The only state attacked by the World Health Assembly? Israel. The only state targeted by a permanent agenda item at the Human Rights Council? Not North Korea or Iran, but Israel.
One effort, though, to weaponize the UN against Israel was so offensive that it was repealed 30 years ago. In 1991, the General Assembly rescinded a resolution that singled out Jews’ self-determination movement, Zionism, for equation with racism.
Zionism simply means support for Israel’s right to exist in Jews’ sole historic homeland. Recognition of that right is almost universal.
As George H.W. Bush put it at the time, “To equate Zionism with the intolerable sin of racism is to twist history and forget the terrible plight of Jews in World War II and, indeed, throughout history. To equate Zionism with racism is to reject Israel itself…. This body cannot claim to seek peace and at the same time challenge Israel’s right to exist.”
Only a decade after Zionism-is-racism was repealed, however, its specter rose again. The UN’s 2001 World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa, perversely became the latest symbol of anti-Zionism as the predominant contemporary assault on Jews’ identity, legitimacy and equal rights.
With a backdrop of shocking antisemitic rhetoric and attacks on Jewish attendees, Durban’s outcome document implied that Israel alone was a racist state. Its forum of non-governmental organizations went even further, calling Israel alone a “racist, apartheid regime” and featuring calls for economic warfare against it. Even Mary Robinson, the conference chairwoman, later acknowledged, “There was horrible antisemitism present.”
Nonetheless, in 2009, the follow-up Durban Review Conference hosted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a Holocaust-denier known for saying Israel would be wiped “off the map.” This September, the UN will “commemorate” Durban’s 20th anniversary.
And now, after the latest fighting between Israel and Hamas – a terrorist group whose explicitly antisemitic charter pledges Israel’s destruction – an unusual alliance between Palestinian activists and global progressives has not merely excoriated Israeli policy, but called it racist.
For these voices, Palestinian nationalism is embraced, but Israeli nationalism is demonized. Those who shun majoritarianism elsewhere, and would otherwise cry “no person is illegal,” overlook Arab conquests and discrimination, and stigmatize Jews as a “colonial” presence in the land from which they had been collectively exiled.
SINCE ISRAEL’S establishment, the number of Palestinians in the land has increased five-fold. In Arab countries, the number of Jews has plummeted from 850,000 to barely 5,000.
Of course, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has nothing to do with skin color, just territory and security.
No society is free of inequities or of prejudices. But in Israel – the Middle East’s sole democracy – Arabs, let alone Jews and other regional minorities, enjoy far more civil liberties than in any Arab country.
Moreover, Zionists span the political spectrum. On horrifying but exceedingly rare occasions when fringe Jewish fanatics have perpetrated lethal attacks against Arab civilians – in 1994, 2005 and 2015 – Israelis from Left to Right, including their national leaders, have reacted with nothing less than revulsion and denunciation.
During the same period, innumerable suicide bombings, rocket bombardments, shootings, stabbings, stoning attacks and hostage-takings have targeted Israelis. Not just do jihadists often celebrate this deliberate bloodshed by distributing candies on Palestinian streets, but mainstream Palestinian leaders regularly glorify the attackers as heroes and “martyrs.”
Over the past 75 years, Muslim citizens, mosques, Islamic schools and halal restaurants have not been attacked, by Zionists, as have Jews and Jewish institutions in the name of Palestinian nationalism across Europe and elsewhere. Such violence was repeated over recent days from Berlin to Los Angeles.
Sen. Bernie Sanders has now repeatedly called Israeli leaders “racist,” a label he hasn’t afforded Arabs or others. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, too, has smeared Israel alone as an “apartheid” state.
Jews and Arabs do not represent different “races,” and there is nothing more racist about Israel, the world’s only Jewish state, than the dozens of Christian, Muslim and other countries whose identity is reflected in their state symbols.
To call Israel – with its Arab justices, parliamentarians, diplomats, academics and business leaders – an apartheid state is to not know the meaning of apartheid. It also is to not know substantial Israeli attempts at peace with the Palestinians.
Martin Luther King Jr. and other luminaries of the civil rights movement recognized Jews’ disproportionate contribution to their struggle. In turn, they consistently defended Israel’s own right to acceptance and security. Said King, “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews.”
On the hard Left no less than the hard Right, words matter and truth matters. The fight against racism is too important to be tarnished by ignorance, politics and bigotry.
David J. Michaels is Director of United Nations and Intercommunal Affairs at B’nai B’rith International. He previously trained at the Foreign Ministry of Germany, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Embassy of Israel in Washington, Ha’aretz and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. A Wexner Fellow/Davidson Scholar, and winner of the Young Professional Award of the Jewish Communal Service Association of North America, he holds degrees from Yale and Yeshiva University. Click here to view more of his content.