STANDING AT the podium of the General Assembly, the writer envisions a better day for the United Nations.
(photo credit: SUSIE WEISS)
It was a grandiose endeavor, an extraordinary, ambitious project of almost cosmic proportions. Sadly, tragically, it has yet to fulfill its promise.
While in New York this past week to address the students of Yeshiva University-Stern College for Women on Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars, Susie and I decided to tour the United Nations.
It is an impressive complex. Situated in New York’s Turtle Bay, looking out over the East River, it is filled with magnificent works of art donated by the member countries. We were guided there by a member of the Israeli mission, which is ably led by Ambassador Danny Danon, and were privy to some of the inner workings of this unique organization.
THE UN was created in October 1945, in the shadow of World War II and the Holocaust. Its charter was to maintain peace and security and foster human rights on an international scale – a laudable goal, to be sure. It was a mission in which its predecessor, the League of Nations, had failed miserably, particularly in its inability to prevent Japanese and German expansion, which led to their subsequent reign of terror.
At inception, the UN had 51 member states, a number that has now grown to 193 (including two with “observer” status – Vatican City and the Palestinian Authority). While there are UN offices in Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi, the main headquarters are in New York. The United States – in particular the Rockefeller family – generously donated the choice Manhattan property to the UN; it is considered “extraterritorial,” open to any and all delegates who wish to attend sessions (including enemies of America, such as Iran, whose president, Hassan Rouhani, used his 2017 speech to condemn the United States and President Donald Trump).
There are several organs of the UN, including the World Health Organization, the International Court of Justice, UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Bank. But the primary action in the UN occurs in the General Assembly, where all nations are represented, and more importantly in the Security Council, made up of 15 member states, where decisions can have real teeth and result in sanctions, condemnations and even declarations of military action. While 10 of these seats rotate every two years, five countries – the US, Russia, China, France and the UK, presumably because they were the victorious allies of World War II – are permanent members that hold veto power.
While this veto can work in Israel’s favor – America, with one notable, infamous exception, has always used its vote to prevent one-sided condemnations of the Jewish state – it can also handcuff the council from taking any meaningful action that displeases Russia or China.
Case in point: During our visit, we sat in on the Security Council debate over the recent poisoning of the former Russian spy in Salisbury. We heard the chemical weapons watchdog group OPCW document the provenance of the nerve agent Novichok, while UK representative Karen Pierce lambasted the Russians for their presumed breach of international law, a position immediately echoed by US Ambassador Nikki Haley. But it amounted to nothing more than a punchless war of words, since the Russian envoy denied all charges – he went so far as to accuse the US and UK of complicity in the affair! – and prevented any real action from being taken.
Israel’s adversarial relationship with the UN is well known. While UN resolution 181 of November 1947 led to the creation of the state, Israelbashing has become the favorite sport of the General Assembly ever since. The majority of the resolutions raised there have condemned Israel, while largely ignoring the world’s other trouble spots. Israel is the only country subject to an annual review, and the UN’s Israel Apartheid Week is nothing less than an annual hate-fest designed to undo Israel’s legitimacy.
One of the few permanent exhibits at the UN, grotesquely placed adjacent to the exhibit documenting the horrors of the Shoah, details the discrimination and oppression of the Palestinian people at the hands of Israel, with nary a mention of Palestinian terrorism or the Palestinians’ continuous rejection of overtures for peace, including the UN’s own partition plan.
AS I stood in the great hall of the General Assembly, a revelation came to me. In my mind’s eye, I envisioned a charismatic, Messiah-like figure standing on that podium. Here, both in person and via social media, he would command the attention of virtually the entire world.
He would use that unique opportunity to decry the inequity between the haves and the have-nots; the cruelty of wars directed against the defenseless; the virtue of sharing knowledge and resources for a common good that overshadows individual interests; the recognition that people can think and look different, and yet be no “less equal” than their neighbors.
But most of all, he would remind the assembled that as the Talmud tells us, truth is a necessary prerequisite to peace. And the unadulterated truth is that Israel has and always will struggle for peace as a primary virtue. We teach about it, sing about it, compromise for it, even sacrifice our best young people in its cause. We will not give up our search for a peaceful resolution, even when our plea goes unanswered and our outstretched hand is not grasped in return. Someday, the nations will unite around truth, and peace will inevitably follow.
Until that day, all we really can do is reject the lies and tell it like it is, in the unshakable belief that, ultimately, no one – not even the United Nations – can have eternal veto power over truth.
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana; jocmtv@ netvision.net.il
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