To the Editor:
Anne Bayefsky’s superb article needs no embellishment [“The UN and the Jews,” February]. She effectively condemns the United Nations and its leadership for virtually abandoning the central focus of its creation as expressed in its charter: “faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, and in the equal rights of men and women.” The UN’s record of contempt for Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East and the sole state in the region committed to these fundamental principles, supports that condemnation.
Since 1964, the UN has enacted more than 400 General Assembly and 80 Security Council resolutions highly critical of Israel. The UN’s so-called World Conference Against Racismin Durban, South Africa turned into an anti-Semitic orgy, leading the United States to withdraw its delegation. In 2002, the UN Commission on Human Rights, headed by Mary Robinson, not only condemned Israel but confirmed “the legitimate right of the Palestinian people to resist Israeli occupation” in a context that clearly justified suicide bombings against Israeli civilians.
That same year, Israel’s military intervention in Jenin, a town believed to have been the origin of a terrorist attack, was labeled a “massacre” by the UN and European authorities, who condemned the killing of “thousands” of Palestinians. A later UN investigation discovered that 24 Israeli soldiers and 52 Palestinians, most of them combatants, were killed. Finally, the UN has created three separate Palestinian task forces, each with large UN-paid staffs, which promulgate the anti-Israel message of the PLO. And these instances—together with others cited by Anne Bayefsky—are only the tip of the iceberg.
The principles of the UN, as reflected in its charter, provide us with the direction we must take in fighting the chaos that threatens Israel, the U.S., and the rest of the civilized world. At the initiative of Freedom House, the U.S. began a process in 2000 to establish a world-wide Community of Democracies. Under the leadership of Secretary of State Madeline Albright and in cooperation with Poland, Chile, Mali, South Korea, and others, the first organized meeting of about 100 states took place in Warsaw in June 2000. A second meeting, strongly supported by Secretary of State Colin Powell, took place in Seoul in November 2002. A third meeting, with, one hopes, more stringent standards for admission, is scheduled next year in Chile. The purpose of the Community is “the promotion of democratic government.” Its unanimously agreed-upon program includes the formation of a UN Caucus of Democratic States.
An international body like the UN, to which even authoritarian states belong, is highly desirable. Discussion and constructive exchange may flow from it. But it is important not to bestow on such a body the appearance of principle or wisdom. For that, a united force, committed to human rights and democracy, must exist within the United Nations.
Ambassador Max M. Kampelman
To the Editor:
Anne Bayefsky has written an important and insightful piece. Congratulations to Commentary for shedding some light on a critical subject that gets far too little attention.
Yet the article fails to mention what is perhaps the UN’s most egregious act against Israel. The UN belatedly admitted that it had misled Israel regarding videotapes of Hizballah’s abduction of three Israeli soldiers from the Lebanese border on October 7, 2000. The tapes, made by UNIFIL (the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon), contained crucial forensic evidence. First the UN denied that such tapes existed, then it issued false reports of what the tapes showed, and finally it refused to turn them over to Israel.
Since the remains of these soldiers—Adi Avitan, Benny Avraham, and Omar Souad—were returned to Israel in February (along with a kidnapped Israeli businessman) in exchange for over 400 Palestinian terrorists, this is a particularly timely moment to note such despicable conduct. Many open questions remain, including the possible complicity of members of UNIFIL with the Hizballah attackers. So far, this matter has not seemed to warrant the attention of Kofi Annan.
New York City
To the Editor:
Anne Bayefsky’s fine article should be required reading for “internationalists” who are hoodwinked by UN rhetoric and cannot see that organization for what it is: a forum existing for the sole purpose of thwarting the interests of the U.S. and Israel.
Anne Bayefsky writes:
As Steve Alexander suggests, it is indeed the case that the U.S. and Israel—and all states sharing democratic values—face in the UN a common threat. The war against terrorism makes this connection very clear. Thus, while Alan Feld is right to draw attention to the UN’s role in the Hizballah abductions of three Israeli soldiers and the subsequent cover-up, the organization’s response to the Palestinian terror campaign suggests it is open season on all Israelis.
The UN has no agreed-upon definition of terrorism. For years, UN adoption of a Comprehensive International Convention on Terrorism has failed because of opposition from the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which insists on a definition of terrorism that excludes suicide-bombing with Israeli victims. Or, as the Arab Terrorism Convention puts it, “all cases of struggle by whatever means” for approved causes are exempt.
The absence of a common understanding of what counts as terrorism makes the UN equally incapable of recognizing self-defense against terrorism, or distinguishing a “cycle of violence” from cause and effect. Though lip service is paid to Israel’s right to defend itself, when Israel actually does anything concrete in self-defense it is condemned.
Targeting or killing Hamas leaders (Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Ismail Abu Shanab, Mahmoud al-Zahar) after deadly attacks against Israelis has been met by denunciations of illegal “extrajudicial killings” from Secretary General Kofi Annan and Terje Roed-Larsen, the special coordinator for the Middle East peace process. In fact, international law makes Yassin, Shanab, and al-Zahar fair targets. They are part of the command-and-control structure of a terrorist organization, combatants in a war and not entitled to a judicial process, particularly where—as here—Israel is unable to make arrests and the Palestinian Authority has no intention of doing so.
The UN’s denial of the necessities of self-defense when it comes to Israel also takes the form of the constant accusation of a disproportionate use of force. In fact, the Geneva Conventions say that “civilians shall not be used to render . . . areas immune from military operations . . . in attempts to shield military objectives from attack.” The rule stipulates that an attack on a military target “which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life” is prohibited if “excessive.” Only in Israel’s case does the UN apply this rule to require zero civilian deaths—as Roed-Larsen did on September 9, 2003 after Israel targeted and killed two Hamas “ticking bombs” in the midst of planning a suicide attack, and one civilian was also killed.
On the contrary, it is the Palestinian Authority that violates international law by permitting killers to live, socialize, and plot freely in densely populated neighborhoods, using these civilians as human shields. The UN gives a green light to terrorists by never once condemning this egregious violation.
In effect, the UN seeks to pin Israelis’ arms behind their backs while the terrorists take aim, a goal recently on display in the judicial arena. The International Court of Justice in The Hague has now been asked by the General Assembly to condemn Israel’s security fence. Among other items before the Court is the November 2003 report from the Secretary General detailing the harm to Palestinians that is said to result from the fence, without describing a single terrorist act against Israelis.
UN condemnation of Israeli actions against terrorism has broader implications for American and coalition actions in the global war on terror. From its Israel-focused launch pad, the UN has cast human rights in opposition to security, and used a search for “root causes” to derail the fight against terrorism. Anti-Semitism, however, never appears on the list of root causes. The recent UN Arab Human Development Report is only one more example of the canard that Israeli “occupation” is responsible for everything from Arab rejection of democracy, to Arab poverty, to the denial of equal rights for Arab women. Exactly the same mentality now condemns the “occupation” of the United States and its coalition partners for every imaginable failure in Iraq.
Ambassador Max M. Kampelman eloquently pleads for a realignment within the UN so that democratic actors will have greater control over its outcomes. I am not optimistic—in part because many democratic states, like those in the European Union, believe that their interests lie halfway between the sponsors of terrorism and the United States. UN reform is a project that is destined to outlive the immediate needs of the war against terror. Threading American foreign policy through the eye of a to-be-revised UN is a prescription we cannot afford to follow.