Overview of the Human Rights Council one day after the U.S. announced their withdraw at the United Nations in Geneva,.
(photo credit: DENIS BALIBOUSE/REUTERS)
The United Nations is all too frequently obsessed with Israel. Far too many of its bodies and agencies are riddled with bias and double standards, with more resolutions passed against the Jewish state than any other country or situations, ignoring facts on the ground and degrading other conflicts deserving of serious attention by the international community.
The United States and Israel have already disengaged from certain offenders, citing need for fundamental reform. The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), for example, has on its permanent agenda only one item targeting a specific country: Israel. UNESCO – from which the US officially withdrew last year – in recent years has regularly adopted decisions that sought to rewrite history, by denying Jewish and Christian historical connections with the land of Israel, and the Jewish people’s eternal capital in Jerusalem.
The World Jewish Congress (WJC), as the representative body of Jewish communities in 100 countries, stands with the US and Israel in condemning these biases and urging UN bodies to return to their true mandates. We strongly support the message that the abuses flung at Israel, often by some of the most notorious human rights violators in the world, must not be tolerated.
It is imperative to remember, however, that the UN is more than just the resolutions it passes – it is also the strongest professional international organization in the world, with a mandate and record of promoting human rights, peace and security, sustainable development, international law and much more.
Civil society, including the Jewish community, must therefore simultaneously speak out against the bias in resolutions when necessary, while also making a concerted effort to engage and cooperate with the UN and other international bodies whenever possible. This dual approach is essential both to efforts to bring about a change of attitude on a political level, and to utilizing resources for the benefit of the entire global community.
The politicization of the UN when it comes to Israel is overwhelmingly caused by member states – often led by the Palestinians and their allies– who subvert the international body for their own agenda. There are also, unfortunately, certain UN officials who fail to take a sufficiently strong stance against terrorist organizations like Hamas, neglect to call out antisemitism, institutionalize the bias against Israel, and promote the very resolutions that the member states vote on. The real and important work of the UN suffers as a result.
Take UNESCO: Some of its bodies – its Governing Board and the World Heritage Committee, specifically – have adopted a succession of anti-Israel resolutions and decisions. Its professional team, however, starting with its director general, is devoted to the body’s core mandate of promoting science, education and culture across the globe – a mission that applies to the fight against antisemitism and to promoting Holocaust education.
The United Nations is the sum of its parts – both professional and political. We must not allow those who wish to hijack the UN – be it member states, or professionals – to undermine its very purpose and the good work that it does every day. For this reason, the WJC finds it of critical importance to stay at the table and actively engage with the UN and its bodies.
When it comes to Holocaust education, for example, there is no better body in the world to cooperate with than UNESCO. At its core, UNESCO is committed to bringing educational initiatives to every corner of the earth. Historical memory often remains contained to a single population or geographic location, disappearing from the global consciousness as years pass. We need the UN to help us educate the world, especially our youth, about the horrors of the Holocaust, lest it be relegated to Jewish memory alone, the dangers of xenophobia and hatred buried with the victims of genocide. As such, WJC has partnered with UNESCO to launch a Holocaust education website geared at providing students, young adults, and others with essential information about the history of the Holocaust, its legacy and its dangers.
For the same purpose, we strive to maintain and strengthen diplomatic contact with as many representative missions as possible and have established strong relations with the heads of the various bodies of the UN. We maximize these ties to urge ambassadors and UN professionals of all rankings to speak out clearly against the politicization that plagues the UN. Our representatives routinely speak out on the floor of the UNHRC, engage with the Holocaust and United Nations Outreach Program, among others, and leverage our special status as a member of the United Nations Economic and Social Council.
Israel has also established strong cooperation with various UN agencies on a professional level. In agriculture and in medicine, for example, we see positive interactions across the board. Cooperation with UN bodies in no way contradicts condemnation of the anti-Israel bias that pervades. On the contrary, it only strengthens our ability to introduce real and lasting reforms.
The US deserves praise for its leadership in supporting Israel against the double standards it faces in international bodies. We deeply hope that these agencies – from UNESCO to the UNHRC, from the Commission on the Status of Women to the General Assembly and Security Council – cease their anti-Israel bias, and that in the future, both the US and Israel will be able to rejoin these bodies in good faith. This won’t happen overnight, but UNESCO, for instance, is already on the right path. We must continue to monitor and engage until the same happens throughout the UN.
Amid the politicization of its bodies, let’s not forget just how necessary and unique the United Nations is in representing and reaching the world. We must work together to ensure that antisemitism, human rights, and Holocaust memory, remain global issues deserving of global attention.
The writer is the CEO and executive vice president of the World Jewish Congress, the leading umbrella organization of Jewish communities around the world, operating under the leadership of president Ronald S. Lauder.
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