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.
By Rachel Knopp
College students have become emblematic elements of nonviolent resistance throughout the world. Perhaps most famous were the anti-Vietnam protests when college campuses in the United States transformed into hotbeds of political activity. Students would organize “teach-ins” to rally against the escalation of the war. In Europe, Serbian university students organized poster campaigns and satirical concerts against the oppressive Milošević regime. Just two years later, these ‘unruly’ young people had successfully overthrown a dictator.
Today, we see that same trend of student activism visit another country with a democracy on the brink of collapse: Venezuela. In Venezuela, supermarket shelves and pharmacies are virtually empty. Due to the lack of food, medicines and medical equipment, people are dying of easily preventable causes. The Venezuelan economy is heading in a nosedive, evident in a current unemployment rate of 17 percent and an inflation rate that is expected to hit 481 percent by the end of the year, per Ian Bremmer of Time.
The severity of the humanitarian crisis is felt by many, with two million Venezuelans taking refuge in neighboring countries throughout recent years. Yet, the dire situation continues to grow. The Maduro-led government refuses to accept humanitarian assistance from the international community. Refusals indicate a blatant disregard for human life, amid an increasingly tense political climate.
According to Luis Almagro, secretary-general of the Organization of American States, President Nicolas Maduro has deliberately dismantled the democratic institutions of his country since his election in 2013. The Venezuelan constitution, which safeguards the most coveted freedoms of democracy, has overtly been disregarded. Maduro and the executive branch now enjoy a strong-hold over all key government institutions. The Supreme Court has stripped powers away from the legislature and the military has become government cronies in quashing opposition.
Maduro has explicitly stated his contempt for dissent. “Prepare for a time of massacre and death if the Bolivarian revolution fails,” he warned. Sadly, Maduro’s warning has come to fruition, with university students bearing the brunt of this burden. Of the 92 dissidents who were killed from April 1 to July 10, 31 of them were aged 21 or younger.
Even with Maduro’s grave forewarning and demonstrated commitment to stamp out opposition, many students have nevertheless left their lecture halls in favor of the streets. "We just couldn't sit calmly in class when down the road fellow youths were being killed in clashes with the security forces," Gabriela Sayago, a 24-year-old dentistry student at the University of Merida. told the BBC News. Students like Sayago have vowed to complete their studies, but only under a free and fair Venezuela.
To achieve that goal, student organizers have partnered with the opposition party to resist the regime and its grim promise to rewrite the constitution. According to David Gonzalez of The New York Times, the recent opposition-led referendum voted 98 percent in favor of rejecting Maduro’s efforts to rewrite the constitution, of nearly 7.8 million votes. These Venezuelans demanded that the current constitution be respected in order to prevent Maduro’s path to dictatorship.
The student activists are being credited with utilizing more sophisticated tools of protests, including psychological sessions and civil disobedience workshops on their university campuses. In conjunction, the opposition is organizing a nationwide 24-hour strike, which is expected to be a “massive, nonviolent protest.: In some areas, the movement has even adopted a database to track the safety of protesters who continue to take to the streets.
Almagro recognizes the grueling, historical struggle that Latin American countries have faced to achieve democracy. Many of the region’s most respected leaders have their own memories of participating in popular protest. Yet the case of Venezuela demonstrates the fragility of even an established democracy.
Still, the Maduro government claims to be a representative voice of its people on the international stage. Particularly, the Venezuelan government has used its position at the United Nations to criticize and condemn Israel. Venezuela uses the same institutions, in which it refuses to accept humanitarian assistance to save its own people, to turn the focus toward the State of Israel.
In May the Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations raised in the Security Council whether Israel intended to “wage a final solution sort of solution [against the Palestinians] as was perpetrated against the Jews?” The comparison to Nazi-Germany was quickly condemned by the United Kingdom and the United States and distinguished as anti-Semitism by Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon. Anti-Semitism has become a flagrant issue within the country itself. Since Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez, took power in 1999 nearly 50 percent of Venezuelan Jews have left the country. During that time, Chávez took steps to deepen relations with the Palestinian leadership and Iranian government. He viewed Israel as a Middle Eastern proxy of the United States and thus adopted anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic sentiments in his rhetoric. Chávez’s rhetoric spilled over into government-sponsored media and local governments thus creating an intolerable space for Jews in the country.
The January appointment of Vice President Tareck El Aissami has reiterated concerns over Venezuela’s connections in the Middle East. From a testimony last year at the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Joseph Humire detailed the vice president’s complex financial network, which includes laundering millions of dollars on behalf of organizations like Hezbollah. Hezbollah, an internationally recognized terror organization, has called for the destruction of Israel since its founding. El Aissami’s financial dealings point to the infiltration of Islamic extremism at the highest levels of Venezuelan government.
In June U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley called for Venezuela to step down from its position at the United Nations Human Rights Council if it could not put an end to its own human rights abuses. Haley continued to express her frustration that not a single resolution had been considered by the council to address the Venezuelan abuses, yet five had been passed against Israel in March alone. This, she said, marked another example of the anti-Israel bias that has long plagued the U.N.
Various human rights violators of the world have used United Nations institutions to divert attention from their own records of abuse and shift the focus toward Israel. Venezuela has been a leader in this diversion tactic, yet the popular protests that ensue within the country suggest that these accusations do not represent the concerns of the people.
Those who follow the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement have seen student activism as a tool to delegitimize Israel in the region. In particular Chile, the country with the largest Palestinian population outside of the Middle East has answered the BDS call. Chile’s votes against Israel at the United Nations mirror the Pontifical Catholic University student body vote to reject ties with Israeli academic institutions. Not coincidentally, anti-Semitic incidents and attacks have risen within the country. Schools, synagogues and cemeteries have been vandalized and the president of Chile’s Jewish community has been provided police protection.
Observers of the BDS movement may regard university campuses as a battle to be lost, but that fear may not be warranted elsewhere in the region. The young people of Venezuela continue to carry out the fight of their lives, with July 9 marking the 100 consecutive day of protest in Caracas. This past Sunday marked the deadliest day yet, following the fraudulent election to move forward with the Constituent Assembly. The election results ensure that a return to democracy through traditional democratic channels is impossible, now making the protest movement indispensable.
Evidence from other countries in the region suggests that the students who are protesting in the streets today will become the key decision-makers of their countries tomorrow. We must look beyond the votes of diplomats and recognize the strength of the movements that are fighting against this phony representation. The current standoff between the government and its opposition may signify a change in who will speak on behalf of Venezuelans in the future—and how they will exercise that voice on the world stage.
Photo via Flickr
This week, the World Health Assembly (WHA), the U.N. body overseeing the work of the better-known World Health Organization (WHO), voted on yet another resolution targeting Israel. Let the complete absurdity of the situation sink in: Israel, a leader in the medical field, which provides medical aid throughout the world, likely including in countries that shamefully voted in favor of the resolution, was singled out for scrutiny.
No other state was on the agenda; there were also no other WHO reports on a specific conflict situation. Not even Syria received this kind of attention—and the Assad regime has been bombing hospitals this year as part of its ongoing military campaign/humanitarian catastrophe.
At last year’s WHA, the European Union states voted en masse for the anti-Israel resolution saying it was technical in nature. Even if this were true—and it was laughably false—the very nature of having only one country-specific resolution, and having that resolution attack the sole democracy and medical leader in the Middle East region, is inherently political. More to the point, it is a symptom of the dangerous selectivity and special standards that apply only to the Jewish state at the U.N.
This year’s resolution is more bare boned than resolutions from past years, but the main problem persists, and is a grave threat to the credibility of the WHO. After this year’s vote, in which most of the EU states again voted in favor (with the notable exception of the United Kingdom voting against and abstentions by Bulgaria, Croatia and Hungary), the German delegate made a statement on behalf of some of the European states that voted in favor urging the Israelis and Palestinians to work together on a text that could reach consensus. That request is bizarre and insulting—asking Israel to participate in a process where the designated end goal is a resolution that again perpetuates the singling out of the Jewish state.
The question that those that care about world health must ask is: Does the WHO/WHA want to go down the road of other politicized agencies at the U.N.?
We have seen this before, most notably at the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), two agencies so well-known for being mired in obsession with Israel (UNHRC) and/or denying the history of the Jewish people (UNESCO), that the work of the entire organization is under threat of becoming delegitimized.
And, while human rights and preservation of history and culture are a vital part of our human existence, these two agencies have been problematic for a while now. The UNHRC, which has always had a special agenda item solely dedicated to attacks on Israel, was a politicized body from its birth over a decade ago. UNESCO has also had its own share of issues before. The United States stopped paying dues after UNESCO allowed a still-not-existent Palestinian state to join as a full-fledged member state, and the U.S. also refused to be a member of the organization for a long stretch of time due to what was a notoriously anti-American orientation at UNESCO in the 1980s.
The WHO, though, should be different. It must be above petty political attacks because millions of lives are at risk. We all need the WHO to improve lives and to stop the spread of communicable diseases before they become epidemics or global pandemics. Instead, the WHA stopped everything to engage in an hours-long session of speaker after speaker (mostly from dictatorships with appalling human rights records and health situations) bashing Israel. Does anyone aside from the Palestinian representatives and their allies in states hostile to Israel believe that this is the best use of the time of an expert health body?
After the vote at the WHA, the representative of the United Kingdom put it best by saying, “If we politicize the WHO, we do so at our peril.” Sadly, only six other member states had the fortitude to stand up to this politicization by voting against the resolution: Australia, Canada Guatemala, Israel, Togo and the United States.
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 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.
The Times of Israel ran an op-ed written by B'nai B'rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin on Europe's tilt toward the Palestinian's and how many EU countries help the Palestinians game the the United Nations against Israel in the conflict.
You can read the full op-ed below or click to read it on TimesOfIsrael.com
Through this summer’s din and uncertainty of Brexit, the migration crisis and a wave of terror, Europe has remained constant in one respect: its singular fixation on a wrong-headed policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
If the Middle East were an arrivals and departures board at a train station, the Israeli-Palestinian question would be down somewhere at the fifth or sixth spot, behind the war on ISIS, the Syrian civil war, the Libya fiasco and Iranian hegemonism. All those decades in which the mantra “if you solve the Palestinian issue, all outstanding issues will fall into place,” has been proven to be nothing more than hollow conventional wisdom. The Sunni-Shia divide has become a roiling ocean, creating aftershocks in nearly every corner of the region — and beyond.
For years, the Palestinian leadership has become accustomed to “pride of place” on the issue, picking up supporters and apologists globally, but no more so than in Europe itself. Explanations for this are varied: some countries were concerned at one point about the spread of PLO terrorism in Europe, and sought accommodation with the terrorist organization. Some European governments were driven by ideological considerations and looked the other way at the thuggery, then the obstructionism of the PLO and its successors, while coming down hard on a succession of center-left and center-right Israeli governments. Some European leaders saw themselves as mediators and interlocutors, worrying that a shortage of obeisance to the Palestinian narrative would disqualify them from being “honest brokers.”
Indeed, since its 1980 Venice Declaration, in which the then-EEC (European Economic Community) supported the Palestinian’s call for “self-determination,” Europe has always tilted to the Palestinian side, despite the existence of generally good bilateral relations between a number of European Union (EU) countries and Israel.
As the EU grew in size, some differences in this approach became discernible. After the fall of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989, a number of the new democracies could be found voting against, or abstaining on issues considered to be biased against Israel at the United Nations (U.N.) and other international fora. Increasingly, though, the demand for consensus in EU voting has seen the voting independence of the former Central and Eastern European states dissipate in the face of pressure from Brussels and from a number of the senior EU member capitals.
The 2012 decision to upgrade the status of the Palestinians to “non-member state”—despite the EU’s call for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, with the object of reaching a two state solution—was supported by no less than 14 EU members. Only the Czech Republic voted against; 12 others abstained. The message to the Palestinian Authority couldn’t have been clearer: why negotiate with Israel when the international community, including key European countries, could do the heavy lifting for it?
Gaming the U.N. system has become a PA specialty.
One recent case in point is a resolution singling out Israel recently adopted at the World Health Organization’s (WHO) World Health Assembly in Geneva. The measure, introduced by Kuwait on behalf of the Arab Group and Palestine, singled out Israel for “physical and procedural barriers to health access” in the territories, east Jerusalem and what they call the “Syrian Golan.” The text also cited the “prolonged occupation and human rights violations on mental, physical and environmental health…”
Anyone with a cursory knowledge of the daily lives of Israelis and Palestinians knows that emergency rooms and hospital wards in Israel treat Palestinians on a daily basis. Indeed, the Israeli organization, Save a Child’s Heart, which performs, gratis, pediatric cardiac surgery, has treated more than 2,000 Palestinian children since its inception in 1996. Beyond that, Israel has been treating hundreds of cases of civilians from across Syria who have been wounded in the barrel bombings and other carnage of that bloody war in medical facilities in the northern part of Israel.
And yet, 107 countries supported this libelous WHO resolution, including all 28 EU member states. On a continent where the blood libel against Jewish communities was a prominent fixture of life in the Middle Ages, and on the basis of facts widely known in European capitals, it is both incomprehensible, and reprehensible that Israel should be castigated in this way.
Another recent example of Palestinian influence at the U.N. is the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Executive Board’s vote in favor of a resolution on “Occupied Palestine.” There are 40 points in the resolution, some of it rehashing previous resolutions condemning Israel for all manner of absurd accusations of “desecrating” holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem. But this measure makes no reference at all to the Temple Mount, only to its Islamic/Arabic name, Al-Haram Al-Sharif. In the resolution, the plaza in front of the Western Wall is referred to as the Al-Buraq Plaza; “Western Wall Plaza” is noted in quotes only.
This isn’t only a matter of semantics, or “sensitivity.” In the past, the United Nations documents have referenced the holy site by both the name recognized by Judaism and Christianity (the Temple Mount) and Islam (Al-Haram Al-Sharif). This current re-writing of history, and the elimination of both the Jewish and Christian places in that history, was supported by 33 countries overall. Four EU countries actually supported the measure, and five did oppose, with two abstentions. But why was there a division in Europe over this blatant historical revisionism?
To the Palestinians, all of this has a purpose: to erase or delegitimize Israel’s, and the Jewish people’s claim to the land. That European countries, no strangers to either the Jewish narrative on their own continent or to the ancient connection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, would, for the sake of diplomatic expediency, dismiss that history with a simple keystroke or a voting show of hands, is unacceptable.
There’s even more counterproductive meddling beyond the U.N. system. Case in point: Last fall’s EU directive to label products from the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights prejudges an issue (settlements) that belongs in a direct negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians. The EU itself, as a member of the Quartet (which also includes the United States, the United Nations and Russia), wants to have it both ways. Calling for face-to-face negotiations but siding with the Palestinians before those talks have even begun on this issue.
This all amounts to flawed diplomacy. Those European countries which engage in this kind of voting behavior or in extra-curricular diplomacy could better spend their time encouraging the Palestinians to end their quixotic sullying of Israel, rather than enabling it. These resolutions set back what remains of the peace process, they don’t advance it. Palestinian expectations are inflated when Europe backs these initiatives, and in Israel, the belief that it can never get a fair break at the U.N. and other international fora is reinforced.
It’s time for Brussels and other European capitals to send a simple message to Ramallah: if you’re serious about peace, get to the table. If not, there is no shortage of crises to occupy our time and attention.
Amid a fresh wave of terrorism in countries including the United States, Turkey, Bangladesh, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Israel – though all but the latter have been responded to full-throatedly, owing to the base politics and limited focus that now afford singular international attention only to the arm of violent jihadism that brands itself ISIS – annual elections were held last week to fill upcoming vacancies on the body most responsible for global peace: the United Nations Security Council. Despite this responsibility, though – and power surpassing that of any other U.N. organ – the Council, itself frequently deadlocked by the conflicting interests of nations large and small, has become well-known for its inability to concretely address the world’s most pressing problems.
The Security Council, at any given time, has 15 members – five veto-wielding permanent members (the U.S., China, Russia, France and the United Kingdom), with the remainder elected by the General Assembly to serve staggered two-year terms.
The U.N. as a whole is comprised of 193 member states; a majority of these have had the opportunity – some repeatedly – to be members of the organization’s most “prestigious” body, while (as of 2017) 67 will never have had the chance. These include many smaller countries. At the same time, while Israel – whose policies and engagements receive unparalleled probing across the U.N. system – has never been elected to the Security Council, countries with a smaller population have: for example, Panama (five times), Denmark (four times), Norway (four times), Ireland (three times), Finland (twice), Uruguay (twice), Singapore (once), Paraguay (once), Luxembourg (once) and Malta (once).
Arab states in the Middle East have also been elected. Among them, Egypt has served five times, Syria three times, Algeria three times, Jordan three times, Iraq twice, Libya twice and Lebanon twice.
The current Council members whose term will continue through the end of 2017 are Egypt, Jordan, Senegal, Ukraine and Uruguay.
Those whose term ends at the end of this year are Angola, Malaysia, New Zealand, Spain and Venezuela.
In last week’s ballot, the countries elected to serve on the Council in 2017 and 2018 are Ethiopia (for the African Group), Kazakhstan (for the Asia-Pacific Group), Bolivia (for the Latin American and Caribbean Group), and Sweden (for the Western European and Other Group), with the Netherlands and Italy – in a rarity over recent decades, after multiple inconclusive rounds of voting – agreeing to split a term by serving only one year each.
It is difficult to predict how the altered makeup of the Security Council may impact voting on resolutions on issues such as those related to Israel – and, by extension, whether such resolutions will be proposed at all – as this is impacted at any given moment by geopolitical circumstances, by the policy orientation of sitting governments and, of course, by the specific content of any prospective motion. In the nearly half-year remaining until outgoing Council members are replaced, much can change or remain the same in the Middle East. The rise of ISIS and warfare regionally, along with related surges of migration to and recurring terror attacks in Europe, have drawn a good deal of attention away from the Palestinian-Israeli rift. However, as Western countries pledge to eradicate ISIS, a reflexive instinct to also pacify Palestinians remains. France, of late very much in Islamist crosshairs, insisted on launching a recent international “initiative” to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict but its initial summit meeting excluded the parties to conflict themselves; the Palestinians, who at one point received indication that Paris would simply recognize the “State of Palestine” if negotiations with Israel failed to promptly yield it, came to endorse the effort. Absent any Israeli buy-in, the French also on various occasions have expressed a desire to get the U.N. Security Council to impose a “framework” for the resolution of the dispute.
This, that is, assuming the U.S. will not deploy its Council veto. The Obama administration has long defended Israel at the U.N., and affirmed its continued view that the conflict should be settled through direct bilateral negotiations, but it has not clearly promised to oppose any Security Council resolution on Israel during the president’s final months in office, in the absence of progress toward peace on other tracks.
Nine affirmative votes, with no veto, are needed for a Security Council resolution to be adopted. If the U.S. were to allow a Council resolution on the conflict this year – whether outlining an anticipated final-status deal or, for example, merely reproving Israel for the presence of Jewish communities in Palestinian-claimed territory – it would all but surely pass with the four other permanent members, and at least six (if not all) non-permanent members, actively supporting it. While several current Council members have shown willingness in other U.N. bodies to abstain on some overtly anti-Israel resolutions, few, if any, would abstain on (let alone oppose) a motion seen to reflect a consensus that effectively includes the White House.
As to 2017, the Security Council landscape would seem to be improving a bit for Jerusalem: three countries that dependably vote against Israel (including the vociferous Venezuela) will be out, to be replaced by only two following the same voting pattern (though the incoming three countries that typically abstain on stridently anti-Israel resolutions include Sweden, which has regularly been outspoken in criticizing Israel’s government). Israel’s effort to return to a renaissance in ties with African states like incoming Council member (and moderate-voting) Ethiopia – as well as its recent, behind-the-scenes consultations even with those like Russia, Turkey and the Sunni Arab states – may also yield subtle fruit at the U.N., if only in averting or watering down the most damaging of prospective resolutions. At the same time, of course, factors like the U.S. presidential race and now the selection of a new British premier – though a number of friends of Israel are well-placed in both contexts – offer real wildcards. Additionally, it is yet to be seen how Brexit, and global anxieties and a sense of nationalist resurgences generally, will impact the European Union and its aspiration to a bloc-wide foreign policy.
Last Friday, the so-called international Quartet on Middle East peacemaking – which includes high-level representatives of the U.S., U.N., E.U. and Russia – resurfaced with a report that again sought to project an urgent need to end the Palestinian-Israeli stalemate. However, the report provoked a furious backlash from Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who yesterday called on the Security Council to reject the text, which notably included not only Israeli settlements but also Palestinian incitement to violence among the impediments that it perceives to peace.
More likely than heeding Abbas’s call, the Council can be expected over the coming weeks to shift focus to the process of selecting a U.N. secretary-general to replace Ban Ki-moon at the start of 2017, after ten years in office. Though formally elected by the General Assembly – which this year has been given the opportunity to interview declared candidates – the world body’s top official is traditionally chosen through intensive private haggling within the Security Council, specifically its permanent members. Like candidacies for Council membership, the role of secretary-general is (unofficially) seen as tied to region, doled out on a basis of rotation. It is now widely seen to be Eastern Europe’s turn to place someone at the helm.
While the array of candidates vary in their prior record on Middle East issues – secretaries-general are limited in what they can do to ameliorate anti-Israel bigotry at the U.N., and most have to different degrees disappointed in their efforts to at least try – Eastern European countries have, in the post-Communist era, often been characterized by considerable sympathy for the Jewish state. During a period when Eastern Europe may have some greater autonomy from centralized E.U. decision-making – or, in fact, a more influential part in shaping it – it would be a true contribution to peacemaking, and to the standing of the United Nations, if a senior-most U.N. official from that region were to model bold leadership in promoting fairness and responsibility on Israel at the world body itself.
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