Few have mastered the art of division and diversion better than Israeli governments, and even fewer have used it to greater effect. The manufactured outrage over the UN’s alleged bias against Israel is a classic example; instead of addressing the issues raised by many different UN bodies, Israel and its supporters have accused the organisation of anti-Semitism.
This is nothing new, while individual and national critics of Israel half expect to be smeared in this way, this kind of strident denunciation of the entire international umbrella organisation as a racist entity is rare.
I assume that this is because the acceptance of such an accusation demands the suspension of rational and reasonable thought, as well as a predilection for conspiracy theories; or just an unhealthy dependence on a certain lobby for political survival. The current Israeli government led by Benjamin Netanyahu seems to be more strident than ever and has a new, sycophantic US ambassador to the UN to offer unquestioned support. Thus the theory has been elevated to fact and manufactured outrage is treating the allegation as serious; so much so that every US senator, all 100 of them, have signed a letter released today asking UN Secretary-General António Guterres to address what the lawmakers in Washington call entrenched bias against Israel at the world body.
In the senators’ letter, which was published by the Washington Post, they not only accuse the UN of using its “privileged platform to advance an anti-Israel agenda” and exploiting UN institutions to target Israel, but they also connect the “anti-Israel bias” with the “broader scourge” of anti-Semitism.
According to the US senators, the UN has, at times, reinforced global anti-Semitism. This is outrageous nonsense, but very serious nonetheless.
The UN may have many problems, but inherent anti-Semitism is certainly not one of them. Israel was, after all, created by the UN in one of the first acts of the nascent organisation. It is the only state in the world to be founded in this way. Furthermore, the very structure of the UN has enabled Israel to be protected, particular by the US, from prosecution for many decades’ worth of violations of international law. Despite this, supporters of Israel not only accuse the UN of double standards and for singling out the state for undue criticism, but also accuse campaigns like the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which has its roots in the International Court of Justice 2004 opinion against the Israeli separation wall, of hypocrisy. The double standards and “singled out” claims follow a familiar pattern. “What about Syria, Iran, North Korea, Iraq or the dozens of other countries with a worse human rights record?” ask Israel’s supporters. “Or for that matter countless other conflicts where there has been a greater loss of life?” Criticism of Israel is disproportionate, they insist. Are they correct? I think not. Such protests are a sign of desperation. When grave accusations of human rights abuses and violations of international law simply cannot be denied any longer, then the next best thing is to divert attention from the reality on the ground towards a manufactured problem. In this case, the credibility of the individuals and institutions reporting Israeli crimes is called into question; shoot the messenger writ large. It does not matter that the people and organisations responsible are merely doing their job by monitoring breaches of international laws and conventions; what matters to the pro-Israel lobby is that they have reported the truth more often than Israel would like. Just why this is patently absurd is not rocket science. What would our response be if white South Africans had sought to divert attention from their many abuses during the apartheid era by accusing the anti-apartheid movement of racism and hypocrisy? There were, remember, many tyrants and despots around the world at that time, so why “single out” the minority white South African government for criticism? Using the pro-Israel logic, racist South Africans would have been perfectly justified in accusing the anti-apartheid movement of double standards. Racism and injustice could have been ignored when worse atrocities were being carried out in others parts of the world, or so the pro-Israel crew might have insisted; as, it must be said, happens today in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. Would any reasonable person have bought that argument then? Of course not, apart from the apartheid government in Pretoria which, by the way, maintained close ties with Israel to the very end. Indeed, some Afrikaner farmers ended up moving to the Israeli-occupied West Bank precisely because they felt at one with apartheid Israel. We cannot afford to buy the argument today.
The simple fact is that Israel has ignored more UN resolutions — something like 80 plus — than any other country and yet it enjoys an enviable position within the international system. Unlike, for example, countries such as Syria, Iran, Russia, North Korea, Iraq and Zimbabwe which have faced UN sanctions at one stage or another, Israel’s violations of human rights and international law go unpunished. If Israel has been singled out for special attention at all, it is to receive unprecedented political, military and financial privileges from the US and its Western allies, despite its appalling human rights record.
If the legions of Israel’s supporters want an equal playing field, they should call for sanctions on their favoured state and not allow it to be singled out for such privileged treatment. This isn’t a question of comparable levels of human rights abuses and atrocities; it’s about what Israel is allowed to get away with, which is just about anything and everything you can think of. It is true to say that certain conflicts over the past 50 years — South Africa, Israel/Palestine, Algeria, Vietnam — have stood out as exceptional for many people in the West, especially those on the left. The common denominators, the strands that tie these conflicts together, include Western imperialism and the related phenomenon of settler-colonialism.
With conflicts like those mentioned, there was no moral or legal ambiguity. Colonisation, occupation and discrimination is just plain wrong and illegal. Because of the anti-colonial struggles and civil rights movements of the past, there thus exists a near-reflexive response when states — such as Israel — employ the tactics of the pre-civil rights era in the post-colonial age.It is also true that the UN does have a special responsibility when it comes to Israel and Palestine, a fact about which former UN special rapporteur Richard Falk reminded US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley: “Immediately after World War II, a war-weary Britain, then the Mandatory authority in Palestine as a result of arrangements following World War I, turned over the future of Palestine to the UN for resolution,” recapped Falk in a letter to Haley. “The UN was, therefore, from the outset of its existence, given a responsibility for finding a solution to the conflict in Palestine. This was unlike any comparable responsibility the UN possesses anywhere else in the world.”
Given the unique and special role it had in the creation of Israel and the subsequent commitment to end the conflict it helped to create, the UN is morally and legally obliged to ask, as Falk does, why seven decades of human suffering and insecurity have resulted from the its failure to discharge this obligation. The bigger question, which the “anti-Semitism” diversion tries to avoid, is not why the UN has paid too much attention to Israel but why the UN has repeatedly failed to do enough to bring its influence to bear for Israel to be called to account and produce a sustainable and just peace. With such an abysmal record over Palestine — towards which it has most certainly not been biased; the facts are there for all to see — it is both pertinent and more accurate to ask why the UN is biased towards Israel and complicit in the protection of what is fast becoming a rogue state.