There are clear signs that Arab hostility towards the Jewish state is on the wane. The Abraham Accords normalized Israel’s relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, an Israeli Defense Minister can make a very public visit to Morocco and even Saudi Arabia allows flights to and from Israel to cross over its territory. But there remains at least one bastion of anti-Israel enmity, the United Nations, where systematic, organizational prejudice against the Jewish state reigns supreme.
The opening act: Though not representing a member state, in 1974 Yasser Arafat was issued an extraordinary invitation to address the UN General Assembly (UNGA). His speech included a call for an end to Israel. The Jews, he said, could become citizens in the PLO’s “democratic Palestine.” Extreme content notwithstanding, and the fact that he spoke soon after his PLO massacred 25 hostages in Ma’alot, mostly high school students, Arafat received a standing ovation.
Infamously, the following year, the UNGA adopted Resolution 3379 which declared Zionism a “form of racism and racial discrimination”. Although that travesty was officially repealed in 1991, its annulment did not mark the end of the UN’s anti-Israel obsession – far from it.
Every year the UNGA routinely passes, with massive majorities, a series of blatant anti-Israel resolutions; in 2021 17 were enacted. Earlier this month, for example, the UNGA called upon Israel to withdraw from the “occupied Syrian Golan,” with delegates voting to hand over the Golan to Bashar Assad’s murderous regime.
But the story doesn’t end with these multiple resolutions, as some of them establish UN organs whose sole mission is to further propagate an anti-Israel agenda. The Special Committee to Investigate Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People is one such body. The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, which every year organizes the UN’s annual International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, is another.
To augment the work of these committees, the UN secretariat contains a Division for Palestinian Rights, the only part of the Department of Political Affairs devoted to a single conflict. And to ensure the message gets out there is the “special information program on the question of Palestine” in the Department of Global Communications.
Numerous UN agencies have also demonstrated anti-Israel prejudice. The UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has adopted positions that ignore Jewish historic, cultural and religious ties to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall in Jerusalem as well as to the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.
The UN’s Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) partners with organizations connected to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (designated a terror group by Israel, the US, the EU, Australia, Canada and Japan).
The UN’s Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has been accused of touting both antisemitism and terrorism. While UNRWA deals with a self-declared list of five million Palestinian refugees, the over one hundred million non-Palestinian displaced people worldwide suffice with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Although the latter agency helps to resettle refugees, UNRWA works to perpetuate refugee status, endorsing the maximalist Palestinian demand for the “right of return” to pre-1967 Israel.
Probably the most egregious example of a UN body plagued by anti-Israel mania is the Human Rights Council (UNHRC) which has a permanent agenda item targeting one country alone, Israel, and has passed more resolutions condemning the Jewish state than against all other countries combined. UNHCR’s repeated kangaroo court “investigations” of Israel are characterized by biased mandates equaled only by the anti-Israel partisanship of its special rapporteurs. The current multi-million dollar “Commission of Inquiry” into last May’s Gaza conflict is no exception.
In facing this undisguised institutionalized prejudice, Israel has a crucial friend in the United States. For it is only America that has the motivation and capability to stand up to UN bigotry. America has done so regularly, using its superpower political and financial clout to combat the endemic discrimination of the Jewish state.
The US has accomplished this through effective behind the scenes diplomacy, as well as overtly, when it has chosen to leave UN bodies (UNESCO and UNHRC), to cut off funding (UNRWA) and to use its UN Security Council veto to prevent the adoption of discriminatory anti-Israel texts. The latter is of primary importance, for while much of what happens at the UN is declarative, the UNSC has the unique authority to issue binding resolutions.
Of course, there have been aberrations when Israel has been disappointed with positions taken by the US. In 1980, the Carter administration abstained on UNSC Resolution 478 denouncing the Knesset’s Basic Law on Jerusalem being Israel’s capital. In 1981, the Reagan administration joined all 15 UNSC members in support of Resolution 487 condemning Israel’s attack on and destruction of Saddam Hussein’s Osirak nuclear reactor. Most recently, in 2016 the United States abstained on UNSC Resolution 2334 castigating Israeli construction over the 1967 lines, including in Jerusalem.
That American decision created much friction between Jerusalem and Washington, with the Prime Minister’s Office protesting that the Obama administration failed “to protect Israel against this gang-up at the UN,” and in fact “colluded with it behind the scenes.”
And herein lies the bottom line. When America stands up for Israel, it evens out the playing field. But if America does not, it allows the UN’s inherent anti-Israel animosity to monopolize decision-making.
Over the years, American UN ambassadors have taken a special pride in defending Israel. From Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan to Republican Nikki Haley, US ambassadors to the UN have earned the respect and affection of Israelis and American Jews alike for leading the fight against the singling out of the Jewish state.
Even Donald Trump’s many critics can acknowledge that his four-year term excelled in its unwavering support for Israel at the UN. The Biden foreign policy team has pledged to do likewise, stating that “Israel can continue to count on the US to do everything possible to shield it from discriminatory and unbalanced criticism whether at the UNHRC or elsewhere in the UN system.”
Undoubtedly there will be demands on the administration to renege on that commitment. American Jews, who overwhelmingly voted for the Biden-Harris ticket, may need to apply countervailing pressure, making the case that in fighting the UN’s anti-Israel prejudice the US is not only standing up for a trusted ally, but, as in all struggles against institutional discrimination, doing the right thing and demonstrating America’s global moral leadership.
The writer, formerly an adviser to the prime minister, is a senior visiting fellow at the INSS. Follow him at @MarkRegev on Twitter.