End the UN’s immunity

The systemically antisemitic organization is a political party, not a diplomatic actor, and ought to be treated as such.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaking at a press conference in New York City, Dec. 9, 2020. Photo: Lev Radin/Shutterstock
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaking at a press conference in New York City, Dec. 9, 2020. Photo: Lev Radin/Shutterstock
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.

The United Nations has long been an anti-Israel and antisemitic cesspool, second only perhaps to the fetid underside of social media, though far more dangerous given its enormous transnational power.

The recent publication of a U.N. report that demonized Israel and its Jewish supporters in unabashedly antisemitic language—and defended antisemitism itself as legitimate criticism of Israel—demonstrated this in no uncertain terms.

Last week, however, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres drove yet another nail into the coffin of the inexplicable halo effect the organization has long enjoyed.

Commenting on the IDF’s just concluded counterterror operation in the city of Jenin, Guterres claimed without evidence, “Obviously in this situation there was an excessive force used by Israeli forces.”

He then doubled down, claiming, again without evidence, “Israeli airstrikes and ground operations in a crowded refugee camp were the worst violence in the West Bank in many years, with a significant impact on civilians.”

In a classic motte and bailey maneuver, the secretary-general declared, “I understand Israel’s legitimate concerns with its security but escalation is not the answer. It simply bolsters radicalization and leads to a deepening cycle of violence and bloodshed.”

This was a remarkable statement even by U.N. standards, for several reasons.

First, Israel self-evidently did not use excessive force in Jenin. No one, even the most fervent haters of the Jewish state, has claimed that there was wanton killing of civilians or destruction of civilian property. The number of Palestinians killed was barely more than a dozen, and it appears that all of them were combatants.

Thus, it is indisputable that the IDF reacted proportionately to a wave of Palestinian terror attacks stretching back months. It did its utmost to protect civilians from harm and largely succeeded.

Guterres, in other words, was lying, and he almost certainly knew it. He was expectorating a blood libel for the sake of either his own selfish hatreds or to sate the antisemites who constitute the majority of U.N. members and officials.

While this is bad enough, what Guterres said next was worse. His claim that “escalation is not the answer” and only “bolsters radicalization” effectively states that any Israeli military action to protect its citizens is illegitimate by definition. Further, Guterres more than implied that such operations are the cause rather than the result of terrorism.

Guterres, in effect, absolved those who murder Jews as, at worst, a phenomenon of theoretical physics—an equal and opposite reaction of no moral weight whatsoever.

Palestinian terrorists, therefore, are responsible for literally nothing. Israel, on the other hand, is responsible for everything, even the heinous murder of its own people by fanatical genocidists.

This is, of course, pure nihilism, but it is also unabashed racism. It privileges one people over another in the most absolute, existential sense. It demonizes the other people without the slightest hint of human empathy. It is not simply immoral or amoral, it is anti-moral.

Given the antisemitic report and Guterres’s slightly more subtle indulgence in racism, we are faced with a difficult and important question: What is to be done with the U.N.?

The instinctive reaction is to simply call for the entire organization to be euthanized. It is not impossible that this could be accomplished. The United States could theoretically be persuaded to cut off the money spigot, leaving the U.N. a shell of its former self.

It is highly unlikely, however, that the U.S. would do such a thing. The U.N. was the brainchild of the U.S. and its diplomats are well-versed enough in history to fear their creation’s demise, given the consequences of the U.S. refusal to join the League of Nations in the early 20th century, which are widely seen as disastrous.

There are other possibilities, however. First and foremost, the U.S. and other democratic countries could finally treat the U.N. as what it is: a political party and a political actor, not a diplomatic organization.

In other words, the diplomatic standing and all-important immunity enjoyed by U.N. officials ought to be ended. They should be treated as political figures who do not enjoy immunity from the consequences of their malfeasance. Following such a reform, they would finally be subject to the laws of the various nations affected by U.N. policy and could at long last be held accountable.

Thus, the U.N. and its officials could be taken to court under the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 for practicing systemic antisemitism. Cases could be brought against antisemitic officials in European countries that have laws against racist hate speech.

Even more important, when U.N. organizations collaborate with terrorist organizations—as UNRWA has done in Gaza—criminal and even war crimes charges could be brought. This would create not only accountability but a deterrence effect that might finally bring an end to the U.N.’s long and sordid alliance with terror.

None of this will happen, however, without a concerted effort to make it happen. As the U.N.’s primary targets and primary victims, the Jews ought to lead the way in such a campaign. The elite Jewish organizations will do nothing, of course, but grassroots and smaller organizations could make a decent stab at it. Moreover, a U.S. administration open to such reforms—which is not the case today but could well be in the future—might be willing to take positive action.

The U.N. has hidden behind the halo effect for long enough. It’s time for its racists and criminals, and they are legion, to face justice.

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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