The following editorial was published in todays edition of Canada’s National Post.
How the UN Can Help Fight Anti-Semitism
Hillel C. Neuer
For the first time ever, the United Nations commemorated the Holocaust on Monday, in a special session marking 60 years since the liberation of the Nazi death camps. Secretary-General Kofi Annan admirably rallied wide support for convening the gathering. Yet at a time when anti-Semitism has reached its worst levels since 1945, a period symbolized by the videotaped beheading of journalist Daniel Pearl with his last words of “I am a Jew”, the UN’s response remains troubling.
Last June, the United Nations hosted a seminar on anti-Semitism. Apart from Annan, who delivered a strong address, those presenting were mostly Jewish experts, speaking to an audience primarily of Jewish leaders. The event had its merits, but providing a room in Manhattan for a group of Jews to talk amongst themselves is hardly the contribution one expects from the UN in confronting a global disease.
With a pulpit of unrivalled reach, the UN must take a leadership role in communicating the international community’s resolve to fight hatred against Jews. This it must do not only by condemning anti-Semitism in relevant resolutions, but by considering a panoply of other available measures.
First, following the 2000 Stockholm Declaration, in which 45 nations committed to an annual commemoration of the Holocaust, the General Assembly should establish its own remembrance day. This would be a perpetual reminder of the evils of anti-Semitism, a bulwark against Holocaust deniers and a universal lesson against all forms of intolerance.
Second, the UN Commission on Human Rights should establish a Special Rapporteur on anti-Semitism, as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe has done with a Special Representative, and now the United States with a Special Envoy. Failing that, the commission should instruct the Special Rapporteur on racism to specifically examine anti-Semitism, as it has done with Islamophobia.
Finally, treaty bodies such as the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination should pay greater attention to anti-Semitism, such as by holding a special thematic discussion similar to that held for the Roma. These initiatives could make a difference. The truth, though, is that the UN cannot credibly fight anti-Semitism in the world, when, within its own walls, it actually fosters it.
By systematically singling out Israel for discriminatory treatment, the UN not only violates the equality guarantee of its own charter, but denies Jews their basic right to peoplehood. The medieval depiction of the Jew as poisoner of the well has become transposed into the Jewish state as, in the words of a senior adviser to Annan, the great poison in the region.
Prejudice against Israel pervades the UN. Paradoxically, the Commission on Human Rights offers itself as a case study of this bigotry. At last year’s session in March and April, I observed no fewer than seven instances of gross discrimination against the Jewish state.
First, approximately 25% of the debates were dedicated to attacking Israel. Second, out of the commission’s 10 country-specific resolutions, five targeted Israel. Third, while one agenda item examined the human rights violations of all 191 states, an entirely separate item was devoted exclusively to scrutinizing Israel. Fourth, Israel was the only state denied full admission into any of the five regional groups. Every morning during the six-week session, while 190 countries met for vital consultations within their regional groups, the Israeli representative was literally left standing in the corridor.
Fifth, many of the commission’s independent experts disproportionately censure Israel. If Palestinian men beat their wives, says Yakin Ertrk, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, it is Israel’s fault. Sixth, last year’s session convened but one emergency sitting not for the million-plus victims of Darfur, who were virtually ignored, but to condemn Israel for killing Ahmed Yassin, head of the Hamas terrorist group, who was eulogized as a spiritual leader. Seventh, side events sponsored by NGOs frequently cast Israel as the ultimate villain. When the International Commission of Jurists held a debate on Israel’s security barrier in the West Bank, they failed to invite a single panelist to present Israel’s position.
Kofi Annan has promised that the fight against anti-Semitism must be our fight, and Jews everywhere must feel that the United Nations is their home, too. To accomplish that, the UN must recognize Monday’s event as just the beginning.
Hillel C. Neuer is executive director of UN Watch in Geneva, Switzerland.