Despite its charter’s solemn affirmation of “the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small,” the United Nations is the home of singular mistreatment for one member state, Israel, whose commitment to equality can rival that of virtually any country in the world.
The mistreatment of Israel manifests itself in myriad ways. A permanent Human Rights Council agenda item is dedicated to singling out Israel, alone among nations, for hostile scrutiny.
A U.N. “special rapporteur” is dedicated to publicizing only Israel’s alleged faults. In the case of the last person to hold that position, he overtly promoted economic warfare against Israel.
At least three entire U.N. bureaucratic bodies are dedicated to the worldwide advancement of Palestinian political goals and an anti-Israel narrative that is as simplistic as it is vile.
A permanent Human Rights Council agenda item is dedicated to singling out Israel alone for hostile scrutiny.The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) routinely lambastes Israel over, for example, its stewardship of holy sites in Jerusalem (a setting, for all its challenges, of exceptional multi-religious vibrancy in the Middle East).
At the very same time, that agency – which Palestinians exploited by pressing for status as a “member state,” in order to evade direct peace negotiations with Israel – recklessly politicizes sacred places by recasting landmarks like Rachel’s Tomb and the Tomb of the Patriarchs as Palestinian and primarily Islamic.
Now, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is again threatening to expand his “internationalization of the conflict” with Israel by unilaterally enlarging Palestinians’ foothold in U.N. bodies that can then serve as political weapons against the Jewish state.
Although U.N. officials, like Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, should be expected to exercise principled leadership by speaking out unequivocally against all these abuses, such abuses are often driven by the U.N. voting membership, comprised in considerable part of Arab and aligned states. In the many areas where politics – not any sense of just, meaningful policymaking – carry the day, it is politics rather than rejection of discrimination that will prevail.
Sometimes, though, leaders like Ban are positioned to do more than raise objections. At times, they can, and must, implement actual changes for the sake of the U.N.’s own institutional credibility.
A case such as this is before us now, when a member of Ban’s own senior management team, Under-Secretary-General Rima Khalaf, is openly complicit not only in deplorable propagandizing against one nation in the international community, Israel, but also in demonstrating how effortlessly anti-Zionist incitement slides into anti-Jewish terrain.
In February, Khalaf, who serves as executive secretary of the U.N.’s Beirut-based Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, was in Tunisia to herald the release of a 310-page ESCWA report, “Arab Integration: A 21st Century Development Imperative.” Although the document’s name, size and official provenance would suggest a serious and forward-looking treatment of challenges in an Arab world beset by extensive political crisis and human suffering, the report represents yet one more misuse of vital resources to whitewash complexity and defer reconciliation.
It manages to invoke Israel over 150 times – yet, in decrying Israeli defense efforts and control of (some) Arab-claimed territory, there is not one mention of Hamas and Hezbollah, lethal terrorist movements that are directly responsible for these realities.
Although Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has killed more Arab citizens in three years than any Israelis have since the development of modern Zionism well over 100 years ago, he too goes unmentioned.
And Iran, whose war with Iraq claimed as many as one million lives and whose aggressive nuclear pursuit has (rightly) alarmed Arab leaders like little else has, gets negligible attention.
By contrast, Israel is charged with posing a “nuclear threat” and a vague conspiracy to “divide the region into sectarian mini-States.”
Indeed, in all six instances where the grave crime of “ethnic cleansing” is alleged, it is democratic Israel – whose Muslim and Christian populations have risen continuously, in contrast to Jews and Christians elsewhere in the Middle East – that is the report’s target. And the report – which affords no attention to the dozens of countries whose state religion is, for instance, Islam – libelously claims that Israel has sought to be an “exclusive” Jewish country, thus promoting “the religious or ethnic purity of states, a concept that inflicted on humanity the worst crimes of the last century.”
As if this wasn't enough, the report also asserts that Adolf Hitler partnered with Zionism – whose supposed purpose was not to alleviate exile from a sole ancestral homeland but to “introduce an alien Jewish community in the heart of the Arab world.”
Further adding insult to injury, Khalaf’s report mentions not once but three times Israeli aspirations to “Judaize” Jerusalem – when “Judaizing” Jerusalem,Yerushalayim, would be virtually akin to “Islamicizing” Mecca.
None of this is to say that the ESCWA report could not have made a constructive contribution – and this is precisely the point: By trafficking in slurs that are tired but still incendiary, Khalaf’s organization condemns not merely Israelis but also her own Arab constituency to a future no better than the past. In turn, she helps to mire the United Nations in a place not simply of irrelevance but of malignance.
Last November, Ban visited Auschwitz. There, he said: “Never again.… For our shared future, let us embrace our common duty as members of the human family to build a world of peace, justice, equality and human dignity for all.”
These were fitting words from the chief executive of the United Nations, which itself rose from the ashes of the Holocaust.
Increasingly, however, some in the international community have embraced denunciation of historical acts of hate while disregarding Jews’ continuing struggle to exist in the very heart of Jewish civilization across time, Israel. Palestinian leader Abbas recently conceded the enormity of the Holocaust – only to then announce partnership with Hamas, which denies both that historic genocide and Israelis’ right to live today.
While truly important, no commemoration of the Holocaust can compensate for abetting new expressions of demonization and delegitimization. The U.N. secretary-general has an opportunity to start ridding his house – our collective house – of prejudice by beginning with his own cabinet.
Derelict in upholding the founding values of the United Nations, Rima Khalaf’s role should be assumed by someone else: someone offering Arabs, as well as their neighbors, a better way forward.
The Times of Israel (op-ed): Israel’s inclusion in Western group in Geneva: A step in the right direction
by David J. Michaels, director of United Nations and Intercommunal Affairs at B’nai B’rith International
On Dec. 2, Israel was granted membership in Geneva of the Western European and Others Group (WEOG), one of the semi-official “regional groups” within the United Nations. Effective at the start of 2014, this step represents modest but important movement toward eroding systemic discrimination against Israel within the world body.
Regional groups largely control the election of members to important U.N. positions, and also engage in substantive coordination of policy at the United Nations. As a Middle Eastern state, Israel’s natural regional group would be the Asia-Pacific Group, which includes such powerhouses as China, India and Japan, as well as several of Israel’s most dependable friends at the United Nations, the Pacific island nations of Micronesia, Nauru and the Marshall Islands. However, a host of Arab and Muslim members of the Asian Group, including Syria and Iran, have insisted on excluding Israel.
Thus, for decades, Israel was the only member state to be deprived of a home in a grouping of counterparts within the U.N. system. By contrast, Turkey enjoys inclusion in both WEOG and the Asian Group. And the observer delegation of the Palestinians – now called the “State of Palestine” at the United Nations – has already been included as a full member of the Asian Group for 27 years.
In 2000, Israel was admitted as a member of WEOG in New York. Subsequently, an Israeli ambassador to the United Nations was elected as a vice president of the General Assembly for the first time in 53 years. However, Israel had not been granted inclusion in WEOG in Geneva, the U.N.’s European hub and home to the Human Rights Council, or elsewhere. (In 2010, meanwhile, Israel was invited to take part in sessions in Geneva, but not in New York, of the consultative group JUSCANZ, which convenes advanced democracies that are not European Union members.) For years, a series of WEOG states objected to expanding Israeli membership in the group.
In March 2012, Israel announced that it would discontinue engagement with the Human Rights Council. This followed an unending barrage of anti-Israel excoriations at the council dressed as probes, from the predestined Goldstone “fact-finding mission” on Hamas-controlled Gaza to condemnation of Israel’s interception of a Turkish flotilla set to breach a maritime closure on that territory.
In January 2013, Israel decided not to participate in the council’s “Universal Periodic Review” (UPR) process, an assessment of each country’s human rights performance. Past Israeli participation in the UPR involved being subjected to predictably negative scrutiny – while some of the world’s worst rights abusers use the same exercise to congratulate one another on their supposed commitment to human dignity.
Western countries, though, were concerned over the precedent that might be set in Israel’s “boycotting” of the UPR. Accordingly, quiet talks began with Israel on possible terms for its reengagement. Israel soon announced that it would resume cooperation with the council – and it proceeded to submit to the UPR. And, finally, Israel was invited to join WEOG in Geneva, while European governments also signaled that they would avoid discussing Israeli policies under the rubric of “item 7” – the council’s only permanent agenda item dedicated to scrutinizing a single country, Israel.
The longstanding burden of exclusion has symbolized Israel’s unparalleled mistreatment on the international scene – and its adversaries’ campaign to exploit the United Nations as a political tool for isolating, demonizing and even delegitimizing the only Jewish, democratic state.
To be sure, WEOG admission does not automatically give Israel a level playing field at the United Nations, nor does it guarantee meaningful participation, as the world body is rarely a meritocracy. Though Israel, which has never had a term on the Security Council, hopes to win a seat on that preeminent body in 2018, Germany says that it will again contend for the same spot.
There has been little relevant structural or attitudinal change at the United Nations, which routinely condemns Israel more than all other countries combined. Three U.N. bureaucratic bodies, and a Human Rights Council special investigator, are dedicated to the advancement of an extreme version of Palestinians’ political narrative and objectives. International officials were astonishingly silent when Iran’s supreme leader labeled Israel – even amid recent nuclear negotiations – a “rabid dog” doomed to “annihilation.” In commemoration of the very date in 1947 on which the United Nations had called for a Jewish state, the world body hosted an event at which the Arab League representative rejected recognizing Israel as such. Successive speakers also accused the country of “apartheid” and “ethnic cleansing,” and a United Methodist Church official renewed his call for “boycott, divestment and sanctions” measures against Israel.
The General Assembly, meanwhile, decided to declare 2014 the “International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.” One can only hope that Palestinian leaders will not use the occasion to make good on threats to renew “internationalizing” disputes with Israel at the United Nations.
This said, after decades of suffering second-class-citizen status at the United Nations, Israel’s growing integration among fellow democracies there is both appropriate and encouraging.
We must advocate for more such progress – for the standing of the United Nations itself as much as for Israel.
David Michaels, director of intercommunal and U.N. affairs at B'nai B'rith International, speaks at the program:
El Director Internacional de Naciones Unidas y Asuntos Intercomunales de B'nai B'rith, David Michaels, asistió a un encuentro interreligioso con el nuevo jefe de la Iglesia Católica en la Sala Clementina del Vaticano. El Sumo Pontífice ofreció públicamente un saludo especial a los judíos y afirmó su compromiso con Nostra Aetate, Declaración del Concilio Vaticano II , que ha transformado las relaciones entre católicos y judíos.
"Estoy muy contento de saber que en el primer día de su pontificado, el Papa Francisco ya está retomando donde el Papa Benedicto dejó con respecto a las relaciones de la Iglesia con los judíos", dijo el presidente de B'nai B'rith Internacional, Allan J. Jacobs...more.
by Stewart Ain and Steve Lipman
A dozen Jewish leaders and other clerics were invited to meet with Pope Francis one day after his inauguration Tuesday, among them the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, who said he hopes the pope will lift the “cloud” hanging over the Vatican.
Among those attending Tuesday’s inaugural Mass was David Michaels, director of inter-communal affairs at B’nai B’rith International.
“It was, as expected, a moment of celebration for Catholics — but it also further signaled the new pope’s personal commitment to the continuance of the unique and historic contemporary friendship between Catholics and Jews,” he wrote in an e-mail interview. “Immediately after his election, Pope Francis sent a personal message to this effect to the chief rabbi of Rome; today, not only did Jewish leaders enjoy a place of prominence and proximity to the pope in St. Peter’s Square, but the Jewish community was the only inter-religious partner group of the Catholic Church to be singled out for specific greeting during the pope’s public remarks.”
Michaels said he views this as “a clear continuation of the practice of Benedict XVI — and a sign of allegiance to the momentous path of John Paul II...more.
El director de Asuntos Intercomunal de B'nai B'rith Internacional, David Michaels, se reunirá mañana con el Papa Francisco I como parte de un encuentro interreligioso convocado por el Pontífice.
De acuerdo a lo informado por la institución, Michaels, quien asistió hoy a la Plaza San Pedro para la asunción de Jorge Bergoglio como el nuevo Papa, participará mañana en una audiencia de líderes de distintas religiones que se realizará en la Sala Clementina del Vaticano.
B'nai B'rith Internacional ya expresó su satisfacción por la elección de Bergoglio como el nuevo Papa en reemplazo de Benedicto XVI, el pasado 13 de marzo.
En este sentido, la organización destacó el fuerte apoyo de Bergoglio a las relaciones católico-judías en Buenos Aires, donde el nuevo Papa se desempeñó como cardenal.
En noviembre, el entonces cardenal fue el orador principal en la conmemoración Kristallnacht convocado por B'nai B'rith en Buenos Aires, donde ayudó a encender una vela en memoria de los seis millones de judíos que murieron en el Holocausto...more.
by Phil Jacobs
Pope Benedict XVI's resignation announcement on Monday brought reaction from many different parts of the Jewish world.
Well it should have.
Jews have every reason to be watchful and concerned by actions from the Vatican that could impact Jewish-Catholic and Israel-Vatican relations.
Benedict, 85, will step down at month's end, citing his "advanced age" and failing health. He is the first pope to resign since Gregory XII in 1415.
"We wish Pope Benedict only good health as he steps down from his position," B'nai B'rith International President Allan J. Jacobs said. "He consistently expressed his commitment to Catholic-Jewish relations, and his accessibility to Jewish leaders was significant. We are very grateful for the opportunities we had to meet with him to further the Catholic-Jewish friendship."
B'nai B'rith leaders met with Pope Benedict, as with a line of his predecessors, on multiple occasions. In 2011, Jacobs and Daniel S. Mariaschin, B'nai B'rith International executive vice president, led a B'nai B'rith delegation to the Vatican to meet with Benedict. Jacobs and Mariaschin spoke with him about the Middle East and the challenges facing Jews and Christians in the region.
Representing the American Jewish community, David Michaels, B'nai B'rith director of United Nations and intercommunal affairs, presented a gift to Benedict from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum during the pope's 2008 visit to Washington. Michaels and Alan Schneider, B'nai B'rith World Center director, greeted the pope at the Western Wall in Jerusalem in 2009.
"Pope Benedict deserves appreciation for his contributions to the great cause of Catholic-Jewish engagement," said Mariaschin. "We hope that Benedict's successor will continue to build upon decades of historic progression in Catholic-Jewish relations."
by Robert Wiener
Seeking new ways to defend Israel against its detractors, some 220 people came together Sunday at the Aidekman campus in Whippany.
For four hours, speakers diagnosed attacks on Israel’s legitimacy and prescribed remedies for countering negative media coverage and hostile criticism.
The UN came under criticism during a panel discussion featuring David Michaels, director of UN and intercommunal affairs at B’nai B’rith International. “Not only does the UN insist on considering Israeli settlements the greatest obstacle to peace, it is sometimes complicit in anti-Israel incitement, with deadly results for Israelis and Palestinians alike,” he said...more
THE ISRAEL ADVOCACY Summit, a forum presenting tools to counter assaults on Israel’s legitimacy, will take place on Sunday, Feb. 3, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Alex Aidekman Family Jewish Community Campus, Whippany.
Panelists will include Lauren Applebaum, director of U.S. communications, The Israel Project; David Dabscheck, deputy managing director, Israel Action Network; Rabbi Noam Marans, director of interreligious and intergroup relations, American Jewish Committee; Elliot Mathias, executive director, Hasbara Fellowships; David Michaels, director of United Nations and intercommunal affairs, B’nai B’rith International; and Steve Stotsky, senior research analyst, CAMERA...more.
German TV station BR (Bayerisches Fernsehen) aired a documentary called "Zwischen Vatikanstadt und Jerusalem" (translated as “Between the Vatican City and Jerusalem”). The documentary was about the Vatican secretary responsible for relations with Jews, Father Norbert Hofmann, and featured scenes with B’nai B’rith International’s director of U.N. and Inter-communal Affairs.
> Watch the documentary.
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