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.
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.
The tragedy and the peril do not end there. Experience ought to have taught
the international community that anti-Semitism is an instrument of anti-democratic
politics. When a U.N. delegate from Algeria, one of the most notorious
abusers of human rights, recently used Nazi terminology to describe Israel's
treatment of the Palestinians, he was mocking all those who know what
Nazism is and who went to war in order to defeat it. When delegates to
a conference on humanitarian aid spent twelve hours bashing Israel as
opposed to two hours on the AIDS epidemic in Africa, they advertised their
contempt for governments that try to cure disease by scientific means.
A society's deflection of energy to anti-Semitism is a sign of its political
demoralization; the more it whips up frenzy against the Jews, the more
it requires going to war to release that frenzy. The rise of anti-Semitism
at the U.N. correlates with the rise of the politics of resentment against
what Jews represent--an open and democratic society, the ethic of competition
and individual freedom.
Had the United Nations been fulfilling its true mandate, Israel ought
to have sparkled among over 100 even younger nations as the showpiece
of democracy. No other country has ever achieved so much while defending
itself against so relentless an assault. Not even the United States has
successfully integrated so many refugees in ratio to its resident population.
By allowing Arab countries to conscript the U.N. for their war against
the Jewish state, the democracies advertised the weakness of their system.
Every advantage that Arabs have gained over Israel at the U.N. proclaims
the strength of autocracies and dictatorships over liberal democracy.
This lesson is reinforced every time there is a condemnation of the Jewish
The U.S. government is hardly unaware of the enormity of this issue. Testifying
before the House International Relations Committee in the summer of 1999,
a representative of the State Department pointed out that Israel alone
has been denied membership in a regional group, which precludes its membership
on the Security Council and participation in the full range of international
activities conducted at the U.N. He cited the pattern of abusive resolutions
"incompatible with the basic principles guiding the search for peace"
that the United States opposes year after year.
When American politicians, businessmen, or physicians betray their office
or profession, they are subject to investigation so their wrongdoings
can be checked and the system safeguarded. The United Nations has no such
oversight. It has behaved like the physician who kills his feeblest patient,
the businessman who cheats his smallest shareholder, and the politician
who betrays his weakest constituency. Although we have passed the eleventh
hour, the president of the United States ought to form an independent
commission of inquiry to determine how the United Nations betrayed its
mandate, whether anything can yet be done to rectify some of the damage,
and whether the organization as we know it still deserves to exist.