With a United States president- elect whose agenda promises change in numerous directions, perhaps the time has come for the United Nations’ major funder – the US – to reconsider its continued support of this body? The UN came into being in October 1945, following the devastation of World War II, with one central mission: the maintenance of international peace and security. Yet the reality is that wars continue to rage.
We look on with horror at today’s genocide in Syria and the lack of human rights responses to the indiscriminate murder of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children. Millions of Syrian refugees are displaced to other countries, 17.6 million are starving and 14 million have no access to medical facilities. Today some 200,000 civilians, including many children, in eastern Aleppo are without food and medical aid. This is hardly surprising with the repeated targeted bombing of hospitals. When confronted with the TV images, I have to switch them off – it is too painful. What we see is the fatal impotence of the UN in enabling humanitarian aid to enter Aleppo.
Yet despite the ongoing tragedy in Syria, the prime activity of the United Nations is its obsessive focus on and condemnation of Israel.
The Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council’s membership includes human rights violators like Saudi Arabia, where women are subjugated and beheadings are at an all-time high; China, where 1.3 billion people are denied freedom of speech, assembly and religion; Qatar, where abuse of foreign workers is ongoing, and Algeria, home to forced child labor camps.
In 2015, the council passed 20 resolutions condemning Israel, and only three for the rest of the world combined. Not surprising to learn, therefore, that Item 7 on the Council’s agenda is looking at Israel’s “violation of human rights” while Item 4 looks at all of the rest of the world.
Sixty-two percent of the members of the HRC are from non-democratic countries.
While Israel is accused of being racist, where are those who accuse Saudi Arabia of violating the basic right of a Christian or Jew to pray in a church or synagogue – both prohibited by Saudi Arabian law.
After an extended absence, the United States has just been reelected to serve on the Council from January 2017. One questions why the US would wish to be in the company of egregious violators of human rights.
It was on November 29, 1947 (two years after its formation) that the UN voted for the partition of British Mandated Palestine into two states – one for the Jews and one for the Arabs. The Jews immediately accepted their allotted part of Palestine, but the Arabs rejected the opportunity to have their own state, preferring to believe, with the encouragement of neighboring Arab states, that a Jewish state could be eliminated at birth. On May 15, 1948, the day after David Ben-Gurion declared the State of Israel, five Arab armies attacked the fledging state.
At that time I was a young member of Bnei Akiva. Every Shabbat afternoon, at the beginning of our weekly meeting, our madrichim would ask us to stand for a minute of silence to remember the fallen, among whom were their personal friends, aged 18 and 19. The War of Independence claimed 6,373 lives with 15,000 wounded. It was by far the highest number of casualties of all Israel’s wars, resulting in the death of virtually 10% of the 1948 population.
How does the UN mark the passing of Resolution 181 calling for the partition of Palestine? In 1977, the General Assembly called for the annual observance of this day as the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. Since then, the day is commemorated every year with a special ceremony and exhibition at the UN. This year the president of the GA, Peter Thompson, donned a scarf with the colors of the Palestinian flag while addressing the plenum. The next day, the Assembly voted for six resolutions condemning Israel.
One of the most disturbing resolutions was one on Jerusalem that referred to Judaism’s holiest site, the Temple Mount, solely by its Muslim name. This resolution was overwhelmingly adopted by 147 of the 193 member states present. Aside from Israel, to their credit, Canada, the United States, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru and Palau voted against the resolution. Six countries abstained but, particularly unpalatable is that every European country voted in favor, solidifying the recent UNESCO resolution disconnecting, in its entirety, the Jewish link to the Temple Mount.
This year marks 99 years since Britain’s Balfour Declaration when then-foreign secretary Arthur Balfour wrote a letter to Lord Rothschild committing the British to creating a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. The tragedy is that we had to wait 30 years until 1947 for this commitment to be fulfilled. In the 1930s there was no Jewish state to offer refuge to those who sought to flee the Nazi juggernaut as countries closed their gates and introduced quota systems.
We will never know how many of the six million Holocaust victims might have been saved had Israel come into being some 10 years earlier.
With this in mind, it is very hard to understand how Britain and Germany could identify with resolutions delegitimizing the sole Jewish state.
At a personal level, I spent six consecutive years as part of the Israeli delegation to the UN’s Annual Commission on the Status of Women Conference in New York. As we debated and discussed the status of women worldwide, it was with an enormous sense of pride that I was part of a team representing Israel.
It was gratifying to meet many women, now leaders in their own countries, who made a point of telling me that they had acquired their leadership skills at the Golda Meir International Training Center based in Haifa. At the same time there were those who were prepared to talk to me over a cup of coffee, but who remained vitriolic against Israel when it came to public debate and votes. How sad it is to learn that at this year’s commission the only country to be condemned for violating women’s rights anywhere in the world was Israel, for “violating” Palestinian women.
While the contribution of wealthy countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar to the UN is minuscule, the US donates $8 billion in mandatory payments, of which $3b. goes to the UN’s regular peacekeeping budgets. In percentage terms, the US contributes approximately 29% of the entire budget, much more than any other country.
Is the US getting value for its money? An independent academic study assessing best and worst practices among aid agencies ranked the UN among the worst.
Other independent studies have shown that UN personnel have been accused of sexual exploitation and abuse in a number of countries where they are part of the UN peacekeeping operations.
Will President-elect Donald Trump take a new look at the UN? I certainly hope so. The writer is Public Relations Chair of ESRA, which promotes integration into Israeli society. She is also active in public affairs.