Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

As ISIS problem festers, and Syria bleeds, UNGA again focuses its efforts on condemning Israel

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The UN General Assembly (UNGA) is just winding up its 70th session, so this is an opportune time to reflect on the resolutions the international organisation has passed (or is in the process of passing).

On 24 Nov., the UNGA passed six resolutions critical of Israel. Not too bad for a day's work. Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, commented on the special focus Israel received at the UNGA: "Surreal barely captures the scene whereby the world is under assault by terrorists killing in the name of Islam and martyrhood - as Palestinians are doing while stabbing Israeli Jews - and the UN's response is to reflexively condemn Israel in six separate resolutions, all of which are one-sided."

An additional 14 resolutions condemning Israel were expected to pass during the month of December, with an automatic majority based on the UNGA voting blocs dominated by the Non-Aligned Movement, which is in turn effectively dominated by the Arab and majority Islamic states.

Only three resolutions passed by the UNGA during this session have been directed at any other countries, one each regarding Iran, regarding Syria and North Korea.
The resolutions deal with a variety of issues, including settlements, Jerusalem and the so-called Palestinian right of return, but one resolution particularly stands out, as an example of how the anti-Israel bias at the UN is so blind and unthinking that it leads to moral bankruptcy. In its resolution about the "Syrian Golan", the UNGA condemned Israel's control over the Golan Heights and determined that "the continued occupation of the Syrian Golan and its de facto annexation constitute a stumbling block in the way of achieving a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the region."

But everyone knows there is a civil war in Syria - with the fragmentation of rebel groups and terrorists and ISIS, the brutality of the Assad regime, along with its allies, Iran and Hezbollah, the use of chemical weapons, an ever-rising death toll and the millions of refugees fleeing to Europe and neighbouring countries. The country effectively no longers exists as a coherent state. How can anyone argue that, by any stretch of the imagination, the ‘stumbling block' to ‘just, comprehensive and lasting peace' in Syria is Israel?

Even more baffling is the demand made in the resolution that Israel should withdraw from the Golan Heights and give the territory back to Syria. How can the 105 member states of the UNGA who voted in favour of this resolution possibly support throwing the civilian population of the Golan Heights into the hell that is the Syrian Civil War? One can only assume that protecting innocent civilians and preventing human suffering is not high on their agenda. Only six countries (Canada, Federated States of Micronesia, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau, United States) voted against what is clearly a terrible and incredibly immoral idea in the circumstances. 56 countries, including Australia, abstained.

Just to highlight the absurdity of the ‘Syrian Golan' resolution, it was reportedly backed even by countries such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia, which are explicitly and strongly anti-Assad. Apparently Israel-bashing is more important than the disintegration of the Middle East.

"It's astonishing," said Hillel Neuer. "At a time when the Syrian regime is massacring its own people, how can the U.N. call for more people to be subject to Assad's rule? The timing of today's text is morally galling and logically absurd.

"Today's farce at the General Assembly underscores a simple fact: the U.N.'s automatic majority has no interest in truly helping Palestinians, nor in protecting anyone's human rights; the goal of these ritual, one-sided condemnations remains the scapegoating of Israel."

He added:

"The U.N.'s disproportionate assault against the Jewish state undermines the institutional credibility of what is supposed to be an impartial international body, and exposes the sores of politicization and selectivity that eat away at its founding mission."

This blind bias that results in utter absurdity is nothing new. In fact, two years ago, on Nov. 21 2013, I wrote here about the UNGA's anti-Israel bias during its 68th session, when the ridiculousness of the Golan Heights resolution first became apparent, given the devastating developments in Syria. Others have done so as well. Yet despite the rising intensity of the civil war, the UNGA year after year is still more concerned with ritually condemning Israel in its annual sessions than helping and protecting the vulnerable population in Syria, which is still facing an acute and urgent crisis, about which the UNGA did almost nothing.

And this is perhaps the most telling part of this story - this list of anti-Israel resolutions is identical to the anti-Israel resolutions passed last year by the UNGA's previous, 69th session. The voting pattern by UN member states is also remarkably similar. Even the three resolutions concerning other countries (i.e. Iran, Syria and North Korea) are the same. It would seem that as far as the UN agenda is concerned, nothing has changed in a whole year, and that the UNGA sessions are little more than a ritualistic rubber stamp, reaffirming the same biases year after year after year, with no change.

This is, of course, incredibly out of touch with the ever-changing realities of the Middle East, and the new challenges and power shifts facing this volatile region. It is as if from the perspective of the UN, the situation in Syria requires no extra attention, despite the ever-growing intensity of the civil war, the entry of Russia into the region and the out-pouring of refugees. The Iranian problem, for the UN, also apparently remains the same, even in the aftermath of the nuclear deal and the new challenges it poses, not only to Israel, but also to the Gulf countries and their allies. Meanwhile, ISIS' advances and presence in Iraq and Syria, the ways in which it threatens and persecutes vulnerable minority groups such as the Yazidis, as well as its murderous activities in Sinai and the West, are apparently of no significance to the UNGA at all.

Not only is this rigidity and ritualism mindless and unhelpful, undermining both the UN's own legitimacy and moral authority, it also prevents it from playing any actual role in contributing to Middle East peace, it actually makes peace more difficult.

Left-leaning Israeli writer Ari Shavit, in a recent article for the Huffington Post also noted this detachment from reality and counter-productive consequences caused by the UN's Israel biases. He commented on the recent resolutions, arguing that "the text of each and every one is outrageous. It willfully ignores the bitter history and complex reality as they are. It endorses a simplistic, one-sided narrative that is completely pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli... By doing so, it proved that it is profoundly biased, unfair and irrelevant. And it has undermined its own moral authority."

Shavit also pointed out the hypocrisy of the UN's obsession with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the occupation and settlements:

"in May 1967, Israel did not occupy the West Bank and Gaza. There was not one settlement, one checkpoint. But when the Arab armies were amassing on the borders of the 19-year-old Jewish state, the international community failed to act. UN forces deployed in the region in order to guarantee Israel's territorial integrity -- vanished. This formative trauma is now echoed by the incomprehensible behavior of the UN and others regarding the Middle East conflict. Ironically it is the organizations and individuals who are officially committed to peace, that are becoming an obstacle to peace by alienating the Israeli public and amplifying its deepest fears."

This led him to conclude that "only if the international community changes its ways, respects the Jewish democratic state and addresses its justified concerns, can it play a real and constructive role in bringing about the peace we all yearn for."

If the UN ever saw itself as a force for international peace and a protector against human rights abuses, with aspirations to help alleviate human suffering of the weakest populations in the world, it is clearly something that the UNGA agendas fail to reflect. These anti-Israel resolutions are but a symptom of a much broader problem - the annual display of automatic bias against Israel, while ignoring urgent and large-scale crises, threatening millions of people around the world, is a betrayal of the UN mandate itself and its charter.

Despite the ongoing attacks and condemnations of Israel at the UN, there have been some recent tiny symbols this year that suggest some rethinking may be possible in future. An Israeli resolution on utilisation of agricultural technology for sustainable development was passed on Dec. 4 with 124 votes in favour and 37 abstentions, successfully overcoming the obstacles presented by unfriendly voting blocs which generally prevent any Israeli-sponsored idea from being adopted.

The Israeli resolution seeks to make agricultural technologies more accessible in areas stricken by poverty, drought and hunger, thus potentially improving the lives of millions in the developing world.

Israel's Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon commented on the diplomatic achievement:

"It is quite ironic that the group of nations blocking a consensus on this resolution is the same group who would benefit from it most- the Arab group. The need for agricultural technology in the Middle East is undeniable. Yet, as we are all painfully aware, these governments continuously put politics before people and pride before progress."

His words about "politics before people and pride before progress" could also apply to the UNGA as a whole - and the UN will only begin to live up to its high ideals when this changes.

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