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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JEANE KIRKPATRICK once remarked that while she was a professor of political science there were two mysteries she could not understand: how the Holocaust could have happened, and how the rest of the world could have let it happen. Things became clear once she took her post as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 1981. The anti-Semitism of many member nations, and the reluctance of others to compromise their "neutrality" while pursuing their own political ends, were almost as much on view during her tenure at the United Nations as they had been in Europe four decades earlier.

On March 18, U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan released a letter to the media telling Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that Israel must end what he called the "illegal occupation" of Palestinian lands. This statement was false. As George P. Fletcher noted in the New York Times, and other legal experts have long affirmed, "it is not illegal for victorious powers to occupy hostile territory seized in the course of war until they are able to negotiate a successful peace treaty with their former enemies." In recognition of this precept, following the war of June 1967 the Security Council passed Resolution 242 calling for Israeli withdrawal from "territories" rather than from "the territories," precisely avoiding the implication that the occupation itself was illegal. Annan not only obscured this crucial distinction, but then downplayed the significance of his terminology--on the perverse grounds that such incrimination of Israel had subsequently become common coin within his organization.

What Annan should have been seeking to end is the pernicious role of the U.N. as instigator and abettor of a possible international conflagration. The U.N.'s assault on Israel, in direct violation of its Charter, now rivals even the Jew-hating indoctrination that preceded World War II. The very organization that is charged with ensuring the equal protection of all nations, large and small, has become the spearhead of attempts to destroy one of its most vulnerable members.

THE U.N.'S first debate over Palestine set the pattern for everything that followed. On November 29, 1947, a two-thirds majority of the General Assembly adopted the recommendation of the Ad Hoc Committee on Palestine to divide the already divided area (of which Jordan had the lion's share) into a Jewish and an Arab state. The Jews accepted partition; the Arabs opposed it by force. Although the resolution gave Jews only a sliver of what the 1917 Balfour Declaration had promised them and a fraction of their historic homeland, they established Israel on the land they were accorded. The U.N. did not intervene when five Arab countries then attacked the new state, vowing to push its inhabitants into the sea. For the next 53 years Arab states fought Israel and never had to abide by the outcome of their military defeats. And they discovered early on that the U.N. would defer to their vast demographic and political advantage rather than come to Israel's defense.

It is worth asking why the Arabs did not accept the partition of Palestine and encourage the Palestinian Arabs to develop their independence. Arab states claim that they are opposed to Israel because the Jews deprived the Arabs of their land, but in refusing to partition Palestine, it is they who insisted on keeping the Palestinians homeless. Had Arab governments settled their Palestinian brethren as Israel did the Jewish refugees from Arab lands, they would have lacked evidence of Jewish malfeasance on which to base their politics of grievance. Maintaining Palestinian Arabs in refugee camps was a calculated strategy for organizing Arab politics in perpetual opposition to the Jews. The United Nations was charged with supporting a population that their fellow Arabs were determined to retain as refugees. They preserved and administered the squalid refugee camps. And those camps--the consequence of Arab policy--have been used to demonstrate the iniquity of Israel.

Let us acknowledge that the United Nations cannot successfully broker all the international conflicts that fall under its aegis, but in no other case except that of Israel did the organization become a weapon of belligerents against one of its members. When the United Nations took over the refugee camps instead of making Arab governments resettle their fellow Arabs, it absolved the Arabs of responsibility for their aggression, and perpetuated the apparent "evidence" that Israel had displaced the Palestinians. Similarly, following each new defeat on the field of battle, the Arabs resorted to the United Nations to end the conflict in a way that would preclude the need to concede Israel's legitimacy, and that would charge Israel retroactively with responsibility for their war against it.