Myth: 'The UN Security Council is Pro-Israel'

Libya presided over the Security Council in March 2009.

MYTH: “The Security Council is Pro-Israel”
A common argument has it that the Security Council is a pro-Israel stronghold within the UN. Worse, it is often stated as fact that all voices critical of Israel within the Security Council are stymied by the US veto. Law professor William Schabas has written that “Israel has had a relatively soft ride at the United Nations, largely because it is protected by you-know-who in the Security Council. Out of frustration, some governments campaign on the issue in the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council”.[1]
Former UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine, international law scholar Richard Falk, has asked “why should an overwhelming majority of member countries be held hostage to the geopolitical whims of Washington… trying to shield itself or its ally from a Security Council decision enjoying overwhelming support? Of course this American veto is not some idiosyncratic whim, but is an expression of the sorry pro-Israeli realities”.[2]
In their famous 2007 book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt claimed that “the United States provides Israel with consistent diplomatic support. Between 1972 and 2006, Washington vetoed forty-two UN Security Council resolutions that were critical of Israel”.[3]
FACT: This presentation is deeply flawed. Contrary to popular preconceptions, the Security Council is not pro-Israel: not in the resolutions it passes, not in the statements it issues, and not in the attention it pays to Israel. An examination of the Security Council’s record amply demonstrates this.
The Security Council expresses its position on international events and developments through the passing of resolutions and the issuing of Presidential Statements. Resolutions are passed by an affirmative vote of 9 of the 15 members, provided that none of the five permanent Security Council members votes against, thereby vetoing the resolution. Security Council resolutions are legally binding and are considered the most forceful vehicle for the articulation of the views of the international community. Presidential Statements, signed and issued by the President of the Security Council on behalf of the Council as a whole, are not legally binding. Although consensus among Security Council members is necessary when issuing Presidential Statements, members can abstain. Because of the consensual and non-binding nature of Presidential Statements, they are often the Security Council’s preferred method for making its opinion known.
Over the years, both resolutions and Presidential Statements have frequently been directed against Israel by the Security Council. There are numerous examples from the last decade alone. In June 2010, a Presidential Statement on the interception of the Flotilla to Gaza was issued, which condemned “those acts which resulted in the loss of at least ten civilians and many wounded” and called for “a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation”.[4]
In 2007, two Presidential Statements targeted Israeli actions in Lebanon, both of them expressing the Security Council’s “deep concern at the continuing Israeli violations of Lebanese air space”[5] and supporting “the Secretary General’s request to Israel to provide to the United Nations detailed data on its use of cluster munitions in southern Lebanon”.[6] In 2006, no less than three Presidential Statements were issued regarding Israel, one in December along the same lines as the 2007 Presidential Statements[7] and two in which the Security Council expressed “extreme shock and distress” at Israeli actions. The first such Statement was issued on July 27 and pertained to “the firing by the Israeli Defense Forces on a United Nations Observer post in southern Lebanon on 25 July 2006, which caused the death of four United Nations military observers”.[8] The second Statement was issued on July 30, and regarded “the shelling by the Israeli Defense Forces of a residential building in Qana, in southern Lebanon, which has caused the killing of dozens of civilians, mostly children, and injured many others”.[9]
Finally, in 2002 another two Presidential Statements dealt with Israel. On July, a Presidential Statement declared that “Israel should stop all new settlement activity”[10] and on April 10 the Security Council called “on Israel to halt immediately its military operations. We call for an immediate, meaningful ceasefire and an immediate Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian cities, including Ramallah, specifically including Chairman Arafat’s headquarters. We call on Israel to fully comply with international humanitarian principles and to allow full and unimpeded access to humanitarian organizations and services. We call on Israel to refrain from the excessive use of force and undertake all possible efforts to ensure the protection of civilians”.[11] There has been no shortage of Presidential Statements critical of Israel, and their strong condemnation of certain Israeli actions belies allegations of a pro-Israel bias.
The Security Council is more sparing in its passing of resolutions, but over the years Israel has been the subject of quite a few. On September 24, 2002, Security Council Resolution 1435 demanded “that Israel immediately cease measures in and around Ramallah including the destruction of Palestinian civilian and security infrastructure” as well as “the expeditious withdrawal of the Israeli occupying forces from Palestinian cities”.[12]
The language and demands of this resolution are particularly onerous with regard to Israel, demonstrating little sympathy with Israeli security needs and labeling the Israeli Defense Forces as “occupying forces”. To the extent that Resolution 1435 betrays any sort of bias, it would much sooner be identified as anti-Israel than pro-Israel. Resolution 1322, passed on October 7, 2000, is similarly tendentious in its depiction of the outbreak of the Second Intifada and in its singling out of Israel for condemnation. Referring to Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Resolution 1322 deplored “the provocation carried out at Al-Haram Al-Sharif in Jerusalem on 28 September 2000, and the subsequent violence there and at other Holy Places, as well as in other areas throughout the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, resulting in over 80 Palestinian deaths and many other casualties” and condemned “acts of violence, especially the excessive use of force against Palestinians, resulting in injury and loss of human life”.[13] In this version of events, Israel is very much the aggressor and the party regarded as responsible for violence; again, there is no way that Resolution 1322 can be interpreted as evidence of a pro-Israel bias within the Security Council.
Security Council resolutions suggesting an anti-Israel bias have a long history. In 1981, Resolution 487 strongly condemned the Israeli strike on the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq, stating that the reactor’s destruction was “in clear violation of the Charter of the United Nations and the norms of international conduct”.[14] One wonders whether liberating Kuwait would have been possible if Saddam Hussein had acquired nuclear weapons. Israel’s intervention in Lebanon in 1982 resulted in a spate of harsh Security Council resolutions, including Resolution 501, which called upon “Israel immediately to cease its military action against Lebanese territorial integrity and withdraw forthwith its forces from all Lebanese territory”.[15]
Absent from these resolutions was any mention of, let alone condemnation for, the murderous terrorist attacks originating in southern Lebanon that prompted Israel’s actions to begin with. Resolution 570 in 1985 vigorously condemned Israel’s bombing of the PLO’s offices in Tunisia,[16] while Resolution 611 in 1988 condemned Israel’s assassination of the leading PLO militant and plotter of terrorist attacks Khalil al-Wazir in Tunis.[17] Why hasn’t the Security Council passed resolutions condemning the assassination of other terrorist leaders, like Osama Bin Laden by US special forces in Pakistan or Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev by Russian agents in Qatar?
Further evidence of the Security Council’s lack of pro-Israeli bias can be found in the nature of some of the Israel-related events that elicited Security Council resolutions. In December 1986, Resolution 592 condemned the shooting of two students at Bir Zeit University, strongly deploring “the opening of fire by the Israeli army resulting in the death and the wounding of defenseless students”.[18] Resolution 592 provided no real context for the events in question, and neither did it pay any attention to Israeli claims regarding the circumstances in which the shooting transpired. Odder than that, however, is the fact that Resolution 592 was passed at all. Every year, in countries throughout the world, violent incidents lead to the deaths of civilians. Such incidents, tragic as they may be, don’t normally result in UN resolutions, and certainly not in Security Council resolutions. Yet when it comes to Israel, even the smallest incident can make its way through the UN system, bouncing around in an echo-chamber of Israel condemnation until even the Security Council comments on the matter. In December 1987, Resolution 605 strongly deplored “those policies and practices of Israel, the occupying Power, which violate the human rights of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories, and in particular the opening of fire by the Israeli army, resulting in the killing and wounding of defenceless Palestinian civilians”.[19]
No comparable resolution has ever been passed with regard to violence in Tibet, in Chechnya, in Sri Lanka, or in a myriad other places where many more people have been victims of conflict than in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Following violent incidents on the Temple Mount, Resolution 672 in 1990 condemned “especially the acts of violence committed by the Israeli security forces resulting in injuries and loss of human life”.[20] Resolution 672 is yet another example where Israel is singled out for particular opprobrium while little attention is paid to context or the circumstances in which Israel operates; it is also another example of a Security Council resolution critical of Israel being passed even though comparable events elsewhere rarely merit even a Presidential Statement. The resolutions the Security Council has passed regarding Israel demonstrate clearly that it is innocent of allegations of favoring Israel.
It isn’t just that the Security Council doesn’t favor Israel. There’s a strong case to be made that the Security Council is partial to the Palestinian cause. For well over a decade, the Security Council has been explicitly supportive of a Palestinian state. In May 2009, a Presidential Statement reaffirmed the Security Council’s call for “a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East, based on the vision of a region where two democratic States, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace within secure and recognized borders”.[21] This vision is by no means controversial, but the Security Council’s concern for Palestinian welfare is. The Security Council time and again calls upon the international community to provide aid to the Palestinians, even though there are pressing humanitarian crises in much of the world that receive no comparable attention. In 2009, the Security Council called “for assistance to help develop the Palestinian economy, to maximize the resources available to the Palestinian Authority and to build Palestinian institutions.”[22]
In 2006, the Security Council called for “the provision of emergency assistance to the Palestinian people through the Temporary International Mechanism, international organizations and other official channels”.[23] In 2005, the Security Council underlined “the importance of enhanced and expeditious international assistance to the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority”.[24] In 2002, the Security Council called “on the international community, particularly the Arab States, to preserve, strengthen and assist the Palestinian Authority, including through efforts to rebuild its infrastructure, security and governance capacity. We call also on the donor community and the international financial institutions to renew their commitment to provide urgent humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people, and to assist in economic and institutional reconstruction”.[25] The list goes on.
Similarly, every Palestinian election has been heralded by the Security Council while the vast majority of elections around the world, even in new or struggling democracies, go unremarked. In 2006 a Presidential Statement congratulated “the Palestinian people on an electoral process that was free, fair, and secure. It commends all the parties for the preparation and conduct of the elections, particularly the Central Elections Commission and the Palestinian Authority security forces, for their professionalism”.[26] In 2005, another Presidential Statement welcomed “the Palestinian Presidential election held on 9 January 2005. It commends the credible and fair character of the vote and congratulates the Palestinian people who demonstrated their commitment to democracy by participating in the election under challenging conditions”.[27] In 1996, still another Presidential Statement warmly welcomed “the successful holding of the Palestinian elections on 20 January 1996, which constitutes a major step forward in the Middle East Peace Process. The members of the Council congratulate the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people on this achievement, which reflects credit on all concerned”.[28] What other people’s progress is followed so closely, so warmly, and with such praise by the Security Council as that of the Palestinians? None. The Palestinians receive a disproportionate amount of Security Council attention, and it is invariably positive. Perhaps we should speak of a pro-Palestine bias
This pro-Palestine bias becomes clear when one contrasts the often minor incidents that result in Security Council censure of Israel with the many acts of violence against Israel that pass with nary a word from that same body. In the last twenty years, only twice has the Security Council condemned terrorist acts against Israel without simultaneously condemning assorted Israeli actions – both times in the form of a Presidential Statement, once in 1995 and once in 1996.[29] Israeli violence, as demonstrated previously, has resulted not only in Presidential Statements but also in Security Council resolutions, even when the violence in question was the act of an individual who was condemned by the Israeli public and the Israeli authorities. This was the case with Resolution 904 in 1994, which rightly censured the murder by Israeli Baruch Goldstein of Palestinian worshippers in Hebron.[30] The question, however, is why similar atrocities perpetrated against Israelis have gone and continue to go seemingly unnoticed by the Security Council. In 2002, a Palestinian suicide bomber murdered thirty Israelis in Netanya’s Park Hotel during Passover;[31] this is greater than the number of Palestinians murdered by Baruch Goldstein, yet was not deemed worthy ofa Security Council reaction.
Although over a thousand Israeli civilians were murdered during the Second Intifada, the Security Council remained strangely silent. This silence has persisted in recent years, as thousands of rockets have been fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip. Israel has sent several letters to the UN asking for unprovoked Palestinian violence against Israel to be condemned, but the Security Council and the rest of the UN maintain their silence.[32] Ron Prosor, Israel’s current ambassador to the UN, has complained about the UN’s failure to condemn Palestinian rocket fire and remarked upon the Security Council’s skewed priorities, saying that “the obsession with Israel and the ignoring of countries where civilians are tortured and killed undermines the credibility and calls into question the relevance of the Security Council”.[33]
Indeed, given the volume of the criticism of Israel produced by the Security Council it is quire revealing to glance at the long list of issues that have not been commented upon by this body. As recently as October 2011, the Security Council failed to pass a resolution condemning Syrian human rights abuses due to the exercise by China and Russia of their veto.[34] In December 2011, Turkish warplanes bombed targets in Northern Iraq, killing 35 civilians in the process; the Security Council said nothing, and has said nothing about the dozens of Turkish violations of Iraqi sovereignty in recent years.[35]
A UN report suggested that the end of the Sri Lankan Civil War in 2009 was accompanied by the slaughter of tens of thousands of civilians, but the Security Council was silent.[36] The Security Council has remained silent about the Chinese occupation of Tibet and its violent suppression of rights movements there, in Xinjiang, and in Inner Mongolia. It has also said nothing about the Tiananmen Square Massacre. There has been no comment on Russia’s activities in the Caucasus region, including the bloody suppression of the Chechnyan independence movement and Russia’s 2008 war with Georgia. Other atrocities like Saddam Hussein’s gassing of Kurdish civilians in Halabja, Moammar Qaddafi’s 1996 Abu Salim prison massacre, and the Rwandan genocide were not subject to Security Council opprobrium. The fact that Israel is subject to any Security Council criticism at all while events of this nature are ignored should by itself dispel any lingering notions of a pro-Israel bias.
If the Security Council’s disproportionate focus on Israel were not enough, it bears pointing out that due to the regionally based system of election of non-permanent members to the Security Council, Israel has never enjoyed the privilege of membership. Since 2000, however, countries that systematically vote against Israel and single Israel out for condemnation within the UN have been Security Council members, despite their own often less than pristine human rights records. Among these countries are Tunisia, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Syria, Pakistan, Algeria, Qatar, Libya, Lebanon, and Morocco.
The claim that the Security Council has a pro-Israel bias is hollow. Examination of the Security Council’s record reveals unambiguously that Israel is often condemned, that the Palestinians receive uniquely favorable treatment, that violence against Israel is often ignored, and that a host of major human rights abuses around the world escape comment. There isn’t much trace of a pro-Israel bias here, and the only discernible influence of the infamous US veto on the Security Council has been that body’s inability to pass the plentiful anti-Israel resolutions that are a hallmark of the rest of the UN. If anything, the US veto in the Security Council acts to blunt the worst of the UN’s institutional anti-Israel bias – but it certainly doesn’t do away with this bias altogether. The Security Council may not be implacably anti-Israel, but it can hardly be described as friendly either.
[3] Mearsheimer, John J., and Walt, Stephen P. The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007, p. 40
[4] Security Council Presidential Statement S/PRST/2010/9
[5] Security Council Presidential Statement S/PRST/2007/12
[6] Security Council Presidential Statement S/PRST/2007/29
[7] Security Council Presidential Statement S/PRST/2006/52
[8] Security Council Presidential Statement S/PRST/2006/34
[9] Security Council Presidential Statement S/PRST/2006/35
[10] Security Council Presidential Statement S/PRST/2002/20
[11] Security Council Presidential Statement S/PRST/2002/9
[12] Security Council Resolution S/RES/1435 (2002)
[13] Security Council Resolution S/RES/1322 (2000)
[14] Security Council Resolution S/RES/487 (1981)
[15] Security Council Resolution S/RES/501 (1982)
[16] Security Council Resolution S/RES/570 (1985)
[17] Security Council Resolution S/RES/611 (1988)
[18] Security Council Resolution S/RES/592 (1986)
[19] Security Council Resolution S/RES/605 (1987)
[20] Security Council Resolution S/RES/672 (1990)
[21] Security Council Presidential Statement S/PRST/2009/14
[22] Security Council Presidential Statement S/PRST/2009/14
[23] Security Council Presidential Statement S/PRST/2006/53
[24] Security Council Presidential Statement S/PRST/2005/2
[25] Security Council Presidential Statement S/PRST/2002/9
[26] Security Council Presidential Statement S/PRST/2006/6
[27] Security Council Presidential Statement S/PRST/2005/2
[28] Security Council Presidential Statement S/PRST/1996/3
[29] Security Council Presidential Statement S/PRST/1995/3* and S/PRST/1996/10
[30] Security Council Resolution S/RES/904 (1994)


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