Watching the UN

“The United Nations has been manipulated as a political platform,” says Neuer, who has directed the Geneva- based UN Watch NGO.

UNHRC 521 (photo credit: Reuters)
(photo credit: Reuters)
The United Nations General Assembly passed an Israeli-sponsored resolution titled “Entrepreneurship for Development” on December 7. Israel presented the resolution to nearly 100 nations, of which 97 co-sponsored the bill. It was the first time that the UN adopted a resolution about entrepreneurship. It enables people in poverty-stricken countries to get jobs without having to go through so many bureaucratic impediments.
While 129 nations voted for the innovative resolution, 31 Arab and Muslim states voted against it (nine countries abstained), eliciting sharp remarks from Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor.
“Unfortunately the Arab group announced that it would vote against this resolution,” Prosor told the UN Economic and Financial Committee.
“Few places could benefit from entrepreneurship more than the Arab world,” he emphasized. “Every Arab delegate who voted ‘no’ is sending the message that he cares far more about petty politics than human prosperity.”
Hillel Neuer, the executive director of UN Watch, agrees.
“The United Nations has been manipulated as a political platform,” says Neuer, who has directed the Geneva- based human-rights NGO for the past eight years.
“The November 29 vote granting observer status to the Palestinians as a non-member state did not surprise anyone,” he tells the Magazine.
He cites the historical developments surrounding November 29, 1947, the well-known date on which the General Assembly voted to end the British Mandate and adopt the partition plan, paving the way for the establishment of the State of Israel.
“In 1948, there were around 10 Arab and Islamic states in the United Nations, while today there are 56,” he explains.
Decolonization of the Middle East, Africa and Asia from the 1940s through the 1960s produced a great number of new UN member states with generally anti- Western feelings, in addition to a powerful Soviet bloc – all greatly impacting the direction of the UN General Assembly, according to Neuer.
He points to the infamous General Assembly adoption of Resolution 3379 in 1975, which declared “that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.”
“The UN was hijacked for political purposes, and that was not accidental. The new war against Israel was in the form of diplomatic delegitimization. As all these new nations joined the UN, claiming their independence and sovereignty, they were enthusiastically accepted.
Israel’s sovereignty, on the other hand, was not only questioned, but deemed racist,” he says.
Although the resolution equating Zionism with racism was revoked 16 years later in 1991, the UN’s discriminatory attitude toward Israel had been cemented, he says.
“In the words of the esteemed Canadian Member of Parliament Irwin Cotler, ‘Israel became the Jew among the nations,’” quotes Neuer.
THE RESOLUTIONS passed at the UN last week further support this adage.
On December 18, the General Assembly adopted nine resolutions against Israel, specifically on the Palestinians, with one demanding that Israel hand over the Golan Heights to Syria. None of the resolutions mentioned the Syrian warplanes that had fired missiles at a refugee camp two days earlier and killed 20 Palestinians near Damascus.
“What is also outrageous is that these resolutions claim to care about Palestinians, yet the UN proves itself completely oblivious to the actual suffering on the ground happening right now: Palestinians slaughtered, maimed and expelled by [Syrian President Bashar] Assad’s forces,” Neuer elaborates on UN Watch’s website.
“Today’s farce at the General Assembly underscores a simple fact: the UN’s automatic majority has no interest in truly helping Palestinians, nor in protecting anyone’s human rights; the goal of these ritual, one-sided condemnations remains the scapegoating of Israel,” he adds.
This year alone, the UN General Assembly adopted 22 resolutions specifically targeting Israel. Only four other resolutions have been passed addressing other countries – namely Burma, North Korea, Syria and Iran.
Syria is not the only country whose human rights violations UN proceedings have overlooked, as over 40,000 people have been killed during almost two years of conflict between Assad and opposition forces. Neuer says UN agencies like the Human Rights Council have been politically manipulated to the point that countries join them to prevent criticism of human rights abuses in their own countries.
“China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia are all systematic abusers of human rights and are members of the UN Human Rights Council. Sudan, whose government is committing mass genocide, is part of the UN Economic and Social Council, the forum which discusses economic and social progress,” he says.
He cites China’s record of human rights abuses, noting that the republic has occupied Tibet for over four decades, destroying 6,000 Tibetan monasteries, and that it continues to persecute Tibetans. And in Saudi Arabia, he adds that male guardians receive automatic text messages about the cross-border movements of their female charges, since women are not allowed to travel without their guardians’ consent.
“Human rights in these countries are almost nonexistent to certain sectors of society,” he says.
In a more disturbing twist, he points out that in November 2011, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) appointed Syria to a committee dealing with human rights, and it continues to remain part of the UNESCO committee.
One of the worst examples of UN human rights paradoxes, according to Neuer, was when Libya became the elected chair of the UN Human Rights Council in 2003.
“The international community knew exactly what kind of tyrant [Libyan leader] Muammar Gaddafi was nine years ago, and yet they turned a blind eye to his atrocities.”
He cites the example of the Bulgarian nurses affair: In 1999, when 426 children became infected with HIV at al-Fateh Children’s Hospital in Benghazi, Libyan authorities arrested five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor on charges that they had deliberately infected the children. They were barbarically tortured with electric shocks and imprisoned, accused of conspiring with the Mossad and CIA.
After their release nearly nine years later, UN Watch brought the Palestinian doctor, Ashraf al-Hajuj, to testify before the Libyan ambassador, Najat al-Hajjaji, who also served as UN investigator on human rights violations by mercenaries. On April 19, 2009, after Hajjaji told the UN during a session that Libya practiced no inequality or discrimination, Hajuj responded to the ambassador with the following: “I don’t know if you recognize me, but I am the Palestinian medical intern who was scapegoated by your country, Libya, in the HIV case in the Benghazi hospital.
How do you account for what was done to me, to my colleagues, and to my family, who gave over 30 years serving your country, only to be kicked out from their home, threatened with death, and subjected to state terrorism? When will your government recognize their crimes, apologize to me, to my colleagues and to our families?” It was one of the most powerful testimonies, says Neuer, that showcased the hypocrisies marring the United Nations and eroding the UN Charter promise of equal treatment to all nations, large and small.
BUT NEUER, who was a New York attorney before he became the executive director of UN Watch, is also quick to point out that the UN is a powerful international organization with major influence.
“It is a mistake to think that the UN is ‘Um-Shmum,’ as some in Israel may regard it,” he explains, referring to the Hebrew acronym for the international body (UM). “The UN has a terrific impact on world opinion and is considered the primary platform for bringing together diverse nations and cultures. The UN works with foreign offices, journalists, policy makers and government leaders across the international community and shapes policy direction. PEW polls have shown that the UN remains a popular institution throughout much of the world, with 50 percent of Americans viewing it favorably. You can’t just brush this organization off.”
He adds that certain UN agencies like the Human Rights Council were originally established with pure intentions.
“The UN Commission on Human Rights was established in 1946 as a response to the horrors of the Holocaust.
Its establishment was chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, who oversaw the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Eleanor was a great friend of Israel who also fund-raised for the young Jewish state,” he says.
Another important commission member and contributor to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was René Cassin, a French lawyer, law professor and judge, who was a strong supporter of Israel, according to Neuer.
“Cassin was an active Zionist who campaigned for civil rights for the Jewish people, and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who wrote articles for the French press supporting Israel during the 1967 war. A high school in Jerusalem is named after René Cassin in honor of his civil liberties work,” he adds.
Neuer believes that UN Watch plays a critical role in overseeing the proper functioning of the international body.
“UN Watch exists to consistently remind the UN of why it was originally formed on October 24, 1945 – to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights – without any distinction to race, language, sex or religion,” he says.
This past year, the organization brought Egyptian human rights dissident and former political prisoner of the post-Mubarak regime Maikel Nabel to testify before the UN. This past Sunday, Nabel visited Israel with UN Watch on a peace-building mission to share his story and vision with the Israeli public and press.
“We deal with nasty forces at the UN, almost supernatural at times, but UN Watch is making a difference, and we will continue to call on the UN to do the right thing, even when no one else does,” concludes Neuer.The writer is an educator at the Hebrew University’s Secondary School of Education and a writer based in Jerusalem.