Guterres’ Israel visit – an opportunity to reset relationship with the UN
August 29, 2017 22:26
From August 27-29, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres makes his first visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Guterres’ trip to the region will hopefully serve as an opportunity to improve the UN’s dysfunctional relationship with Israel and establish better cooperation.
For better and for worse the UN has played a central role in Israel’s history. The UN Charter, incorporating the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, and the November 29, 1947 vote endorsing the partition plan, provided legitimacy to Israel’s formation as a modern nation state.
However, in addition to this founding role the UN has played a highly destructive part in the region, often fueling the Arab-Israeli conflict and acting as a significant contributor to global antisemitism. For example, the UN has allowed the Arab League and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation to hijack the institution to promote its strategy of anti-Israel rejectionism. As a result, Israel is singled out at almost every UN body for condemnation – to the effect of more resolutions passed against the state than all other countries combined.
At the General Assembly, the body denigrated Jewish self-determination by passing the bigoted Zionism is Racism resolution in 1975, which while revoked, still has had a lasting effect. Notably, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) revived this antisemitic canard to launch BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) campaigns against Israel at the 2001 UN Durban Conference.
UN agencies have also played a disturbing and significant role in enabling Palestinian terrorism – whether through the invention and promotion of a so-called “right of resistance” or by erasing the context of Palestinian terrorist attacks in its dozens of reports on Israel (see the 2009 Goldstone Report).
UNRWA – the UN agency dedicated solely to the Palestinian refugees – prolongs the conflict by fetishizing the “return” of Palestinians to cities within Israel’s 1948 borders and looks the other way when its teachers post vicious antisemitic and violent content on social media.
UNIFIL – the so-called “peacekeepers” on the Lebanese border – have allowed Hezbollah to reestablish posts steps away from Israeli towns and to embed more than 100,000 missiles, aimed at Israeli civilians, in Lebanese villages.
Notably, since taking office in October 2016, Secretary General Guterres has taken important steps to reset Israel’s relationship with the UN, speaking out strongly against the institution’s antisemitism and seeking to implement much needed and long-overdue reforms. For instance, Gutteres has emphasized that the denial of Israel’s right to exist is a form of antisemitism and has denounced the recent resolutions passed by UNESCO for denying Jewish historical connection to the region. In March 2017, he ordered the removal of a report issued by a UN agency known as “ESCWA” that employed the apartheid slur and promoted BDS campaigns. After a Palestinian NGO participated in the inauguration of women’s center named after a terrorist who slaughtered 38 Israelis, he prompted UN Women to retract its funding.
These actions should be commended, but there is still much work to be done. UN agencies such as the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) are explicitly engaged in the promotion of anti-Israel demonization. These agencies partner with and routinely rely on a small group of NGOs with alleged affiliations to terrorist groups, leaders of BDS campaigns, and groups that espouse antisemitic views, to produce reports aimed at continuing the UN’s trend of anti-Israel political warfare. For instance, OHCHR is currently preparing a discriminatory blacklist targeting companies that do business with Israel. Furthermore, the UN special rapporteur to the region was appointed specifically because he has a history of extreme anti-Israel activism.
To right these many wrongs, Secretary General Guterres should reform the UN reporting process and insist that UN agencies consult a wide variety of actors, rather than the current uncritical reliance on political partisans and select NGOs. He should demand that OHCHR immediately cancel the discriminatory blacklist and insist that future endeavors relating to corporate activities must include all countries. Guterres should further demand that UNHRC end its practice of appointing anti-Israel demagogues as Rapporteurs and disqualify any candidates that fit this profile. Finally, he must end UN funding to NGOs that are affiliated with terrorist groups, promote BDS, deny Israel’s right to exist, and/or express antisemitic views.
Carrying out these much needed reforms will send a clear message that the “anti-Israel business as usual” at the UN is a thing of the past. By taking these steps, the UN and Israel can restore their relationship and embark on a new era of positive and constructive engagement and cooperation.
The author is the legal adviser of NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institute. She is also the organization’s liaison to the UN.