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Opinion

The UN goes all in on antisemitism

The international body is a very sick man.

View of the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations. Photo: Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90
View of the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations. Photo: Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90
Benjamin Kerstein
Benjamin Kerstein is a writer and editor living in Tel Aviv. Read more of his work on Substack at No Delusions, No Despair. Purchase his books here.

This site was recently host to a deeply disturbing piece by Anne Bayefsky that dealt with the U.N.’s just-released “Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel.”

The U.N.’s attitude towards Israel is infamous, so it is not surprising that the report is largely a screed. What is disturbing, as Bayefsky points out, is the report’s open antisemitism.

Indeed, as Bayefsky notes, the report does not only attack Israel but also “its defenders.” The document mostly avoids naming names, but there can be little doubt as to its targets.

The report claims, “Alongside actions by the Government of Israel, private individuals and organizations increasingly work with the purpose of preventing, interfering with and silencing civil society, human rights defenders and events focused on Palestinian rights, locally and globally.”

“These organizations … have dedicated significant resources to producing data, disseminating material, producing online content and publications, monitoring social media and scrutinizing the activities of specific human rights defenders and civil society organizations to that end,” the report claims.

Such groups “effectively implement and promote” what the document calls the Israeli government’s “strategy against civil society.”

It is painfully obvious who these insidious “individuals and organizations” are: Israel’s Jewish supporters. Indeed, the report all but explicitly states as much, given that it immediately turns to an outright defense of antisemitism.

“Legitimate criticism of Israeli policies and actions is increasingly reframed as antisemitism,” it claims, “relying on the controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism adopted in 2016. National laws and policies have been adopted in several countries enabling the labelling of critics of Israeli policies as antisemitic or criminalizing certain forms of legitimate protest, such as boycotts.”

The IHRA definition of antisemitism is, in fact, not controversial in the least except among antisemites. It is the consensus definition among American Jews and has been adopted by numerous organizations and governments worldwide. The definition, moreover, is careful to distinguish between legitimate criticism of Israel and racist attacks upon it.

Given this, it seems clear that the commission’s report is, at least in part, an attempt to exonerate antisemitism and demonize the attempt to fight it.

None of this should be surprising, given who heads the commission in question—Navi Pillay, Chris Sidoti and Miloon Kothari. As Bayefsky points out, they “have made a name for themselves by belittling Jewish victims of antisemitism and spreading more of the same.”

Indeed, Bayefsky notes, Sidoti has said “accusations of antisemitism are thrown around like rice at a wedding,” Kothari has spun “Jewish lobby” conspiracy theories and Pillay has claimed that accusations of antisemitism are a “diversion.”

This is nasty enough, but perhaps nastier is what it says about the U.N. itself: In effect, it has become an antisemitic organization. Its principles of human rights do not apply to Jews, and if Jews try to advocate and fight for their rights, the U.N. will defame and delegitimize them.

It is worth asking how the U.N. got this way. There are, of course, practical reasons, such as the historical influence of the once uniformly anti-Zionist Muslim nations in the General Assembly, much of the Third World’s embrace of the Palestinian cause and the pre-1989 influence of anti-Israel and antisemitic communist regimes.

There may be a deeper force at work, however.

By coincidence, I am currently reading former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s remarkable book Diplomacy. In it, Kissinger writes a history of international relations since the dawn of modernity.

One of the main subjects of the book is the modern idea that nation-states ought to be subject to the same moral principles as individual human beings and judged accordingly.

As an advocate of realpolitik and the importance of a pragmatic balance of power, Kissinger is not a great admirer of this idea. He views it as the cause of several avoidable diplomatic disasters such as the Versailles treaty, which he believes ended World War I by making World War II inevitable.

Whatever one thinks of Kissinger’s theories, one thing is clear: The U.N., perhaps more than any other institution in the world, is based on the idea that collective bodies, such as nation-states or international organizations like the U.N. itself, are subject to the same moral principles as individual human beings.

If one accepts this, however, one must also accept that there is a dark side to it. If collective bodies are morally identical to human beings, then they will not only express human rectitude. They will also express human pathologies such as hatred, derangement and violence.

Antisemitism, of course, is one of the oldest hatreds and its capacity for derangement and violence is proverbial. If we view the U.N. as a human being, as the U.N. demands we must, then we must accept that it has succumbed to its human pathologies—in particular, the ancient human pathology of antisemitism.

It would seem, then, that the U.N. must be treated as one would treat any antisemitic human being. It must be criticized, discredited, marginalized and, if necessary, legally sanctioned. If it attempts to act violently on its antisemitism, even if only by enabling and inciting violence, it must be contained and defeated.

If there is any saving grace to this decrepit commission of inquiry, it is that it has allowed us to make a definitive diagnosis of the person the U.N. claims to be: It is a very sick man, much in need of cure but unlikely to consent to it. We must acknowledge that this is the case, and conduct ourselves accordingly.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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