By Gary P. Saltzman
President, B’nai B’rith International
The United Nations was established on a grand and admirable foundation. The founding charter notes that the U.N. is, among other things, determined “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.” The charter also reads that to achieve its goals it will aim “to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours.”
Sadly, when it comes to Israel, that foundation has crumbled.
Just a few months ago, I, along with B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin, led a B’nai B’rith International delegation to the United Nations for intense meetings with presidents, foreign ministers and other government leaders gathered in New York for the opening of the 71st General Assembly. For decades, B’nai B’rith has hosted meetings on the sidelines of the opening, to talk about issues important to Israel and the Jewish people and to promote global human rights.
Our dozens of meetings evoke a wide array of responses. We leave some with a positive feeling that we got our point across. And from others, we leave dismayed at the continuing clinging to a different and separate standard for Israel. We argue the points of the obvious lack of fairness toward Israel across the U.N. system, and we talk about the peace process, instilling the fact that it takes two parties to move forward, how both need to come without preconditions and how there needs to be an acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state. We remind leaders that the Palestinian leadership has refused, for years, to do this bare minimum.
The varied outcomes of the meetings are often head-spinning and head-scratching. We have met with leaders who talk in positive and colorful terms about their country’s relationship with Israel and with deep respect for Israel’s business and agricultural acumen and its important and groundbreaking advances in medicine and technology.
After leaving that meeting, our next one might include a leader who will say outright that Israel is a success, yes, but as such, it should be held to a higher standard.
These reactions we know long and well. B’nai B’rith has been active at the U.N. from its very founding at the San Francisco conference and accredited as a non-government organization since 1947.
During our meetings, you won’t be surprised to know that Iran is always on the agenda. We caution leaders that while the latest agreement may be putting only a temporary lid on Tehran’s development of nuclear capacity, which is concerning enough, it has diminished neither the country's global terror interests and activities, nor its leadership’s continual call for the destruction of Israel. These issues need to be acknowledged and addressed by the United Nations.
Global anti-Semitism is growing, particularly in Europe. About 10,000 Jews immigrated to Israel last year from Western Europe, an all-time high. Additionally, more and more European Jews say they do not feel safe openly practicing their religion. It is well within the U.N.’s portfolio to serve as a watchdog and to call for the elimination of the unacceptable scourge of anti-Semitism.
Anti-Semitism is a crucial component of Israel’s treatment at the United Nations.
B’nai B’rith has long called for a common, globally accepted definition of anti-Semitism. In September, at the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw, Poland, we urged the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to adopt a working definition of anti-Semitism that would then be disseminated globally, to educate world leaders, journalists and students about the impact of the incessant demonization of Jews and Israel.
With a great sense of gravity and humility, we pursue as an organizational mission universal human rights, as well as fair treatment, recognition and respect for Israel. The U.N. should ensure a fair opportunity for each nation to have security and safety, no matter where it is.
Our role is to help monitor the U.N. and educate and encourage the world body to carry out its mission fairly across the community of nations.
Our presence provides a vital counterpoint to what now seems like systemic anti-Israel bias. At a minimum, B’nai B’rith adds a voice too often missing from the conversation.
Our presence is truly needed. Not just at U.N. headquarters in New York, but at numerous U.N. offices around the world, such as in Geneva, the home of the astoundingly anti-Israel U.N. Human Rights Council, and in Paris, the home of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
We work tirelessly and globally on U.N. issues. We reach out to countries across Latin America, Europe, Asia and Africa on their votes at the U.N. in New York, Geneva, Paris and elsewhere regarding Israel-related voting matters.
I would argue we need to become even more engaged at the U.N. as the world is becoming ever more difficult and polarized. So, we encourage you to join us, speaking out against the inconsistencies at the U.N. and to move the U.N. back to the principles that we witnessed from the start. With your support, we can continue to lead the way in our advocacy role, being as effective as we can be.
Visit us at https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/bbi-donate or call our development office at 800-573-9057.