In their desperate attempt to divert attention from the brutal reality of its military occupation, Israel and its supporters have successfully employed a number of tactics. None, however, have been more effective than the claim that institutions like the UN and human rights organisations such as Amnesty International are anti-Semitic and biased against the Zionist state. The cry of ”anti-Semitism” is the favoured go-to tactic of Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu when his government is accused of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. Pro-Israel Lobbies in the West also use it.
In his denunciation of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), for example, Netanyahu claimed that it is “setting new records in hypocrisy and lies, out of obsessive hatred of Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East.” The same tactic was employed by Israeli politicians following the publication of a report by Amnesty International calling on the four major digital booking sites – Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor – to boycott hotels, rentals and tourism sites based in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, who is tasked with tackling the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, accused Amnesty of being a leader in anti-Semitism simply due to its support for BDS.
The reaction of Netanyahu and Erdan — members of the most right-wing Israeli government in history, let’s not forget — is no surprise. What is surprising, though, is the fact that British politicians like Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who claim to uphold international law, endorse the hostility of Israel’s far-right by adopting the extreme position of voting against all Agenda Item 7 resolutions at the UNHCR as a matter of principle. This is likely to delight the Trump administration, which quit the council in June last year, citing its approach to Israel. Hunt is thus guilty of peddling the conspiracy theory concocted by Netanyahu that the UN body and human rights organisations are inherently racist and so should not be taken seriously when they criticise Israel. Netanyahu’s claims are a smokescreen behind which Israel commits crimes of varied severity on a daily basis.
The Foreign Secretary would not have reached such a hostile anti-UN position without subscribing to the myth that the world body, whose 1947 Partition Plan actually led to the creation of the state of Israel, is uniquely hostile to the Zionist state and, by extension, is anti-Semitic. While such a claim would normally be denounced as propaganda not dissimilar to Trump’s mainstreaming of dangerous conspiracies about Muslims and minority groups, Hunt has shown that he is keen to join Trump in cheerleading the anti-UN narrative favoured by the Israeli far-right.
Without that useful lie, it is unlikely that Trump would have decided to end all US funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and deny millions of Palestinians basic and essential humanitarian assistance; join Israel and end US membership of UNESCO over claims of anti-Israel bias; and withdraw US support of the UNHCR. Trump is unique in this regard; no previous US President has ever taken such an aggressive stance against the UN and chipped away at its legitimacy in a right-wing alliance with Netanyahu.
Hunt’s endorsement of the anti-UN narrative belies the fact that the UN has in fact enabled Israel to continue its occupation, colonisation, annexation and war crimes with impunity. The US and Britain both have permanent seats at the UN Security Council and have protected the Zionist state through their veto of resolutions taking it to task, or the threat thereof. The high-level political pressure exerted on the UN has seen the international body buckle when it comes to criticising Israel. This was noticeable when the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) accused Israel of “apartheid” against the Palestinian people but was forced to withdraw a 74 page report detailing the ways in which it does this.
Those who view Israel’s permanent inclusion on the UNHRC’s agenda as a sign of anti-Israel bias should consider why the international community feels a special responsibility towards the Palestinians ever since the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine was given to the British following World War One. The League’s successor, the United Nations, entrenched itself into the affairs of Palestinians through the 1947 Partition Plan which undermined existing norms of self-determination. The UN sees itself as bearing special responsibility for the plight of the Palestinians, a fact that explains a number of decisions taken by the General Assembly during the early years of Israel’s existence.
Following the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians – more than half of all Palestinians at the time –by Jewish paramilitary and terrorist groups, the nascent UN’s first decision was to establish UNRWA. It also set up the UN Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP). The first served the humanitarian needs of the Palestinians and the second tried but failed to facilitate their return and compensation to which they were (and are) entitled under international law. The return of Palestinian refugees to their homeland, by the way, was set as a condition for Israel’s membership of the UN; that condition has never been fulfilled. Despite the creation of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) a year later in 1950, Palestinian refugees, due to their unique humanitarian plight, were kept under a special international regime.
Having failed to resolve the question of Palestine during the early years of the conflict, the plight of its people has remained a key issue on the international agenda. Israel’s colonisation and further entrenchment of its occupation of territory designated for a future state of Palestine has heightened global concerns over the plight of 11 million people living under a brutal military occupation or as refugees around the world.
National liberation movements which in the 1960s and 1970s saw the UN as a body for their protests against Western imperialism have come and gone. While colonial regimes in Namibia, South Africa, Cape Verde, Vietnam, Laos and others have in one way or another been dissolved, the Palestinians are no closer to seeing their historical rights implemented.
The claim that the UN is biased against Israel is entirely bogus. The simple fact is that Israel has ignored more UN resolutions — 80+ — 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 continue to 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 and contempt for international laws and conventions.
Hence, if Jeremy Hunt wishes to have Israel treated the same as every other country at the UN, then he should avoid singling out the Zionist state for special treatment. Israel, due in no small measure to British support, has been allowed to get away with decades of human rights abuses and flagrant violations of international law. His hostility towards the UN shows that he is not serious about ending Israel’s brutal military occupation and colonisation of Palestine.
The real question, therefore — which the “anti-Semitism” diversionary tactic tries to conceal — is not why the UN has paid too much attention to Israel, but why the UN has repeatedly failed to do enough to call Israel to account for its war crimes and crimes against humanity. The world, not just the Palestinians, needs to see a just resolution put in place in the occupied territories; a resolution that upholds international law and Palestinian rights instead of kowtowing to every aggressive Israeli demand.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.