For decades, supporters of Israel have debated what to do about the United Nations. Should they ignore it as a talking shop that makes a lot of noise but can’t impact events on the ground in the Middle East? Or should they treat its growing efforts to smear Israel as an “apartheid state” a genuine threat to the Jewish state?
Many Israelis, including those in the government, have trouble taking the United Nations seriously. Israel’s first prime minister and founding father, David Ben-Gurion, famously dismissed the concerns of Moshe Sharrett, who served as his foreign minister and initial successor, about the importance of the world body. Using the Hebrew acronym for the U.N. (UM), Ben-Gurion disputed the idea that without U.N. backing in the 1947 Partition Resolution, the Jewish state wouldn’t have been founded.
“Not at all,” Ben-Gurion responded. “Only the daring of the Jews founded this country and not some Um-shmum resolution.”
That sentiment expressed his admirable philosophy that the actions of the Jews were far more important than the opinions of the non-Jewish world. Several decades later, it still accurately sums up the way many Israelis feel about the United Nations, which is even more hostile to their nation than it was in Ben-Gurion’s time.
The world body’s bias against the Jewish state is baked into the cake due to the dominance of Islamist, Marxist and Third World nations that buy into the lie that Zionism is racism. That bias has been expressed in many ways over the years—from the General Assembly’s passage in 1975 of the infamous “Zionism is racism” resolution to its role in convening the 2001 Durban Conference on Racism, which became an anti-Semitic hatefest.
The United Nations and its various agencies are a ticker tape of reports, programs and resolutions aimed at undermining the Jewish state’s security and bolstering the Palestinians’ century-old war on Zionism. The U.N. Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) is solely focused on ensuring that the descendants of Palestinian Arabs who fled the country during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence remain stateless refugees to be used as propaganda to delegitimize the existence of a Jewish state.
Still, it is the Human Rights Council—a body whose membership is composed of some of the worst human-rights offenders on the planet—that has become the principal source of anti-Israel invective via biased reports that distort the truth about the conflict, as well as the reality of a democratic country that has been forced to defend itself against terrorist, military and even nuclear threats every day of its existence.
It is particularly important now since the U.N. General Assembly voted to fund a Commission of Inquiry run by the UNHRC about human rights in Israel and the administered territories. Much like the biased and anti-Zionist attacks on the Jewish state from international leftist groups that masquerade as advocates for human rights, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the COI is set up to deliver a verdict about Israel’s conduct. It is one that has little to do with a theoretical peace agreement in which the Palestinians have no interest but rather is aimed at demonizing the very idea of a Jewish state and to delegitimize its right of self-defense.
Given an open-ended mandate that allowed Israel’s enemies to go back in time to indict it for supposed crimes dating back to the period before there was a Jewish state, the commission invited submissions from the Palestinians and others to prove their case. Aptly characterized as a “kangaroo court,” it is set up to deliver a report later this year that will bolster the “apartheid state” lie.
This presents both Israel and groups that monitor the United Nations and the fraudulent human-rights community with a difficult choice.
The government of Israel chose not to engage with the commission. It thought that doing so would legitimize a process that is utterly lacking in objectivity since everything the UNHRC and the commission have done has been aimed at building a case that treats the Jewish state’s existence as a crime against humanity. The staff at the UNHRC’s headquarters in Geneva doesn’t care what the Israelis might have to say about the war in their country. Still, many organizations that deal with this issue were determined that this bogus process would not go unanswered.
The result was an unprecedented effort to remind the world body that their tunnel vision ignored the suffering of Jews and Israelis during the course of the Arab and Muslim war on Zionism. If the United Nations and the human-rights community wanted to count victims, they can start by contemplating the millions of Jews who were victimized by anti-Zionist policies and actions. That includes the Jews who died in the Holocaust as a result of efforts to prevent their escape to Palestine or as the result of anti-Zionist rhetoric, or the subsequent wars and terrorism attacks launched against Israel by its enemies. The total of those whose plight deserves attention also includes the approximately 800,000 Jews who were forced to flee their homes in the Arab and Muslim world due to the anti-Semitic hate, discrimination and violence directed against them by anti-Israel Arab governments and movements.
Gathering these names was a herculean task that required a great deal of difficult research and work. Led by Professor Anne Bayefsky head of Human Rights Voices and the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust, groups like Palestinian Media Watch, the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise and the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA) all contributed to the task of compiling names of Jewish victims and refugees.
Altogether, they have made submissions of more than 2 million names of Jews who were killed or hurt by anti-Zionist Jew-haters.
It’s true that the commission is unlikely to pay much attention to the list of Jewish victims since they haven’t yet even acknowledged receipt of these submissions. Their only purpose is to discuss the grievances of Palestinians and the alleged injustice that the regaining of sovereignty by Jews over their ancient homeland has done to the world. Still, it is a vital reminder that the real injustice is the unwillingness of the world to fully acknowledge crimes committed against the Jewish people because of a desire to keep them powerless and homeless.
It’s also important because as much as the United Nations lacks legitimacy, it isn’t disappearing any time soon. In a more just world, such a corrupt and anti-Semitic body that serves the interests of tyrants would be abolished. It should be replaced by a world body overseen by democracies and tasked with the defense of human rights rather than undermining them. But we don’t live in such a world. The United Nations is, unfortunately, here to stay.
Although Israel has thrived and grown into an economic dynamo and regional military power, it is not immune to the efforts of the international community to stigmatize it. Even in the United States, where most Americans remain solidly pro-Israel, support for intersectional ideology and critical race theory that labels Israel as an oppressor “white privilege” state is widespread in the Democratic Party’s vocal left-wing. And the more that such bodies with the imprimatur of international legitimacy embrace lies about Israel and Zionism, the more precarious the position of defenders of Israel will be.
The United States ought to withdraw from the UNHRC and defund it. That’s something the Trump administration did but which was reversed by the Biden administration, whose foreign-policy team remains infatuated with multilateralism and diplomacy for its own sake.
That’s why an UM, shmum attitude is a luxury that Israel and its friends can no longer afford. The response to the COI was a good start, but it must be followed up by a renewed concern about the threat from the United Nations. The world body’s lies can do real damage to Israel and the Jewish people if they go unanswered.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathns_tobin.