The Treatment of Israel by the United Nations

On July 14, 1999, Ambassador Morris B. Abram, as Chairman of UN Watch, appeared before the U.S. Congress to speak on the subject of the Treatment of Israel by the United Nations. Other panelists included David Welch, Assistant Secretary Of International Organization Affairs, Department of State; Martin Indyk, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, U.S. Department of State; and Mr. John Bolton, Senior Vice President American Enterprise Institute.




JULY 14, 1999

I have been asked to speak today of Israel’s treatment in the United Nations. I will draw upon my experience working in the UN system for more than 30 years, including as the US Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva from 1989 to 1993, and now as chairman of United Nations Watch.

UN Watch is a non-governmental organization based in Geneva, mandated to measure the performance of the UN by the yardstick of the UN’s own Charter.  […]

At the outset, I make clear that UN Watch categorically supports the UN as an indispensable institution. The US should pay its past dues to the UN as a matter of national honor and in recognition of the UN’s importance. In spite of the UN’s flaws, it is inconceivable that the US withhold support from the only truly global organization in such an interdependent world.

The UN and anti-Israel Actions

I recognize and take into full accost the vagaries and contradictions in international diplomacy. I accept the primacy of realpolitik in international relations, and that some of the mistreatment of Israel within the UN may be attributed to such factors. However, the accumulation of attacks against Israel within the UN, as now occurs against no other State, cannot be simply dismissed as politics.

The evidence is the facts:

  • Israel is the only state whose alleged violations of human rights occupy a single agenda item at the annual UN Commission on Human Rights. The violations that occur in the remaining 184 Member States are examined collectively under another single agenda item. Only Israel has its name prominently targeted.
  • It is the only state whose aggressors in three wars have not been challenged by the Security Council.- It is the only state out of 185 UN Member States excluded from membership in any regional group, rendering it ineligible to serve on the Security Council, the UN Commission on Human Rights, and other important UN decision-making bodies.
  • It is the only state investigated by a Special Rapporteur with an open-ended mandate that presupposes Israel’s human rights violations. Special Rapporteurs for all other countries have mandates of limited duration with objective fact-finding missions.
  • It is the only state to be the subject of two blood libels before the UN Commission on Human Rights. In 1991, Syria accused Israel of murdering Palestinian children to use their blood to make Passover matzoth. In 1997, the PLO Observer accused Israel of deliberately injecting 300 Palestinian children with HIV-infected blood.
  • Since 1982, the UN has held only two Emergency Special Sessions of the General Assembly – both dealing with Israel. This is a disturbing selectivity considering the horrors the world has seen in the last two decades.
  • In March 1998, the UN Chairman of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination defended, on record in an official UN meeting, the Holocaust denier, Roger Garaudy, a convicted criminal in France.
  • In March of this year, the Chairman of the same Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination asked why freedom fighters during the Second World War were heroes, while members of Hizbollah are considered terrorists.
  • Only one date is set aside in the UN calendar, November 29th, for the cause of any single People. This, the Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, is observed in all UN headquarters and devoted almost exclusively to bashing Israel.
  • Two Special Committees of the UN and a whole division of the UN Secretariat are devoted to the Palestinian cause – the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People; the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories; and a Division for Palestinian Rights of the Secretariat. Their annual budgets, including the publication of anti-Israel materials, cost the UN millions of dollars. No other cause receives such treatment or funding from the UN.
  • Many UN organizations and bodies – including the World Health Organization and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – routinely pass resolutions highly critical of Israel. The International Labor Organization has even resumed its tradition of holding a special session exclusively on Israel.
  • It is the only state in 50 years to be threatened with a systematic examination for violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which was adopted to protect against the depredations of Hitler’s crimes. The Swiss government, as the depository of the Convention, called a preliminary meeting of experts to discuss application of the Convention’s principles on October 27-29, 1998. It made clear that the meeting was to be “without polemic, without denunciation, without looking for guilty parties.” Nevertheless, a representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights intervened in a statement, even though the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was an observer and not a participant of the meeting. The statement denounced Israel and effectively encouraged that sanctions be levied against Israel an act which is the prerogative of the UN Security Council alone. Astonished, the Swiss Chairman rebuked the High Commissioner, writing: “As Chairman of the Expert Meeting on the Fourth Geneva Convention, I wanted, therefore, to underline how surprised I was by the statement made by the representative of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. This statement was indeed in contradiction to the above- mentioned terms of reference, it was also gravely at odds with the spirit that the Swiss authorities and I, in particular, were trying to breathe into the meeting, so as to avoid any prejudices to the integrity of international humanitarian law and thus, to the interest of the victims of violations of that law all over the world.” An unrepentant High Commissioner replied, upholding her statement that cast Israel as guilty of treaty violations and endorsing sanctions against Israel: “…we made our statement, a statement that I, of course, continue to stand by.”

The UN and anti-Semitism

In 1998, the Vatican released a document reflecting upon the historical relationship of the Catholic Church to Judaism. It states that “anti-Judaism (has become) more sociological and political than religious.”

This observation is particularly true when examining the treatment of Israel within the UN. I do not charge the UN with institutional anti- Semitism. Its Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, stated publicly in a speech in March 1998: “We must use (the) occasion to denounce anti- Semitism in all of its manifestations”.

Yet these words contrast with the actions of some UN Member States within the UN, as well as with the complicitous silence of other Member States, that target Israel. The use of the UN’s various platforms and organs frequently discriminate against Israel and do not uphold the principle of equality enshrined in the UN Charter. The most obvious example is what Secretary-General Annan has referred to as the “lamentable resolution:” the 1975 UN General Assembly resolution equating Zionism with racism. This was a “low point,” stated the Secretary-General, whose “negative resonance even today (after a repeal in 1991) is difficult to overestimate.”

Indeed, its remnants were visible last November, when the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights examined Israel and concluded that Israel’s “excessive emphasis upon the State as a ‘Jewish State’ encourages discrimination.”

Never has the UN denounced the legitimate national purpose of any other Member State. Never in all the years of my association with the UN have I heard a word of racism or the diminishment of any other religious faith within the UN precincts. If such were done, it would be overwhelmingly, promptly, and properly denounced.

In fact, since the UN was created in 1945, it has issued a catalog of declarations, resolutions, and covenants condemning almost every kind of human prejudice from racism to xenophobia. Until 1993, however, anti-Semitism, one of the oldest forms of discrimination, was neither condemned nor even recognized as a form of racism to be combatted.

The result is an environment in which Soviet representatives in the 1960s defended a book representing Jews by evil caricatures such as had appeared in the publications of Hitler’s chief anti-Semitic propagandist, Julius Streicher.

The result was a personal attack on me, as the United States Representative to the UN Commission on Human Rights, for “obeying the orders of Zionists and the Jews of America.”

The result was listening to the Syrian delegate to the UN Commission on Human Rights refer publicly to one of the most anti-Semitic tracts ever written, The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. The delegate agreed that there is a Jewish conspiracy to control the world, emphasizing, “It’s true, it’s true.”

Not a single UN Member State then challenged any of these acts of anti-Semitism that occurred in official UN meetings except for the United States and Israel.

Some explain away the failure of States or non-governmental organizations to stand up for the UN Charter’s principles when anti- Semitism is so clearly exhibited. Others argue that the UN is unimportant or ineffective – a toothless tiger that does not merit dignifying the play in its forums or the irrelevance of its resolutions with serious attention. It is true that the UN Member States have not “saved succeeding generations form the scourge of war,” as they determined in the Charter. But billions of people worldwide look up to the institution as representing the better angels of our nature. Intolerance voiced and practiced in its fora gains credibility and can become accepted national policies.


Secretary-General Annan referred to the mistreatment of Israel within the UN on March 25, 1998, when he said: “‘I know that the United Nations is regarded by many as biased against the State of Israel. I know that Israelis see hypocrisy and double standards in the intense scrutiny given to some of its actions, while other situations fail to elicit the world’s outrage and condemnations.”

What can the US Congress do to bring the UN into closer compliance with its Charter principle of treating equally all Member States large and small? What can the US Congress do specifically to end Israel’s mistreatment within the UN?

The Congress should recommend:

1. The retirement of the various politicized and obsolete UN bodies that deal with the subject of Israel in a biased manner.

2. The reallocation of funds previously appropriated to these bodies to projects supporting peace, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law around the word.

3. The reform of the UN regional group system of representation which excludes Israel from playing any significant role and from defending itself against attacks within the UN.

4. The immediate cancellation of the politicized July 15, 1999, meeting of signatories of the Fourth Geneva Convention to examine Israel’s human rights record in the territories.

5. A UN World Conference to combat anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is a persistent discrimination that threatens people, the security of a democratic UN Member State, Middle East peace, and the moral standing of the UN itself.  As the world’s preeminent power and as a UN Member State, the US should support the UN. American leadership can help ensure a credible, accountable UN that embraces the noble ideals in its Charter.

UN Watch