By Gary P. Saltzman
President, B’nai B’rith International
B’nai B’rith President Gary P. Saltzman (center left), Israeli U.N. Ambassador Aviva Raz Shechter (center) and B’nai B’rith Executive Vice President and CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin (center right), with the B’nai B’rith delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Council and United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization in Geneva.
Sometimes progress can be measured only incrementally, and views of success have to be adjusted. This is especially true on the international stage, where global politics and policy can seem to be moving so slothlike that you question if they are moving at all.
In March, CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin and I led the annual B’nai B’rith mission to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva and met with officials at UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in Paris.
Both organizations have a reliably anti-Israel record.
The Human Rights Council has only one standing item when it meets three times a year: to consider Israel’s human rights record. Under the general agenda “Item 7,” the council, made up of such human rights luminaries as China, Iraq and Venezuela, routinely castigates Israel.
And so, B’nai B’rith attends the council’s spring session as a matter of routine. We meet with representatives of dozens of nations, asserting the bias and unfairness of this two-tiered system and offering solutions on how to even the deck that is so currently stacked against Israel.
Since voting blocs are endemic to the Human Rights Council system, we recognize that success is going to come one country at a time so, we make our case one country at a time. Our delegation met with senior diplomats from the United States, Brazil, Egypt, Germany, Greece, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and dozens more.
We are particularly encouraged by the opportunity to develop relationships with several African nations. We had quite a few positive meetings. And Israel is making it a priority now to have economic and agricultural outreach to many nations. These first-hand connections, the face-to-face meetings and diplomacy, are vital to increasing fairness.
Two recent developments in the U.N. universe give us a renewed sense of purpose. The new United Nations secretary-general, António Guterres, seems particularly attuned to anti-Israel bias. In March, Guterres adamantly and forcefully rejected a U.N. committee report that called Israel an “apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole.” At the same time, the ambassador to the United Nations from the United States, Nikki Haley, also unequivocally condemned the same report and demanded its withdrawal. It seems that the message we have been delivering to the world body for decades—that Israel is systematically singled out, usually at the expense of vital human rights issues facing many in the world—may finally be resonating in important halls and offices.
UNESCO also presents itself as anti-Israel. And we have long challenged the organization’s twisting of history into a political tool wielded with venom against the Jewish state. UNESCO has been quick to adopt the Palestinian narrative that outright erases documented historic connections of Jews to Judaism’s holiest sites: the Temple Mount and the Western Wall.
The rewriting of history is not just a problem for Jews. Christians and Muslims also lose when history is viewed as malleable.
In March, at meetings with staff liaisons and with UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, B’nai B’rith leaders provided expert analysis and guidance, demonstrating the irrefutable, thousands-year-old ties of Jews to the land as well as suggesting ways for UNESCO to publicly recognize Israel’s history.
As we reiterate the unfair treatment of Israel at the Human Rights Council, UNESCO, the General Assembly and basically all U.N. affiliates, we are seeing slow but possibly measurable progress in eliminating unfairness. We are not complacent. Often, one step forward finds two steps back someplace else. But each time we whittle away at bias, it’s a success.
B’nai B’rith is honored to be part of the solution. Though it might be slow in coming, we see our efforts can pay a dividend.