It is not news that the United Nations has long been an organization characterized by an intense institutional bias against Israel. Reflecting, as it must, the policies and prejudices of the majority of its non-democratic membership, the United Nations’s major bloc is the so-called Non-Aligned movement, which, in turn, is dominated by the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference. It’s this bloc that determines much of the United Nations’s agenda and dominates the voting, with the result that Israel has been continually condemned by an extraordinary number of resolutions across U.N. bodies over the decades.
Being for years a pariah within its own natural regional grouping, the Asian bloc, Israel has until recently been essentially excluded from sitting on any U.N. committees. However, this discrimination is set to be replayed again. Israel is about to excluded from a seat on the U.N. Security Council–only this time, strangely enough, it will have nothing to do with Arab dictatorships, but Western democracies.
How did this come to be?
The U.N. Security Council is comprised of five permanent members—the United States, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom—and 10 non-permanent members that are selected for two-year terms. Two non-permanent members are selected from each one of the five blocs within the U.N. system and must attract a two-thirds vote within the U.N. General Assembly—a difficult enough challenge already for Israel, given the preponderance of hostile autocracies comprising the greater part of the world body.
In 2000, the United States and its European allies invited Israel to join the Western European & Others Group. In a sense, WEOG, as it is called, is Israel’s natural home, as it includes other non-regional members, such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand, whose geographical distance from Western Europe is, like Israel’s, compensated for by its cultural and political closeness to it.
At the time, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke, brokered an agreement: In return for the WEOG membership allowing Israel to join, the Jewish state committed to go to the end of the line and wait 19 years to put itself forward unopposed at the U.N. Security Council for one of the WEOG seats on the council.
Accordingly, this year is Israel’s turn to put itself forward to be elected, along with Belgium, for one of the two WEOG seats on the U.N. Security Council, which is presently represented by Sweden and the Netherlands until the end of 2018.
However, Germany is about to violate the late Ambassador Holbrooke’s deal. Berlin has decided to run for one of the WEOG seats. This means that there are now three countries vying for the two seats available to the WEOG members. Both Belgium and Germany have refused to withdraw their candidacies for a seat. The competition might turn nasty; in any event, Israel cannot hope to win a place unopposed, as it was entitled to expect.
This is obviously an unacceptable state of affairs. Ambassador Holbrooke’s agreement was designed to ensure that the institutional discrimination against an American ally within the United Nations was put in the past. Instead, it seems about to be perpetuated.
The United States under U.S. President Trump has spoken out strongly against discrimination against Israel within the United Nations and promised to hold he world body accountable for its treatment of Israel. But its efforts to do so stand to be compromised if it permits Ambassador Holbrooke’s agreement to become a dead letter.
For its part, Israel has kept its word since 2000 not to seek election to the Security Council until its turn within the WEOG membership had arrived. Israel could, of course, launch its own diplomatic offensive with the WEOG to have the agreement honored, but the news of Germany’s bid for a seat, reneging on its agreement, has only just emerged, leaving Israel very little time to do the essential legwork. Indeed, reports have it that the Israeli Foreign Ministry has expressed a wish to quit the race for a seat because of the improbability of a win.
Accordingly, though it shouldn’t have come to this, Israel is going to need help to obtain its long-awaited Security Council seat, and Washington owes it to Israel to see that this U.S.-brokered agreement is honored. It is well-positioned to impress upon American allies the need for the Holbrooke agreement to be honored and to permit Israel to clear the vital, first hurdle of being unopposed with the WEOG for a Security Council seat.
Part of changing the culture of the United Nations—a task to which the Trump administration has committed itself—is to end the profoundly entrenched bias against the Jewish state. Seeing Israel elected to the Security Council for the first time since becoming a U.N. member state in 1949 would be a powerful demonstration that substantive change is afoot.
Morton A. Klein is the national president of the Zionist Organization of America.