The Magazine

The U.N.'s Jewish Problem

Anti-Semitism has found a comfortable home on the East River.

Apr 8, 2002, Vol. 7, No. 29 • By RUTH R. WISSE
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The Arab assaults had left Israel holding land beyond its original borders. Those territories that Israel gained in self-defense were now exhibited as evidence of Jewish expansionism. Once again, as in the case of the refugee camps, the Arabs misrepresented the consequence of their aggression as the cause of their aggression. The Palestine Liberation Organization, founded in 1964, before Israel came into possession of the disputed territories of the West Bank and Gaza, was increasingly funded by Arab governments as the response to Israel's capture of the territories.

Shortly after the Yom Kippur War of 1973, having failed to dislodge Israel in their third coordinated assault, the Arabs joined the Communist bloc in opening a new U.N. propaganda front. Arab governments recycled Soviet slogans of the 1930s and used their influence to pass a resolution defining Zionism as racism. Zionism is the belief that the Jews should have a country. Israel is that country--as sanctioned by the United Nations. Using the technique of the Big Lie, the Arabs who refused to recognize the Jewish state accused the Jews of committing a racial offense for the sin of wanting their own land.

The United Nations championed this new brand of anti-Semitism for the next fifteen years. Once again, as in the 1930s, an anti-democratic axis had formed in opposition to the Jewish people, only this time its pulpit was the U.N. itself. With the passage of the Zionism-is-racism resolution, Arab leaders demonstrated that it was possible to enlist the U.N. in the prosecution of a fellow member.

When the Zionism-is-racism resolution was repudiated in 1991, thanks to the initiative of the United States, no apology was made to the Jewish people for a campaign of defamation. Nor did the secretariat and U.N. bureaucracy make any attempt to stanch the poison that had seeped into the international arena. Instead, Arab governments were allowed to use the perception they had fostered of Israel's illegitimacy to hijack an ever-increasing proportion of U.N. time and resources--almost 30 percent of Security Council meetings--for a country that contains about one thousandth of the world's population. Indeed, the anti-Jewish campaign of the United Nations reached extraordinary heights at the United Nations Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance that convened in Durban, South Africa, just prior to September 11, 2001. In the words of one observer, "A coalition led by regimes that persecute their own people--and in some cases harbor international terrorists--sought by formal declaration to delegitimize the Jewish state, demonize its people, and mobilize a global movement against its existence as a country." Even longtime students of anti-Semitism were shocked by the level of anti-Jewish invective at the conference, which was obviously intended to deflect criticism from many of the regimes mounting the attacks.

Obsession with Israel at the U.N. is by now as commonplace as the wolfish nature of the wolf in an Aesop fable. Reporting last month on the 46th session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, where the United States tried to promote a resolution on the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan, Kate O'Beirne writes wearily, "In the end there was only one roll-call. It was on that hardy U.N. perennial, the condemnation of Israel." In another recent session, the Commission on Human Rights passed one resolution on the Congo (population: 43 million), none on Burundi (6 million), Somalia (7 million), Angola (10 million), or Algeria (31 million), but five resolutions on the "Occupied Arab Territories" (population: 3.5 million). Canadian legal scholar Anne Bayefsky, who specializes in refugee studies, says this record of the United Nations "ought to be an embarrassment to every democratic U.N. member. The tragedy, and the peril, is that it is not."

IN ALLOWING the Arab countries to internationalize their war against the Jewish State, the United Nations has endangered Jews in new ways. Whereas earlier anti-Semitism could be identified with its evil sponsors and morally, if not militarily, countered, the United Nations lends its presumed legitimacy and prestige to anti-Semitism. The Jew-hatred of certain Arabs and Muslims is one thing; Muslim clerics have even distorted the Koran's injunction against suicide to encourage more killings of Jews in Israel and elsewhere. But on university campuses students now cite the U.N. as the source of their antipathy to the Jewish state. They accept "that hardy perennial, the condemnation of Israel," as a moral beacon rather than the sign of corruption that it is.