be an expert in order to know that Islam was born in the 7th century C.E. The Western Wall is a great wall which was a piece of the great building of the Second Temple, which was built several centuries after the First Temple which was destroyed by the Babylonians. The Western Wall is the remnant of the Second Temple which was destroyed by the Roman Empire 2,000 years ago; 600 years before Islam was born.
This is history. No more, no less. To twist history, lies are needed.
There are people who deny history and take their lies to UNESCO. Accomplices support these lies by action, silence or ignorance, or all together: a disproportionate package of hate and hypocrisy. And those who turn indifferent are not better than the others: they join perpetrators and they fall into oblivion and disgrace.
Bokova has tried not to be indifferent and has said that: “Jerusalem is the sacred city of the three monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is in recognition of this exceptional diversity, and this cultural and religious coexistence, that it was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.”
Bokova stressed that denying, hiding or trying to “erase any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions, undermines the integrity of the site, and runs counter to the reasons that justified its inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage list.”
Demolishing history is not a question of undermining but aggression. It is very nice to say that from the top offices of UNESCO there will be hard work for justice and repair, but it looks naïve. One week after Bokova’s statement, UNESCO again, for the third time in less than ten days, destroyed history and showed its ugly anti-Semitic face, voting on an absurd resolution that erases Jewish ties to holy sites in Jerusalem, the center of Jews’ national and religious life throughout history.
If UNESCO and its officers really want to recover a little self-respect for the organization, the only thing to be erased, must be the resolutions incited by the Palestinian Authority and supported by rogue governments.
Is it possible? It seems unlikely.
UNESCO, as other U.N. agencies are full of anti-Semitism. It happened when the U.N. elected a former Nazi as secretary-general in 1972. During his tenure as secretary-general, former President of Austria Kurt Waldheim was awarded by UNESCO, and after his term ended, he was discovered to have been a Nazi during World War II.
So, the illness of anti-Semitism inside the U.N. and other agencies is not new.
Those who promote hatred, maybe, are very happy today. They should know that hatred causes a lot of damage and pain, but remains in the dark side of history as it is: hatred.
At the end of the day, civilization and freedom always prevail.
Recently, Israel blew the lid off of deplorable Hamas operations to divert humanitarian aid from development projects in Gaza into their efforts to attack Israeli civilians. And, sadly, the United Nations, and by implication, our tax money, was also affected.
The more notorious of the humanitarian aid scandals in Gaza was the arrest of Mohammed El Halabi, Gaza director of World Vision, a Christian charity, for funneling millions of dollars worth of money and supplies to Hamas over a multi-year period. World Vision gets funding from individual donors, churches, foundations and grants from many Western governments. The large amount of money that was diverted is staggering and deeply disturbing. The scandal has led some countries to withhold aid to World Vision, which has suspended operations in Gaza while it investigates. World Vision issued a statement condemning terrorism in only a general way, and instead of showing genuine horror that funds sent from donors (who thought it would benefit Palestinian children) were instead diverted to a terror organization bent on killing Israeli children, expressed skepticism about the allegations and lectured Israel on transparency.
The U.N. connection? Prior to working at World Vision, El Halabi worked at the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). As Israel alleges, as part of his work for UNDP, El Halabi sent “farmers” to the areas near the border between Israel and Gaza, where they acted as scouts for Hamas terrorists (see more information on the El Halabi case here). The U.N. honored El Halabi as one of its “humanitarian heroes” in 2014 as part of World Humanitarian Day. That webpage was taken down, but is still archived here. World Vision has still not taken down an identical article about El Halabi on its own website.
After El Halabi was detained, a second arrest was made, this time of a UNDP Gaza staffer named Waheed Borsh, who allegedly funneled concrete, which was used to construct a base for Hamas’s terrorist operatives.
The U.N. reacted to news of the arrest similarly to World Vision—with concern about the allegations but also some skepticism and hectoring of Israel on judicial transparency. It should go without saying that Israel is a democracy with a strong standard of rule of law, while being careful not to endanger security. Gaza, on the other hand, is run by a terrorist gang that summarily executes people.
The U.N. also absurdly claimed that Borsh, as a U.N. employee, was entitled to diplomatic immunity. Borsh, however, was a local staff person, not a diplomat. If a local staffer at U.N. Headquarters in New York was accused of giving money to Al Qaeda, or a staffer at UNESCO in Paris of supporting ISIS, would the U.N. also claim diplomatic immunity for them? Highly doubtful.
In an added insult, the U.N. demanded that Borsh be let go from the prison where he is being held in Be’er Sheva. But, they did not write it Be’er Sheva, they chose to use Bi’ir as-Sab, the Arabic name for the city—a city with ancient Jewish historical connections. This tactic of purposefully mislabeling Israeli cities and towns with Arab names is a favorite of those who hate Israel and want to see it destroyed and replaced with an Arab state. For the U.N. to degrade itself in this way while demanding that Israel release a staffer accused of using U.N. resources to support terrorism is an unnecessary added provocation. These types of games should have no place under U.N. letterhead. Was this done by mistake? Then the U.N. should admit to it and apologize.
Israel hinted when El Halabi was arrested that there could be more arrests coming down the line. Unfortunately, these examples are also not the first time that Palestinian groups have taken advantage of well-meaning donors. During Operation Protective Edge, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the U.N. agency funded by many Western donor governments that takes care of Palestinian refugees and their offspring in perpetuity (while all other refugees are taken care of under the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees—UNHCR), found Hamas rockets hidden in their schools. It is not only Hamas that takes advantage—the Palestinian Authority takes in massive amounts of aid from Western donor governments while continuing to run a pension system for terrorists.
Indeed, transparency and accountability is needed, but from the humanitarian NGOs and U.N. agencies working in Gaza who are being used to further Hamas war aims against Israeli civilians.
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