At the turn of the 21st century, much of the world feared computers around the world would crash, setting off all kinds of millennial chaos. It didn’t happen. Clocks continued to tick; computers continued to run.
For the United Nations, perhaps the time was right for another chance to rid the world of racism, end slavery, and sex trafficking of women and children. Perhaps it was time to conquer famine and disease. In 2001, planning for the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance took shape. The site for this noble, if not symbolic event, was Durban, a location on the southern coast of Africa, a continent racked by all of the above problems.
As often happens with the United Nations, a space built on visions of peace, the event aimed at fighting humanity’s millennia-old maladies would devolve into a hatefest. Durban, instead, would become a battleground against an ancient people who’d build an identity from receiving a divine code of human behavior and entering a sliver of real estate bordering the Mediterranean. Four days into the event, the United States and Israel withdrew their delegations in protest.
Twenty years after Durban, the very United Nations that organized and promoted the original Durban Conference announced another round of fighting human rights and racism. Fast-forward 20 years into the 21st century. Something called the “Durban Declaration and Programme of Action” (DDPA) is planned to offer “discussions” that will become a report to be presented to the U.N. General Assembly at its 76th session in 2021 and the Human Rights Council’s 45th session. Can’t wait. And neither can Iran.
The representative of Iran requested that on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the DDPA, the Intergovernmental Working Group would “address the wide range of issues addressed in the DDPA, as well as the new manifestations of discrimination,” in particular issues of “xenophobia and Islamophobia.” So full of irony is this request from one of the chief violators of human rights in the world that one can only wonder if such a request from this member-nation makes the entire event a nonstarter, at least for the United States and Israel.
Other nations have requested that the 20th anniversary of Durban be celebrated with “one thematic event” in Geneva and one “high-level political event” in New York. Other groups requested producing promotional materials and “high visibility” from such countries as South Africa and Cuba, among others. Much, if not all, of the free world must wonder if the phrase “well-intentioned” has a chance to be relevant here. What’s more, the plans call for member states, intergovernmental organizations and non-governmental organizations, of which B’nai B’rith International is so credentialed, to organize and participate in the Durban 20th anniversary programs.
The framework for this meeting is beginning to sound awfully like something the world has already witnessed in the first Durban Conference. Are we headed for Durban déjà vu—another hatefest?
When the governments of Iran, Cuba and South Africa figure prominently in the planning, it’s reasonable to feel skepticism. Will the funds budgeted for this conference perpetuate United Nations bias against Israel? This funding could surely be better spent on reducing famine and sickness.
What else would make such a conference fruitful? Dream about these developments: the U.N. conference opens with a salute to Gulf States and other countries seeking peace and normalized relations with Israel. The Palestinian Authority declares the end of its covenant to destroy the State of Israel. Gone is the drumbeat of language declaring Israel an “apartheid state.” A new Palestinian government replaces its covenant and ceases uttering the refrain about how Israel targets innocent children and stops claiming the Temple Mount and the Western Wall have no attachment to the Jewish people. Imagine the progress in such a world. Nice dream. (Snap) Wake up.
Twenty years ago, while people from the free world were packing for Durban, pre-conference documents assailed Israel for “the racist practices of Zionism.” In 2021, contrary to popular belief, many in the world understand and appreciate positive contributions of Muslims and their faith in God. At the same time, no one can honestly deny Islamophobia or xenophobia of any kind, particularly when significant parts of the world live with extremist threats to kill other people, destroy other faiths or cultures and “annihilate” Israel.
Twenty years ago, delegations condemned Israel for her “treatment of Palestinians” in defending her borders. Never mind the relentless terror directed at Israel, the tunneling, kidnappings, stabbings of civilians, the firing missiles at Israeli towns from Gaza homes, schools, hospitals, even mosques.
The DDPA should try again to promote racial reconciliation, to construct a message of peace and harmony and do what the United Nations was designed to do since 1945 — “to prevent conflict, to help parties in conflict to make peace or to create conditions to allow peace to hold and flourish.” Avoid Durban Déjà vu.
Read President Kaufman's expert analysis in Inside Sources.
Charles O. Kaufman is president of B'nai B'rith International.
In this last month of the year, the United Nations General Assembly established that “Israel must renounce to have nuclear weapons” in a vote of 153 for, 6 against and 25 abstentions.
Israel was asked not “to develop, produce, test or buy nuclear weapons.” Israel was also asked to “renounce possession of nuclear weapons and to submit all its nuclear facilities without safeguards to the U.N. requested safeguards as a step forward toward trust among the States in the region and as a step forward to improve peace and security.”
The U.N. presumes that Israel is one of the nine nuclear powers of the world, but Israel has never admitted any possession of nuclear weapons and nobody has ever demonstrated that the U.N.’s presumption is true. There are eight countries which are recognized as nuclear powers; five of them – China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and United States – have signed the Treaty of Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. India, North Korea and Pakistan have not signed the Treaty but have admitted having, and testing, nuclear weapons.
Those 153 countries voting “for” decided to make an exclusive call to Israel, asking Israel to sign the treaty under the accusation of “the risk of nuclear proliferation in Middle East.” The resolution is part of two U.N. packages. One, asking all the world globally and generally for a nuclear dismantling, but singling out by name only Israel. The other package is the endless litany of more then 20 resolutions per year singling out only one country: Israel. Meanwhile, chemical weapons can be used in Syria, millions of civilians are displaced by the Venezuelan dictatorship creating a hunger crisis in the region, the extent of which has never been known before; and except for useless reports which nobody pays attention, the U.N. agencies are not interested in such tragedies.
There were some more-than-disconcerting votes on these resolutions. While Egypt, Jordan, and the UAE (which have peace treaties with Israel) were among the sponsors of the resolutions, there are differing interpretations as to why — not the least of which is the need to play to a broader Arab constituency.
Perhaps more alarming were the abstentions of 15 European countries, Australia and some African countries. It is unacceptable that all Latin America voted for the resolution, with only Panama abstaining. It is a very serious mistake that Latin America, hidden under the alleged umbrella called GRULAC (Latin American Group) voted almost unanimously against Israel in such a sensitive question as nuclear weapons. It is indeed odd that Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Costa Rica, Paraguay or Uruguay voted together with Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia. No U.N. resolution supported by Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia should ever be shared by democracies.
But the U.N. obsession with Israel is not new. The language about nuclear weapons, and presuming that Israel has those weapons, is the same for more than 30 years. Such a resolution was voted in 2019, and in 2018, and so on. Meanwhile the countries with nuclear weapons have increased their capabilities. North Korea has openly shown it is increasing its arsenal, and no resolution has come to the table. The United Nations General Assembly wants to show by these votes that the only danger in the Middle East and beyond is Israel.
Iran signed an agreement about the nuclear weapons that the Ayatollah´s regime wants and does not have yet. Iran regularly lies to the U.N. and to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran uses the U.N. stages to threaten Israel and to “promise” the destruction of Israel. The U.N. GA has never discussed the behavior and threats of Iran when once a year the almost 200 countries “discuss” the “dangers” in the Middle East.
The changes in the resolution about nuclear weapons in the last three decades have been ideological, but no country has even tried to show real concern for the main issue: nuclear advances put all the planet in danger. The resolution was not obsessed with Israel 30 years ago. And at that time, all of Latin America, without exception, abstained. But today Venezuela, as a Latin America host of Iran and Hezbollah, opens the windows of danger everyday.
Early Dec. 2nd, in one of the sessions with five votes against Israel, Latin America showed how its votes have changed in the last decade or so. And it happened almost all this year and will likely repeat in the next year.
How is Latin America divided today vis a vis Israel in U.N. agencies? Brazil, Colombia, Honduras and Guatemala are with Israel. Their governments do not believe in the litany of charges against Israel or in the harassment of Israel. Panama, Peru, Paraguay and Uruguay are abstaining in most of the resolutions and mainly in those that support the Palestinian offices which get a great amount of funds and use them to incite hatred instead of solving the problems of the Palestinian people. And the rest: Chile, Argentina, Mexico, Costa Rica? Some time they could abstain but in general, sadly, they vote together with Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Iran and North Korea.
Maybe these Latin American democracies voting together with dictatorships against Israel believe that they may have sometimes some political or economic benefit. But these votes, irrelevant and noisy as they usually are, stay on the record and are well registered. And there are stains that can't be cleaned. As simple as that.
Who says the pandemic has killed theater in New York? It thrives at one of the world’s largest stages – the United Nations. In no other place in the world does comedy and tragedy mix with such demonic fanfare. While the ever-popular Lion King is scheduled to resume in June 2021 at the Minskoff Theatre, the Lying King continued its notorious run last week at the UN General Assembly.
What began with “Palestinian Solidarity Day” weeks ago ended with nothing more than another round of votes to appease Palestinians and allow them to perpetuate their victim-for-profit campaign. As the dust settles from the latest round of UN voting, we find nothing has changed, albeit the number of “Yes” votes is declining. The “All The World’s a Stage Theater” allows Palestinians merely to add to the list of anti-Israel resolutions and build on anti-Israel bias. Beyond screaming headlines, not much else is reality.
This year, my fellow theater-goers, the plot thickens. In the 2020 version of The Lying King, the early acts are the same as the days of Partition on November 29, 1947, a day celebrated by Jews and condemned by Arabs. The story line is summarized this way: Out of disgust with Israel’s existence, Arab nations wage war on their enemy, hoping to push the Jews into the sea. Military defeats to Israelis fuel the Arab world to wage future conflict, all the while using the UN as a platform for demeaning the Jewish state with a series of resolutions and a fruitless boycott movement.
With every subsequent scene to this play, maps get redrawn to reflect conquests of 1948, 1967 and 1973. The West Bank, once part of Jordan, changed title to Israel in 1967. Land once belonging to Jordan suddenly became “occupied” by Israel. The Six Day War that year delivered Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip. In the Yom Kippur War, the Golan Heights, once used by Syria to attack the north of Israel, would become prized territory. A couple of parcels would become bargaining chips for treaties. The Sinai returned to Egypt and, as agreed, the Jordanian Wakf would govern the Islamic holy site on the Temple Mount. The peace holds with Egypt and Jordan. Accords in Oslo reimagined the West Bank into Areas A, B and C. These accords were violated as the Palestinians ushered in an era of intifadas, replete with suicide bombings and other terrorism. Who did the UN condemn? Israel, of course, in a landslide.
Act III begins with failed negotiations and a rise in terrorism, including stabbings and kidnappings facilitated through tunneling, which prompt disputed Jewish settlements in Area C. A hopeful turn of events in Gaza led to Israel withdrawing Jewish settlers from the slice of land along the Mediterranean. Enter Hamas.
As the play moves along, Gaza becomes a launching pad for more terrorism and retaliation by Israel, which leads to heightened and increased drama in the UN with more resolutions condemning Israel. From 1967 to 1989, the UN Security Council adopted 131 resolutions addressing the Arab-Israeli conflict. Each year, 20 pro-Palestinian resolutions are passed by the General Assembly. At the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the notorious “Item 7” is the only permanent agenda item, and it is designated for criticism of Israel. The rest of the world is collectively submitted under “Item 4.”
OH, AND the story gets better. The Palestinians get a boost from Iran and Syria as their leadership uses the United Nations to gain nonmember observer status (2012). Economic relations among nations on all continents with Israel, leading to a warming of relations, have been doused with cold water in the UN by yet the next round of resolutions and false narratives, including resolutions that argue Israel has no historical claim to the Western Wall or the Temple Mount. The “State of Palestine” argues it is exclusively a Muslim site. Of course, this is simply false.
The Palestinians, still floating rounds of rhetoric and propaganda – invoking such inflammatory verbiage as Nazis, apartheid and worse – reject recent normalization treaties with Israel by Arab states, the UAE and Bahrain. While these Arab states embrace a two-state solution, they also see the great short-term benefits building enterprise with Israel.
The normalization narrative weakens Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas as it is a departure from the PLO mantra, much less the PLO charter, which denies the legitimacy of Israel, the existence of a historical or religious ties to “Palestine” and labels Zionism a racist, imperialist, fascist and colonialist political movement. At the very least, archaeological finds have given the Lying King a long run at the United Nations. As for colonization, Israel is slightly larger than New Jersey.
Palestinian and Arab rhetoric seeks to revert to the 1967 borders and designate east Jerusalem (the Old City) as a capital. Turning back the clock 54 years is unlikely, if not impossible. Truly, it is mere staging for Israel’s destruction.
Meanwhile, the rhetoric by Afghanistan, Iran and other outliers make glorifying speeches at perennial Palestinian pep rallies. They cry out against “denying the historical and legal rights of the Palestinian people... It is time to stand for justice.” These lines get delivered with perfection and even a straight face. The story of lies and deception is flawless.
At the United Nations, art does not imitate life. The refrain to the Palestinians simply falls on deaf ears. Come to the negotiating table and negotiate face-to-face with Israel. You will get less than what you want but more than what you have today.
Read President Kaufman's expert analysis in the Jerusalem Post.
Charles O. Kaufman is president of B'nai B'rith International.
Two events last week have illustrated, once again, how much Europe’s tin ear on Iran, and on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to function, despite a rapidly changing geopolitical environment in the region.
The United Nations Security Council, in a 2-2 vote, with 11 abstentions, refused to support an extension of the arms embargo on Iran, which has been in place since 2007. Russia and China voted against, which came as no surprise. The only country that joined the United States, which has for some time supported the extension, was the Dominican Republic. But among the countries casting an abstention were Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. Nine votes were needed to adopt an extension of the embargo.
The embargo not only prohibits the sale of conventional weapons to Iran but also prohibits Iran from transferring weapons to its proxies. It’s been in violation of this provision through its repeated delivery of rockets and other weaponry to Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations.
In their explanation of why they voted as they did, the Europeans expressed concern that an embargo extension would chase Tehran away from the discredited 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), ostensibly agreed to in order to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
The United States withdrew from the plan in 2018, citing its loose provisions and loopholes that would allow, after a period of 15 years, Iran to continue its nuclear weapons program. Effective, unannounced inspections of military sites, for example — a provision touted by supporters of the JCPOA — could not be carried out under the plan because of an arcane protocol of advance notice to the Iranians. Nor was Iran’s ballistic missile program, focused on being able to carry nuclear warheads as far as the heart of Europe, dismantled.
With cover provided by the JCPOA, Iran has set about to militarily and geopolitically meddle in the affairs of its neighbors. Its presence, or proxy connections in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and of course Lebanon are there for all to see. Lebanon has become part of “Iran Inc.” with its terrorist proxy Hezbollah having insinuated itself into the cabinet, and the terror group’s influence on the Lebanese army growing year-to-year. Not to mention its relationship with Hamas, in what amounts to a real time Shia-Sunni demonstration of the dictum, “the enemy of my enemy [Israel] is my friend.”
The final straw for those who cling to the JCPOA should have been Israel’s carrying off that trove of documents last year from a Tehran warehouse, that makes it abundantly clear that Iran has been developing nuclear weapons. What more could the Security Council want for evidence of Tehran’s intentions?
And as if that weren’t enough, the Gulf Cooperation Council, representing six countries with varying interests in the region, supported the extension of the embargo because of Iran’s constant threats to most of its member states.
So instead of sending a clear message to Iran that its malign behavior will no longer be tolerated, whether it be its nuclear ambitions, its support for terrorism or its hegemonist sweep across the region, by not voting to extend the arms embargo, Europe once again punted. Its lack of principle is not only disheartening, it is frightening.
Notwithstanding European expressions of “concern” over Iranian behavior, the real test — voting for the continuation of the embargo — has been failed miserably by governments whose modus operandi on this and many other vital issues is to do some can-kicking down the road of international diplomacy.
The other major event involving the region last week was the tremendously transformative announcement of the normalization agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Along with the Israeli-Egyptian and Israeli-Jordanian peace agreements which preceded it, the Abraham Accord is the third pillar of diplomatic achievements to bring stability to the region.
For decades the conventional thinking was that if an Israeli-Palestinian agreement could be achieved, peace between Israel and the rest of the Arab world would soon follow (see: the Fahd Plan, later called the Arab Peace Initiative, which promoted that approach to peacemaking). In fact, the 1979 agreement with Egypt, and the 1994 pact with Jordan did not wait for an agreement with the Palestinians, making the point that procrastination, where real strategic interests are at stake, makes no sense.
The Palestinians have walked away from numerous opportunities to negotiate a deal with Israel. Now, time has moved on, and they are looking at a train that is rapidly moving out of the station.
That approach has now been validated by the normalization agreement announced by President Donald Trump. Reaction among most European states was favorable. For months, though, the European Union and most of its member states were obsessed with warning Israel against an annexation plan in the West Bank that they were absolutely sure would happen. They might have spent that time more productively urging the Palestinian Authority to come to the negotiating table with Israel, but preferred instead to browbeat Israel, in the-sky-is-falling rhetoric.
Notwithstanding the encomiums that have flowed in from most European capitals, Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn introduced a jarring assessment of the normalization agreement, in language reminding us that old speak on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still alive and well in Europe.
Said Asselborn of the diplomatic breakthrough, speaking critically of the UAE with Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio: “…I think you can’t just let down your own brothers [Palestinians] in order to pursue economic interests and perhaps also have more security for yourself.”
Never have more hypocritical words been spoken. If Asselborn is right, what is Luxembourg doing in the European Union or as a member of NATO? Of course nation states pursue economic and security interests. Some also pursue policies aimed at bringing peace and stability to their neighborhoods, which is what the normalization agreement looks to accomplish.
Asselborn didn’t stop there; it gets worse: ”I am not an expert in theology, but I think that in all cultures and religions there is a well-established norm against theft. This is one of the basic norms of human co-existence….” He went on to say that “notwithstanding the Ten Commandments, seizing territory by force is a violation of Israel’s obligations under the U.N. Charter…and goes against a host of U.N. Security Council resolutions.”
Not only are Asselborn’s remarks an expression of sour grapes, but he has crossed a red line in diplo-speak. He is charging Israel, citing none other than the Ten Commandments, with stealing from the Palestinians, which takes it dangerously into blood libel territory. The old Yiddish expression — “vos iz oyfn lung iz oyfn tsung” — or what it is you breathe (really believe) is what you say,” — has never been more apt.
How can countries whose representatives hold such views, given the history of the region and the complexities of peacemaking, ever present themselves as honest brokers or even objective observers of the Israeli-Palestinian conundrum?
The European abstentions in the Security Council vote on extending the arms embargo on Iran, and the Asselborn comments on the Israel-UAE normalization pact are stark reminders that in parts of Europe old attitudes and biases die hard. It’s not only imagination that’s lacking in Europe, it is an inability — or perhaps unwillingness — to act on principle. Standing up to bullies like Iran or recognizing that the diplomatic winds blowing out of the Gulf represent initiatives that might in fact lead to some kind of accommodation between Israel and the Palestinians, are the shape of things to come.
Stuck somewhere in the 20th century, Europe is late to the game, the one where tectonic shifts which present new opportunities to bring about positive changes in the world order, are taking place every day.
Read CEO Mariaschin's expert analysis in the Times of Israel.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is CEO of B'nai B'rith International.
In the last days of June, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) decided to discuss and vote on “issues linked to human rights violations”. However, the council did not say a word about violations to human dignity and human freedom in Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Somalia, Argelia, Turkey, Russia, China or Iraq.
The UNHRC passed very soft and useless resolutions on North Korea, Myanmar, Libya, Syria and Iran. These will be forgotten soon.
Ignoring the egregious human rights violations of countless other countries, the UNHRC devoted most of its attention to one single country: Israel. The council passed five resolutions on Israel; one on Friday, June 19, and four on Monday, June 22.
This situation is not new. Unfortunately, it will happen again in the short-, mid- and long-term. This council is not doing anything different than its predecessor, the Human Rights Commission. In fact, it is worse. It has among its members the worst human rights abusers in modern times, and the council gives those countries the power to condemn democracies.
Last June 19th, the council decided to discuss one resolution against Israel. Some years ago, the council’s resolution used to focus on settlements; some short time ago, the council added to it the boycott of products made by Palestinian workers in Israeli factories. The goal of the resolution is to punish Israeli factories, but what would really be doing (if their resolutions were not toothless) would be leaving thousands of Palestinians unemployed.
Who cares that Palestinians become unemployed if the council can score points with a shameful resolution that attacks Israel? Almost nobody cares. The Palestinian Authority does not care; they promote the resolution. The “international community”?. It would be great to know what the term really means. What about the council, the high commissioner? Worst. The council is following dangerous paths on Israeliphobia and the high commissioner – believe it or not - has agreed to make a list of Israeli businesses which should be boycotted.
The resolution (not binding) passed with less votes than the Palestinians hoped. But there was more: the council decided to ask the high commissioner to present a full report on Israeli settlements…in March 2021. At a time when nobody in the world has a real idea when the pandemic and its consequences may end, in times of world economic recession and world unemployment, we can be sure that the UNHRC will ask for a useless report in nine months’ time.
The resolution had 22 votes in favor (which is less than half of the 47 members of the body), 8 votes against and 17 abstentions.
The Latin American members of the council overwhelmingly voted to unjustly condemn Israel.
Among the council’s 8 votes against the resolution, the only Latin American country included was Brazil.
The Bahamas and Uruguay abstained.
Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela voted for the resolution.
What are Argentina, Chile, Mexico and Peru thinking when they vote with undemocratic human rights violators like Qatar, Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan and, of course, Venezuela? That they are helping to achieve peace? That they are delivering a message of sanity to the Middle East? That they are really supporting and helping the Palestinian people? How is it possible that they do not see that pushing for boycotting Israeli products made by Palestinian workers is exactly the opposite of working towards peace?
Israeli Ambassador Aviva Raz Schechter was very clear: “This Council has an item which has been exclusively designed to condemn one state. Item 7 is a systematic mechanism of discrimination against Israel which is a feeling that is deeply rooted in the culture of this Council and several of its members. Let´s call Item 7 by its real name: it is the item of institutionalized antisemitism.”
Not one Latin American country answered the Israeli ambassador. Australia and the Czech Republic loudly and clearly rejected Item 7and the litany of votes against Israel.
Venezuela is ruled by a dictatorship which allies itself with Iran, violates human rights and has created a health turmoil in the region. We can expect nothing from such a regime, especially because it is also institutionally anti-Semitic. However, it is unacceptable that democracies join dictatorships and human rights abusers to single out Israel.
But it happens all the time in the U.N. agencies. It is time for those democracies to decide on which side of history they want to stand, because they can´t be in two places at the same time. If they keep standing together with Venezuela, Qatar, Somalia and others, it will be very difficult to see what differentiates these democracies from noted human rights violators.
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.
Analysis From Our Experts
B'nai B'rith International has widely respected experts in the fields of: