In Jerusalem on Friday, the secretary- general of the United Nations – whose
agencies often apply differential and discriminatory treatment toward Israel –
will hold top-level meetings with the president, prime minister, senior cabinet
members and parliamentarians.
Yet Ban Ki-moon’s most significant
encounter may come on Friday evening with a group of Israeli students,
participants in Rishon Lezion College of Management’s Model UN
Several such societies have sprung up recently at Israeli
universities and colleges, testament – as the UN chief will see himself – to the
expanding intellectual curiosity and motivation of bright young Israelis to
learn about, engage with, and perhaps one day work for the preeminent world
The secretary-general should take away the message that, despite
all the selectivity, calumny and hostility thrown their way, a broad consensus
of Israelis, and Jews the world over – as I have appreciated – still hope to
build bridges with the UN. But they must feel, as former UN chief Kofi Annan
once said, “that the United Nations is their home, too.”
While Ban cannot
control the actions of member states, he does have the power to give moral
leadership and direction. Words matter.
In his public speeches on Friday,
he should condemn the systematic bias perpetrated against the Jewish state by
numerous UN agencies, in gross violation of the UN Charter’s guarantee of equal
treatment to all nations large and small.
Mr. Ban should acknowledge that
the UN Human Rights Council, meant to embody the organization’s highest
principles, is a case study of such bigotry. Examples abound.
council has a standing agenda item against Israel, the only country specifically
targeted at every meeting. Not even major abusers like China, Sudan or Syria are
subjected to such treatment. Mr. Ban voiced his disapproval after the item’s
adoption in 2007, but has stayed silent ever since.
Second, the council
adopts more resolutions condemning Israel than it does on the rest of the world
In its March session, there were six one-sided resolutions
against Israel – and only four on all other countries. The vast majority of the
world’s victims of gross and systematic violations – from China to Saudi Arabia,
Cuba to Zimbabwe – failed to merit a single resolution.
Third, Israel is
the object of more emergency sessions than any other country in the world, even
as the council turns a blind eye to mass killings in Iran, Egypt and elsewhere,
a clear denial of international due process. One product of these sessions was
the 2009 Goldstone Report, which excoriated Israel and exonerated
Fourth, Israel is the only country to be excluded from the
council’s regional group system. Annan criticized this “long-standing anomaly,”
which prevents Israel from participating fully in the work of the organization.
Sir Robert Jennings, former president of the International Court of Justice,
said it “places the UN in breach of its fundamental obligations regarding
sovereign equality and is thus illegal.”
Finally, while many of the
council’s country investigators and experts do important work, when it comes to
Israel, politicization reigns.
Richard Falk, investigator on the
Palestinian territories – mandated by the council to focus only on Israel’s
actions, which are presumed in advance to be violations of international law –
is so extreme in his support for the Hamas terrorist organization that even the
Palestinian Authority asked him to resign.
And just this week it emerged
that Jean Ziegler – a recently retired council expert who justified Hezbollah
attacks on Israel while supporting Muammar Gaddafi and other dictators – is set
One important caveat must be made: None of this is intended to
suggest or infer that Israel is above the law or is not responsible for
violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.
contrary, Israel, like any other state, must be held responsible for any
violations. It is not that Israel seeks to be above the law, but that Israel is
systematically denied equality before the law in the international arena; it is
not that human rights standards must not be applied to Israel, but that they
must apply equally.
Last year, after the council announced yet another
one-sided inquiry, Israel severed its ties with the council. Discussions are
under way to bring it back.
Ardent skeptics might be happy for Israel to
stay away, but many Israelis support Israel’s full participation in permanent UN
bodies, and would support a decision to return – provided the council shows some
signs of change.
The secretary-general can help by addressing two
Before UN human rights chief Sergio de Mello was killed in Iraq in
2003, he spoke to me about his advocacy for Israel’s inclusion in the Western
group. Mr. Ban should announce on Friday that he will continue this mission, and
call also for the removal of the biased agenda item.
If so, the
idealistic students who meet the secretary-general on Friday evening will have
seen that the principles taught in model UN are upheld by those who lead the
real UN.The author is a Canadian MP, emeritus professor of law at McGill
University, and former minister of justice and attorney-general. He serves on
the board of UN Watch, a human rights NGO.