Amid the recent uptick in anti-Semitism in the United States and other Western countries, last week’s U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) hearing on the subject offered hope for a better future.
Testifying before the USCIRF panel in Washington, D.C., the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ahmed Shaheed, acknowledged on the record that parts of the United Nations are indeed anti-Semitic.
For decades, a group of U.N. ambassadors representing the world’s most oppressive governments have colluded to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist as the eternal Jewish homeland. This scheme started with the passage of a 1975 resolution equating Zionism with racism, continued at U.N. human-rights conferences-turned Israel hate-fests and manifests today with the Jewish state being targeted by more resolutions and condemnation than all other U.N. members combined.
At the Capitol Hill hearing, titled “Global Efforts to Counter Anti-Semitism,” Shaheed stated that the U.N. Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) permanent Agenda Item Seven is a “problem” in that it is “used to vilify Israel,” conceding that it has proven “counterproductive in many ways.”
Contrary to what its name implies, the UNHRC is comprised of some of the world’s worst human-rights violators, with Libya, Sudan and Venezuela being among the 14 countries most recently appointed to it. Item Seven puts Israel under the microscope at UNHRC sessions, while the remaining 192 countries are collectively considered under a different item.
Thus we see the United Nations, international legal fora and Western academia condemning the neighborhoods and cities built by Jews living in Judea while ignoring Iran’s widespread sponsorship of terror and violent oppression of its own citizens. This manufactured stigma attached to the Jewish state has substantially contributed to the rising global anti-Semitism that exists today.
While the UNHRC appointed Shaheed to his role, the Maldivian Muslim diplomat made clear that the decision to report on anti-Semitism was his alone.
He noted that his predecessors had “failed … to look at issues affecting Jewish communities”—a trend he described as a scandal—even though the United Nation’s mandate to study religious intolerance originated in response to the anti-Semitic 1959 Swastika Epidemic.
“Somehow, the U.N. forgot about anti-Semitism and went forward,” said Shaheed. “For me, this is bringing it all back home, to where it all began.”
While his report did not address the U.N.’s well-documented anti-Israel bias, Shaheed offered recommendations for combating it at the USCIRF hearing, proposing a “nuanced approach.” The United Nation “is composed of many parts, differently configured, where different states have different levels of influence,” he said, adding that some parts can be used to advantage in the fight against anti-Semitism.
Several U.N. bodies have been created to support the Palestinian population in ways that are uniquely harmful to Israel. The U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was purportedly created to provide humanitarian aid to Palestinians, but it serves primarily to perpetuate the Arab-Israeli conflict by extending the definition of Arab-Palestinian refugees to include their descendants, which is not the case for any other group of refugees in the world. The resulting exponential growth in those claiming a “right of return” to Israel threatens her continued existence as a Jewish state.
The United Nations is also home to several bodies—including the Division for Palestinian Rights of the Secretariat and the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People—that produce substantial anti-Israel propaganda. The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has passed resolutions rejecting Israel’s sovereignty over its capital city of Jerusalem, which ultimately led to Israel and the United States withdrawing from the body at the start of last year.
Interestingly, Shaheed identified UNESCO as one of the better of the U.N. organs as far as anti-Semitism is concerned. This may have been attributed to UNESCO’s recent decision to remove an annual carnival in Aalst, Belgium, from its List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity for its inclusion of anti-Semitic displays. Last March, the parade included a float featuring cartoonish characters in Jewish religious garb with large noses, bags of money and a rat on one of the character’s shoulders.
Progress can actually be seen at the General Assembly, which although it last December again passed an outsized flurry of anti-Israel resolutions actually showed heightened support for the Jewish state compared to years past, as the vote tallies show. For example, the resolution to fund the Division for Palestinian Rights saw support drop a from 10:1 yes-no vote ratio in 2017 to under 4:1 in 2019.
Even with such signs of progress, anti-Semitism continues to run rampant at the United Nations and around the world.
Shaheed urged the Secretary-General to designate a senior-level focal point in his office to be responsible for engaging with Jewish communities worldwide, monitoring anti-Semitism and reporting on its “overall context” at the United Nations.
“The U.N. must step up more in making sure it speaks up for the Jewish communities worldwide,” he concluded.
The winds of change may very well be blowing at the United Nations with respect to Israel, and a continued sustained quasi-diplomatic effort to build off this momentum could produce a newer and truer narrative around the Jewish state and the Jewish people that might bring more equality for Israel at the U.N., with benefits for generations to come.
Joseph Tipograph is a lawyer in Washington, D.C.