The U.N. and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: A Legacy of Bias and Failure


by Aaron Feigenbaum.

Section of the UN building

Section of the UN building

The United Nations, founded in 1945 with the goal of restoring peace, fairness, and justice to a shattered post-war world, has fallen woefully short of its goals in so many areas. Chief among these goals is solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. U.N. involvement in the conflict dates back almost to the organization’s founding, but its pervasive anti-Israel bias, at times verging on anti-Semitism, pervades almost every facet of the U.N. and has destroyed its credibility as an impartial mediator.

Israel is the Middle East’s only democracy and shows much greater respect for human rights and due process than its neighbors, yet Israel is singled out time and time again by the U.N. for criticism, including criticism by those who are themselves serious human rights abusers. The bias extends beyond resolutions passed in the General Assembly; it also includes, among other things, anti-Israel sentiment in the Human Rights Council, UNRWA (the U.N.’s refugee committee), and even UNESCO which is tasked with designating World Heritage Sites.

So how did this sad situation come about? How did the organization that played a major role in founding and legitimizing the State of Israel in the first place morph into an anti-Israel kangaroo court?

The story of the U.N.’s involvement in the conflict starts with the Partition Plan of 1947. Though it was famously rejected by the Arab League and the vast majority of citizens of Arab countries, it nonetheless set the stage for the U.N.’s official recognition of Israel in 1949. For the next few decades, the U.N’s treatment of Israel continued to be relatively fair and impartial, despite its deplorable silence on the refugee crisis of Jews expelled from Muslim lands. The U.N.’s most pro-Israel resolutions after Israel’s creation were arguably numbers 242 and 338 written in 1967 and 1973 respectively. According to Joshua Muravchik, author of the new book “Making David into Goliath: How the World Turned Against Israel,” these resolutions “implicitly acknowledged that Israel need not relinquish all of the territory captured in the Six-Day War.”

UN Partition Plan

UN Partition Plan

Soon after these resolutions though, the likes of which we would never see in today’s hostile climate, the tide began to turn against Israel at the U.N. According to Muravchik, recently decolonized Arab and non-Arab nations teamed up with their Soviet benefactors to form the Non-Aligned Movement which is now 120 members strong and dominates every branch of the U.N. except the Security Council in which 5 permanent members hold veto power. This bloc, mostly made up of dictatorships, can be relied upon to vote consistently against Israel.

This anti-Israel cabal made its first big move in 1975 with the passing of the infamous and shameful Resolution 3379 which singled out Zionism as a form of racism. Though it was later revoked in 1991 under intense pressure from the first Bush administration, the fallout from it did irreparable harm to the U.N.’s credibility. (It’s noteworthy that on the same day 3379 was rescinded the U.N. called on Israel to cancel its declaration of Jerusalem as its capital and withdraw from the “occupied territories. Furthermore, the charge that “Zionism = Racism” was repeated at the U.N.’s three Durban Conferences on racism.”) Yet, in terms of the sheer number of anti-Israel resolutions passed 3379 was only a drop in the bucket.

The U.N. began to obsess over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, taking such actions as establishing the “Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People,” declaring an “International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People,” and issuing resolution after resolution condemning Israel for defending its own citizens. Meanwhile, the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty of 1979 came about without the U.N.’s help, the U.N.-sponsored peace talks in Geneva having failed to produce any results. Likewise, the Oslo Peace Accords of 1993 and Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty of 1994 were both passed without the U.N.’s involvement. Laughably, on the same day the U.N. voted in 1991 to hold a peace conference it passed yet another anti-Israel measure. However, after the passage of the Oslo Accords there was a significant lull in the number of anti-Israel resolutions passed. For once, a U.N. call for peace in the Middle East issued in 1993 did not criticize Israel. The U.N. condemned terrorism against Israel for the first time and the Human Rights Commission officially listed anti-Semitism as a form of racism (better late than never!)

Not surprisingly, this moment of reconciliation between Israel and the U.N. proved to be short lived as the unfair criticism, denial of Israel’s right to defend itself, and general obsession with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ramped up again in the mid-1990‘s.

After the Second Intifada, the U.N.’s anti-Israel bias became even more intense and vitriolic. For the most part, the U.N. has completely ignored or even tacitly approved the violent actions of Hamas, Hezbollah, and other terrorist organizations. Sounding no different from Hamas propaganda, a 2002 resolution passed by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights (now the Human Rights Council) went so far as to declare that the Palestinians have a “legitimate right” to “resist the Israeli occupation in order to free its land and be able to exercise its right of self-determination.” Of course, there was no mention of the right of Israel to defend itself from terrorist attacks. Even when the U.N. appears to be neutral, as when it’s pushing through a ceasefire, these ceasefires almost always benefit Hamas as they cause Israel to lose its upper hand. And even then, Hamas is always the one to violate them.

To take another example of U.N. bias, an egregious breach of the spirit of the U.N. Charter occurred in 2005 at an event at U.N. headquarters where a Palestinian exhibition displayed a map of Israel that was not labeled Israel but rather “Palestine.”

The West Bank security fence, a lifesaving measure that has virtually stopped all West Bank-based terrorism, is also not immune to the U.N.’s wrath. The wall was declared “illegal” while no such condemnation, much less prolonged discussion, has been leveled against, for example, Morocco’s Wall with Western Sahara which illegally protrudes into the sovereign territory of neighboring Mauritania and has violated human rights.

Israel's security barrier whcih is credited with putting an end to the terror experienced in the second Intifada

Israel’s security barrier which is credited with putting an end to the terror experienced in the second Intifada

Another shameful chapter in the U.N.’s long history of anti-Israel bias is that of the critically flawed Goldstone Report, issued in 2009 in response to Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. The report claimed that Israel deliberately targeted civilians while Hamas did not. Two years later, Judge Goldstone retracted both those claims. Despite the glaring errors, omissions, and distortions and overall misguided nature of the report, the U.N. and most of its member states unhesitatingly endorsed it as an accurate account.

As we see with the Gaza conflict raging right now, the U.N. is still as biased as ever against Israel. The Human Rights Council recently passed Resolution S-21 creating a commission to report on human rights violations in the war. However, this is not a resolution calling for a fair trial that considers the evidence before making an informed decision. With barely a mention of Hamas’ indiscriminate rocket attacks, the resolution automatically assumes that Israel is the guilty party and thus, like the Goldstone Report, relinquishes all pretense of credibility. It is also worth mentioning that in 2007 even U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon criticized the Council’s disproportionate focus and unfair treatment of Israel saying “The Secretary-General is disappointed at the Council’s decision to single out only one specific regional item, given the range and scope of allegations of human rights violations throughout the world.”

However, the issues go even deeper than anti-Israel bias. It is clear that this bias borders on, if not qualifies as, anti-Semitism but there have also been outright anti-Semitic statements made by national representatives at the U.N. that have gone unchallenged or have even been endorsed by U.N. officials.

For example, in 1991 the Syrian Ambassador repeated the medieval blood libel of Jews killing Christian children to use their blood for matzos. This repulsive lie was only challenged months later after U.S. pressure. In 1997 a Palestinian representative accused the Israeli government of infecting hundreds of Palestinian children with HIV. This statement has not been contradicted or challenged on the official U.N. record. In 2005, Jean Ziegler, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food labeled the Gaza Strip as an “immense concentration camp.” Despite a U.N. spokesman’s rejection of Ziegler’s statement, the U.N. took no punitive action against Ziegler. In 2008, the former president of the General Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, openly embraced former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran right after the latter made a brazenly anti-Israel and anti-Semitic speech. Brockmann also made a speech where he equated Israeli policies with apartheid and called for an international boycott of Israel.

One of the saddest moments in the U.N.’s history occurred in 2003 when for the first time a resolution outright condemning anti-Semitism was proposed in the General Assembly but the sponsor of the bill, Ireland, was forced to withdraw it due to lack of support.

Then, in one of the U.N.’s most outrageous and insulting acts, UNESCO earlier this year indefinitely postponed an event due to take place in Paris called “The People, The Book, the Land: The 3,500-year relationship between the Jewish people and the land of Israel.” The reason cited by UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General Eric Fait was that the peace process was “at a delicate stage.”

Finally, the U.N.’s acceptance of “Palestine” as a member of the General Assembly in 2012 not only did absolutely nothing to further the peace process, but now has the effect of lending Hamas legitimacy on account of the Hamas-Palestinian Authority merger earlier this year.

To say that the U.N. is in need of reform is an understatement. It is a broken system where anti-Israel bias is the norm and where discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict takes precedence over such pressing issues as Darfur, Congo, or Syria. However, while it’s tempting to dismiss the U.N. wholesale, we should keep in mind the U.N.’s many positive achievements in the areas of education, peacekeeping, and humanitarian aid.

(Sources: Jewish Virtual Library, UN Watch, Ynet News, New York Post, Times of Israel, L.A. Times, Anti-Defamation League)