UN Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer was recently in Johannesburg where I attended a talk he gave on the UN’s evil-stepmother-like treatment of Israel. UN Watch is a Geneva based NGO that monitors the performance of the United Nations by the yardstick of its own Charter.
Neuer addressed the question “At the UN, Does Israel Dwell Alone?”
The answer, an emphatic yes.
Neuer says the tide turned in the 70s when, after many failed attempts to destroy Israel on the military battle field, the Arab states opened a new front on the diplomatic battle field. In 1975 they celebrated the passing of the disgraceful Soviet led “Zionism is racism” resolution. This resolution was eventually repealed in 1991, but ‘the spirit of the resolution lives on in the halls and chambers of the various UN commissions’.
With great prose, energy and wit, Neuer used the highest human rights body in the world - the UN Human Rights Council/Commission (UNHRC), as the context for his criticism.
The UN Human Rights Council has replaced the now defunct UN Human Rights Commission because the world’s despots used it to shield their own cruel records - ‘the steak lovers joined the vegetarian committee’ as Neuer put it. Unfortunately, not much has changed, the group’s behaviour, like their acronym ‘UNRHC’, has remained the same.
Neuer described how the UN’s bias manifests itself in 3 primary tools of discrimination – resolutions, agendas and independent experts.
Resolutions: At the Commission, over a 40-year period, 30 percent of the resolutions condemning specific states for human rights violations were against Israel—and in its last years, the figure rose to 50 percent. In 2005, for example, the Commission adopted four resolutions against Israel and four resolutions against all other states in the world.
The new Council has fared even worse. 100% of its resolutions passed have been against Israel. No other nation, not Sudan, Zimbabwe nor Burma, has been condemned by the new UN Human Rights Council.
Agenda Items: The UNHRC meets once a year for 6 weeks. They have voted to make a review of alleged human rights abuses by Israel a permanent feature of every council session. This means that the yearly agenda has one specific item for Israeli Human Rights violations and another agenda item for human rights violations perpetrated by the rest of the world.
Experts: The UNHRC has some 40 independent experts (Special Rapporteurs). John Dugard is the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories. His actual mandate however, is to look exclusively into Israeli violations – this despite the fact that more Palestinians have been killed by Palestinians than by Israelis in the last 1.5 years.
Last year I attended a talk by Dugard at Wits University in Johannesburg where he admitted that his mandate is flawed… nonetheless he still zealously embraces it.
Dugard’s title is fake. And so is he. Neuer related how after Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was kidnapped near Gaza last year Dugard addressed the UN with this sordid opening, “At the outset I wish to make it clear that I have every sympathy for Corporal Gilad Shalit; and indeed for all Israel's young soldiers compelled to serve in the army of an occupying power."
Then there is the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food – Jean Ziegler. During 2004 it emerged that Jean Ziegler was using UN funds and resources to run an anti-Israel boycott campaign. Israel was the only place Ziegler visited that year. As Neuer explained, the Palestinians may indeed be suffering , but they are not starving. We don’t see images of ‘walking-skeleton’ Palestinian kids in Gaza. ‘If they existed we’d see them,’ Neuer promised. So why the obsession with Israel from a man mandated to uphold our ‘right to food’?
How does Ziegler explain the disproportionate time, effort and funds that he has spent on the Palestinian Israeli crisis? There has never been a food emergency declared in the territories. Child malnutrition in the West Bank and Gaza is 3% - the lowest in the entire Arab world. Child malnutrition in Burundi is 50% yet Ziegler made zero statement about Burundi that year, instead making 22 statements about Israel. (Incidentally, Jean Ziegler is cofounder of the Moammar Khaddafi Prize for Human Rights—an award he went on to win himself in 2002. He was also condemned by none other than Kofi Annan after calling Israel a Nazi state – an example of where anti-Zionism becomes anti-Semitism according to a special report on racism and related intolerance adopted by the UN in August this year.)
So does it all matter? The UN is a joke, right? In 1994 during the Rwandan genocide, Rwanda itself sat on the UN Security Council. No wonder nothing was done to stop the slaughter! So if the UN is such a joke, who cares about the anti-Israel bias?
Neuer claims it does matter. In most of the world the UN has great credibility. In many places, their statements become gospel.
Neuer eloquently described how words, UN words, have meaning and that ‘thought is father to deed’. The UN statements have effect. They are cited by well meaning people and by ill meaning people. Citing the UN invokes international legitimacy and ‘this war is a war of legitimacy’. ‘If you don’t have legitimacy then you have nothing’. After all, it was a lack of legitimacy that eventually tore down the Soviet Union.
Neuer concluded by summing up what the UN Watch is doing to address these problems. It’s all about educating public opinion. Explaining what the votes mean and how they took place. It’s a thankless and tiring job. If you want to know more head over to www.unwatch.org
For those that missed it earlier this year, here’s a link to a well delivered and fiery speech Hiller Neuer gave at the UN Human Rights Council earlier this year where he lambasted the Council for their disgraceful and prejudiced performance. The chair hit back, deeming the speech ‘inadmissable’ because it failed to abide by minimal levels of respect for the members of the UNHRC.