The UN and Israel

Occasionally, there is an island of relative normality in the raging sea of injustice and outright absurdity that characterizes the UN’s workings.

The UN logo outside the headquarters in New York. (photo credit: REUTERS)
The UN logo outside the headquarters in New York.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Occasionally, there is an island of relative normality in the raging sea of injustice and outright absurdity that characterizes the UN’s workings.
Last week, Israel was elected to serve as vice chair of a UN committee dealing with human rights. The Jewish state will serve in that capacity in the upcoming 69th session of the UN General Assembly. Mordehai Amihai won the appointment to represent the Western European and “Other Groups” voting bloc on the committee, which is known as the 4th Special Political and Decolonization Committee. He received 74 votes, far exceeding the 39-vote minimum.
It was no big deal, really. The vice chair does not have a critical impact on the decision-making process.
What made it exceptional was the fact that even Israel’s election to serve as a vice chair – not a fullfledged chair mind you – did not proceed completely as normal. Moral luminaries such as Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Libya, and Egypt objected to the appointment simply because it was Israel that was appointed.
Unable to allow normality to rule, the Arab bloc that regularly collaborates against Israel inside the UN demanded that a special secret ballot be held.
According to UN insiders, such as executive director of UN Watch Hillel Neuer, such opposition to a vice chair appointment never happens – well almost never. In February, for instance, Syria, a country that has recently used chemical weapons against its own population and is effectively starving Palestinians to death in Yarmouk, was unanimously re-elected rapporteur of the UN Special Committee on Decolonization.
This was not a vice chair, it was a leading role.
The appointment of Syria, without a single dissenting voice, makes a mockery of UN’s human rights enforcement.
Hatred of Israel fuels numerous distortions. For instance, Israel launched an initiative not too long ago in the UN to fight desertification. It was joined by a number of nations. And if it had succeeded, countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East would have benefitted. But the very fact that Israel was behind the initiative made it illegitimate in the eyes of the Arab bloc, even though Arab states would have been the primary beneficiaries. It was a classic “cut off your nose to spite your face” moment.
Israel is also singled out in an obsessive way for its purported human rights violations. The UN’s Human Rights Council has adopted more resolutions condemning Israel that it has on the rest of the 192 states combined. The council also has a standing agenda item against Israel, the only country specifically targeted at every meeting. Not even major human rights abusers like China, Sudan, or Syria are subjected to such treatment. 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 Hamas.
As one Foreign Ministry official put it, “This is the planet, these are the rules, and it is what it is.”
Still, it was an uncharacteristic flash of a modicum of normality to see Israel appointed despite Arab opposition. When it came time to vote, those who favored appointing Israel did not listen to Qatar’s representative, who claimed that Israel was unfit to serve as a vice chair of the committee because it also deals with the Palestinian “refugees.”
Now that Qatar mentions it, perhaps Israel could use its influence in the committee to try to change the definition of what constitutes a Palestinian “refugee.”
Unlike any other refugees, only Palestinians can bestow their refugee status on their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren ad infinitum. As a result, there are some five million Palestinian “refugees” compared to around 300,000 according to the normative definition.
Could Israel take steps to change that as the incoming vice chair? “Curb your enthusiasm,” a Foreign Ministry official said in answer. “It is encouraging that Israel was appointed vice chair. But don’t get carried away.”