Commentary Magazine


Topic: United Nations

Who Disturbs the Peace of Jerusalem?

United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon denounced what he called “provocations” at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount today. The implications of the statement were clear. The UN official was echoing the anger of Arabs who protested the fact that Jews used the holiday of Sukkot to make an annual trip to the compound which is the holiest spot in Judaism as well as the one considered the third holiest by Muslims. But the notion that Jews walking around on the plateau that rises above the Western Wall plaza is intrinsically “provocative” is more than unfair. It tells us pretty much everything we need to know about why an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict is nowhere in sight.

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United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon denounced what he called “provocations” at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount today. The implications of the statement were clear. The UN official was echoing the anger of Arabs who protested the fact that Jews used the holiday of Sukkot to make an annual trip to the compound which is the holiest spot in Judaism as well as the one considered the third holiest by Muslims. But the notion that Jews walking around on the plateau that rises above the Western Wall plaza is intrinsically “provocative” is more than unfair. It tells us pretty much everything we need to know about why an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict is nowhere in sight.

Palestinians are angry about the presence of Jews on the Temple Mount and in particular that of Moshe Feiglin, a right-wing member of the Knesset who is a fierce critic of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Feiglin’s appearance helps fuel Palestinian claims that Israel intends to demolish the mosques on the Temple Mount, a lie that has served to incite anti-Jewish riots and pogroms in the past. Arabs were doubly angered when Israeli police entered the area and discovered supplies of gasoline bombs, rocks, bottle rockets, and fireworks intended for more violence directed at Jews, including worshippers at the Western Wall. The police wound up locking some of the Arabs involved in this activity inside the Al-Aksa Mosque in order to forestall exactly the kind of riot and bloodshed they intended to ignite.

But the international community, in the person of the UN Secretary General, has no interest in protecting the right of Jews to worship at the Wall or to visit the Temple Mount (where they are forbidden to pray). Instead, he chided Israel to maintain the status quo there while also throwing in his condemnation of Jews who move into homes in Eastern Jerusalem.

In reply, Netanyahu rightly noted that Israel has defended free access to the holy places for all faiths. That is something that was unheard of before Jerusalem was unified under Israeli rule in June 1967.

But there is more beneath the surface of the story than the usual misunderstandings or the anti-Israel bias of the United Nations. The battle over Jerusalem’s holy places is a microcosm of the one over the fate of the entire country.

For Palestinians, the notion of sharing the Temple Mount or even Jerusalem remains anathema. To them, Israel’s decision to let the sacred enclosure remain in the hands of the Wakf, the Muslim religious authority, after the city’s unification means nothing. The supposedly moderate Palestinians, in the form of the Palestinian Liberation Organization led by Mahmoud Abbas, claimed the Israelis are trying to expel Arabs and Muslims from the Mount and the mosques.

That is the same lie Palestinian leaders used in 1929 to foment pogroms that killed dozens of Jews. Their purpose is to whip up anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment among Muslims. But it also is a thin cover for their own agenda that involves expunging the Jewish presence from both the city and the country.

After all, it is not Israel that is demanding that Arabs be expelled from any part of Jerusalem that would remain in its hands after peace. But Palestinian leaders treat the eviction of Jews from all of the neighborhoods of Jerusalem that they hope to control in a divided city. They would, in fact, like to return to the “status quo” that existed in the city before 1967 when Jews were forbidden not only to visit the Temple Mount but also the Western Wall.

Though the international community and the UN pay lip service to the idea of a two-state solution that would end the conflict, any such resolution must involve sharing the holy city and places. But that is precisely what Palestinians refuse to do in Jerusalem. They treat Jewish worship and Jewish life as inherently illegitimate anywhere Palestinians reside.

Lest this be put down as merely heightened sensitivity about a particular spot, it is very much of a piece with the positions of Hamas, which remains more popular than Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah Party in the West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip they already rule. Hamas still demands the eradication of Israel and the expulsion/slaughter of its Jewish population. So why should we be surprised that the PA and its official media dismiss any Jewish claims to the city or its holy spots and seek to gin up more religiously inspired violence over the fact that some Israelis took a walk on the Temple Mount?

It would be one thing if only Hamas or those Palestinians that can be dismissed as “extremists” sought to inflame passions over the Temple Mount. But when Abbas’s PLO does this, it illustrates the way all Palestinian factions—moderate as well as extreme—routinely attempt to hype blood libels about the mosques in order to keep the political temperature at fever pitch.

We don’t know yet whether this latest incident is a repeat of the PA’s exploitation of Ariel Sharon’s walk on the Temple Mount that was the excuse for setting off the second intifada violence that Yasir Arafat had already planned to incite. But whether the harbinger of a third intifada or just routine violence, the real provocations on the Mount are not about Jews with nationalist views taking walks but rather about Arabs that seek a Jew-free Jerusalem.

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What Israel Really Wants from Ties with China and India

Writing in Foreign Affairs last week, Rory Miller made the classic mistake of using accurate facts to jump to an erroneous conclusion. He gleefully pronounced the failure of Israel’s effort to convert burgeoning economic ties with India and China into diplomatic capital, asserting that while Israel had expected these ties to “help secure greater international support” for its positions, in reality, China and India have both maintained staunchly pro-Palestinian policies. But though Miller is right about the Asian powers’ policies, he’s utterly wrong about the diplomatic gains Israel hoped to reap from these relationships.

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Writing in Foreign Affairs last week, Rory Miller made the classic mistake of using accurate facts to jump to an erroneous conclusion. He gleefully pronounced the failure of Israel’s effort to convert burgeoning economic ties with India and China into diplomatic capital, asserting that while Israel had expected these ties to “help secure greater international support” for its positions, in reality, China and India have both maintained staunchly pro-Palestinian policies. But though Miller is right about the Asian powers’ policies, he’s utterly wrong about the diplomatic gains Israel hoped to reap from these relationships.

For instance, Miller makes much of the fact that China still votes against Israel on every conceivable issue at the UN. But you’d have to be an idiot–which most senior Israeli politicians aren’t–to expect it to do otherwise.

Flipping China into the pro-Israel camp might be possible if and when it democratizes, since it’s one of the few countries where public opinion actually leans pro-Israel. Indeed, as the Australian paper Business Spectator noted this month, China was among the few places worldwide where Israel was actually winning the social media war during the summer’s fighting in Gaza. And it certainly makes sense for Israel to cultivate this public support in preparation for the day when democratization occurs. But right now, China remains a Communist dictatorship that sees America as its chief foreign-policy rival. Thus as long as Washington (thankfully) remains Israel’s main patron at the UN, Beijing will naturally take the anti-Israel side–not because it cares so passionately about the Palestinian cause (which, unlike Miller, I don’t believe it does), but because it cares about the anti-American cause.

India, despite growing ties with Washington, also has a long tradition of anti-Americanism, as well as a large Muslim minority. Thus New Delhi was never a likely candidate for UN support, either.

And in fact, Miller doesn’t cite any Israeli politician who actually espoused such unrealistic expectations. He simply assumes, on the basis of vague bromides like Naftali Bennett’s “diplomacy can follow economy,” that they musthave held such expectations.

But in reality, Israel is seeking a very different foreign-policy benefit from its trade ties with India and China–one it has never spelled out explicitly, for very good reason: What it wants is an economic insurance policy against European countries that it still officially labels as allies.

The EU currently accounts for about one-third of Israel’s exports. This constitutes a dangerous vulnerability, because Europe is the one place worldwide where Israel faces a real danger of economic boycotts and sanctions. Granted, few European leaders actually want this; they consider the economic relationship with Israel mutually beneficial. But European leaders are generally far more pro-Israel than their publics, and since European countries are democracies, public opinion matters.

To date, the public’s anti-Israel sentiment has produced only marginal sanctions, like those on Israeli exports from the West Bank (a minuscule percentage of Israel’s total exports). But Israel can’t rule out the possibility that public pressure will eventually produce more stringent sanctions if Jerusalem continues refusing to capitulate to EU demands on the Palestinian issue that are antithetical to its security. In short, Israel could someday face a devastating choice between its economic needs and its security needs–unless it can diversify its trade enough to be able to weather EU sanctions if and when they occur.

And that’s precisely what Israel seeks from China and India, two countries with a history of not allowing policy disagreements to interfere with business: If it can build up its Asian trade enough to reduce its economic dependence on Europe, it will be better placed to withstand European pressure to adopt policies inimical to its survival.

Whether Israel will succeed in this goal remains to be seen. But if it does, that will be a diplomatic gain of unparalleled importance–even if it never wins Chinese or Indian support in a single UN vote.

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Obama Discovers the Value of Credibility

Politico has a perceptive story wondering whether and how President Obama’s decision to extend the war against ISIS to Syria will affect his UN diplomacy as the General Assembly meets this week in New York. The story goes through the two obvious options. On the positive side of the ledger, the inclusion of Arab countries in the coalition “could add momentum to U.S. efforts to form a broad international campaign against the radical Sunni group.” As a counterpoint, however, the high-profile military action could be considered too controversial for some. But then Politico hits the third possibility:

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Politico has a perceptive story wondering whether and how President Obama’s decision to extend the war against ISIS to Syria will affect his UN diplomacy as the General Assembly meets this week in New York. The story goes through the two obvious options. On the positive side of the ledger, the inclusion of Arab countries in the coalition “could add momentum to U.S. efforts to form a broad international campaign against the radical Sunni group.” As a counterpoint, however, the high-profile military action could be considered too controversial for some. But then Politico hits the third possibility:

There are also questions at play about the credibility of the U.N. Since Obama and the Arab countries involved acted without U.N. approval, some may again express doubts about the relevance of the global body, particularly when some countries with veto power are intent on blocking concerted action.

Right–on a fundamental level, it doesn’t much matter what happens to Obama’s UN diplomacy. The president will lead a Security Council session tomorrow intended to gain a broad commitment from countries to “stem the flow of foreign fighters to extremist groups” such as ISIS. And that’s not unimportant. Any commitment, especially from Western Europe or the Arab world, helps.

And that is what tells us that Obama’s decision to strike before the UN gathering, instead of after it, was a strategically smart call. Those who oppose the strikes altogether don’t much care about the timing, unless a delay allows for a congressional vote, of course. But if Obama was planning to go it alone anyway, the timing was shrewd.

After Obama balked on attacking Bashar al-Assad’s regime over the dictator crossing Obama’s not-so-red line on chemical weapons, Obama’s defenders made a very silly attempt at spinning that foreign-policy disaster. They said it was the threat of military force from Obama that made Assad willing to strike a deal to turn over his chemical weapons.

Few bought it. And the deal was a joke: not all chemical weapons were listed, and Assad seems to have fooled Obama and cheated the deal anyway (as many assumed would be the case from the beginning). But now he can actually test the effect that a credible threat of force would have since he’ll have backed up his words with actions. Now when Obama says he might attack, he really might.

But what if his willingness to use force doesn’t rally the UN to America’s cause? That’s OK too, since having attacked without the UN in the first place shows that when he believes American interests are truly at stake, Obama will go around the UN. The lack of UN authorization should never be mistaken for a per se “unjust” war. But had he put the Syria strikes on hold until he could rally the UN, Obama would have left just such an impression, and it would have been more complicated to go it alone and more onerous to get the Arab states on board. Now the U.S. is quite clearly not hostage to the whims of the dictator protection racket that is the United Nations.

In other words, in choosing the timing of his Syria strikes wisely, Obama may have learned a lesson about strategic calculation that his critics, especially on the right, have been imploring him to learn. Obama has, thus far, learned this lesson through failure rather than success.

And it’s not just about largely discredited authoritarian creep mobs like the UN. Obama’s faddish fixation on retrenchment chic and Western Europe’s schizophrenic appetite for confrontation have left NATO countries in Russia’s neighborhood unsure their allies will fulfill their obligations of mutual defense. And so they’ve taken matters, however modestly, into their own hands. As Reuters reported last week:

Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania launched a joint military force on Friday that Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski said could start its first exercises in the tense region in the next year.

The three countries and other states in the area have been on high alert since Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region in March – and Western powers accused Moscow of sending troops to back rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Polish defense officials said the new joint unit could take part in peacekeeping operations, or form the basis of a NATO battle group if one was needed in the future.

NATO, being an alliance of democratic-minded free countries, is far more effective at its tasks than the UN generally is at its own, and there’s no comparison when the matter is the defense of the free world. But NATO isn’t exactly in its prime at the moment. Obama is ambivalent about the organization, democracy is in retreat in Western Europe, and Turkey has become an example of a country that could never be admitted to NATO in its current form were it not already in the alliance.

Going through international organizations can be a great way to give any coalition a sense of legitimacy. But countries have interests, and they protect those interests whether the UN approves or not. Barack Obama is going to address the UN with a simple message: he’s not bluffing. For once, they’ll believe him.

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UN Internet Control As Bad As Feared

Back in November 2012, Arthur Herman, author of Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II, warned in the pages of COMMENTARY about what was at stake because of the Obama administration’s decision to turn control over the governance and regulation of the Internet to the United Nations. He explained:

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Back in November 2012, Arthur Herman, author of Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II, warned in the pages of COMMENTARY about what was at stake because of the Obama administration’s decision to turn control over the governance and regulation of the Internet to the United Nations. He explained:

This all began in 2005, when the United Nations sponsored a World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis. That choice of venue was itself rich with irony, since Tunisia’s then dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, was the Arab world’s leading censor of the Internet, and the two sponsors of the summit’s trade fair were China’s biggest network companies, Huawei and ZTE. They are the anchors of China’s Great Firewall that keeps out Western ideas and suppresses dissent—and also leaves it free to hack into the secrets of Western governments and corporations more or less at will. That is precisely the kind of Internet many other countries would like to have, and China emerged from the Tunis meeting as their chief spokesman. Several belong to the so-called G-77 of developing countries, which includes Pakistan, the Philippines, Brazil, and Argentina, as well as Iran, Syria, and Venezuela. They believe that the administration of the World Wide Web by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), headquartered in Los Angeles, isn’t responsive enough to the needs of developing countries, and so they pushed through a paragraph in the Tunis final report that “underlines the need to maximize the participation of developing countries in decisions regarding Internet governance, which should reflect their interests, as well as in development and capacity building”—in other words, in helping governments control what their citizens can see, and can’t see, on the Internet. The best way to do that, China proposed in the run-up to the Tunis meeting, was to take administrative control of the Internet away from ICANN and hand it over to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

And here is Heritage with some more detail. The Obama administration cared little, however. Faced with international passions whipped up by Edward Snowden’s leaks—often framed inaccurately by those seeking to amplify his revelations into something more nefarious—it agreed to complete the handover of Internet regulation to the United Nations earlier this year, a move which will become final in a year.

The United Nations has long made itself a laughing stock with its choice of promotions and chairmanships. Take, for example, Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya becoming chair of the UN Human Rights Commission or Iran chairing a non-proliferation conference. If Hamas were a member of the United Nations, UN bureaucrats would likely find a way to put it in charge of counter-terrorism.

Over the past few years, Turkey has distinguished itself with an unprecedented crackdown on not only the media, but also the Internet and Twitter. So what does the United Nations do? It chooses Turkey to host an Internet governance forum:

Turkey has begun hosting the ninth annual meeting of the Internet Governance Forum, a United Nations-mandated organization, despite a number of recent controversies regarding the country’s Internet freedom record. Speaking at the event Sept. 2, Minister of Transport, Maritime and Communication Lütfi Elvan focused mainly on the issues of “cybercrimes.” “The Internet is abused by criminal networks, terrorist organizations, drug smugglers and child abusers. Sadly, the rampant abuse of the Internet has reached undesirable heights,” Elvan said.

Amnesty International rightly chimed in to criticize Turkey’s selection:

The Turkish government’s prosecution of Twitter critics is a deeply hypocritical stance for the host of the Internet Governance Forum, Amnesty International said today… The event, which takes place in Istanbul between 2 and 5 September, brings together governments and civil society to share best practice on Internet regulation, security and human rights.Twenty-nine Twitter users are being tried in Izmir, Turkey, and face up to three years in jail for posting tweets during last year’s protests that the authorities claim “incite the public to break the law.” None of the tweets contained any incitement to violence.

Many non-governmental activists urging transfer of Internet governance to the United Nations seemed most concerned with taking regulatory power away from a U.S.-based organization and simply hoped that the United Nations would do the right thing once vested with new power over the Internet. The United Nations, however, seems intent on proving itself unworthy. The question for those committed to free speech and free exchange of information is whether it is too late to rectify the situation and save the internet from a UN bureaucracy more inclined to assuage dictatorships like Turkey than defend freedom and liberty.

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The Gaza War Has Changed the Way the World Talks About Hamas

Amid all the metrics commentators propose to determine “who won” Operation Protective Edge, one is staring everyone in the face: the international community’s attitude toward a postwar (if and when the war is over) Gaza. And on that score, Israel seems to have won a convincing victory. The Gaza war has changed the way the world is talking about Hamas and the Gaza Strip–and, despite all their tut-tutting at Jerusalem, they sound quite a bit like Benjamin Netanyahu.

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Amid all the metrics commentators propose to determine “who won” Operation Protective Edge, one is staring everyone in the face: the international community’s attitude toward a postwar (if and when the war is over) Gaza. And on that score, Israel seems to have won a convincing victory. The Gaza war has changed the way the world is talking about Hamas and the Gaza Strip–and, despite all their tut-tutting at Jerusalem, they sound quite a bit like Benjamin Netanyahu.

I wrote last week of the Netanyahu government’s informal proposal for a sort of “economic peace” for Gaza in return for its demilitarization. Despite its record of success, economic peace has never really been embraced by the international community–and when Netanyahu proposes it, it’s usually met with anger and derision. But not this time. This time Hamas seems to have overplayed its hand.

It’s possible that this is Hamas being a victim of its own morbid “success” with regard to the propaganda war. That is, maybe the international community is so torn up by the violence in Gaza that they want more than ever to prevent its recurrence. And no matter how often they try to blame Israel, they seem to understand that there’s only one way to prevent future bloodshed: demilitarize, at least to a significant degree, the Gaza Strip.

Take, for example, the Obama administration. While President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and their staffers and advisors have been intent on criticizing Israel in public and in harsh terms, the president’s loyal defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, reportedly spoke as though he took the need to disarm Hamas for granted last week. And it’s even more significant to hear of European leaders joining that bandwagon. As Foreign Policy reported last night:

Major European powers have outlined a detailed plan for a European-backed U.N. mission to monitor the lifting of an Israeli and Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip and the dismantling of Hamas’s military tunnel network and rocket arsenals, according to a copy of the plan obtained by Foreign Policy.

The European initiative aims to reinforce wide-ranging cease-fire talks underway in Cairo. The Europeans are hoping to take advantage of this week’s 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire to cobble a more durable plan addressing underlying issues that could reignite violence between Israel and the Palestinians.

It remains unclear whether the European plan has the support of Hamas, Israel, or the United States. It does, however, include several elements the Obama administration believes are essential, including the need to ease Gazans’ plight, strengthen the role of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and ensure the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip.

The plan — described in a so-called non-paper titled “Gaza: Supporting a Sustainable Ceasefire” — envisions the creation of a U.N.-mandated “monitoring and verification” mission, possibly drawing peacekeepers from the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), which has monitored a series of Israeli-Arab truces in the region since the late 1940s. The mission “should cover military and security aspects, such as the dismantling of tunnels between Gaza and Israel, and the lifting of restrictions on movement and access,” according to the document. “It could have a role in monitoring imports of construction and dual use materials allowed in the Gaza Strip, and the re-introduction of the Palestinian Authority.”

The plan’s existence is in many ways more important than its details, for it shows Europe to be embracing Netanyahu’s idea for an economic peace for Gaza. Removing the import and export restrictions (or most of them) in return for real demilitarization would be an obvious win for everyone–except Hamas. In fact, it would give a major boost to the peace process overall, because it would discredit armed “resistance” as an effective method to win Palestinians their autonomy.

It would be quite a turnaround if Gaza somehow became the prime example of peaceful state building with the international community’s help. It’s also not an easy task, to say the least. But the fact that even Europe is on board, and expects to get the UN to agree to such a plan, shows that the principle of disarming Hamas and demilitarizing the Gaza Strip has gone mainstream.

Whether it happens is another question, of course, and no one should get their hopes up, especially while Hamas is breaking even temporary ceasefires. Additionally, the UN’s record in policing such zones of conflict, especially in the Middle East, is not cause for optimism. But talk of Hamas “winning” this war is made all the more ridiculous when the topic of conversation in the capitals of the Middle East and throughout the West is how to permanently disarm Hamas and dismantle any infrastructure they can use against Israel.

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Exposing the UN’s Unreliable Data on Gaza Casualties

Okay, it’s official: Even the BBC now admits the UN has been essentially collaborating with a terrorist organization to libel Israel. Of course, the venerable British broadcaster doesn’t say so explicitly; it even assures its readers that UN officials aren’t to blame for the misinformation they’ve been propagating. But it’s hard to reach any other conclusion after reading this analysis of Gaza’s casualty figures by the station’s head of statistics, Anthony Reuben.

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Okay, it’s official: Even the BBC now admits the UN has been essentially collaborating with a terrorist organization to libel Israel. Of course, the venerable British broadcaster doesn’t say so explicitly; it even assures its readers that UN officials aren’t to blame for the misinformation they’ve been propagating. But it’s hard to reach any other conclusion after reading this analysis of Gaza’s casualty figures by the station’s head of statistics, Anthony Reuben.

As Reuben notes, the figures on Palestinian casualties cited by most news organizations come from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. As of August 6, this agency was reporting 1,843 Palestinian fatalities, including at least 1,354 civilians; 279 hadn’t yet been identified. Thus civilians ostensibly comprise at least 73 percent of total fatalities, and since the UN excludes unidentified casualties from its calculations, it usually cites an even higher figure–currently 86 percent.

But as Reuben writes, “if the Israeli attacks have been ‘indiscriminate’, as the UN Human Rights Council says, it is hard to work out why they have killed so many more civilian men than women.” Quoting a New York Times analysis, he noted that men aged 20-29, who are the most likely to be combatants, are “also the most overrepresented in the death toll,” comprising 9 percent of Gazans but 34 percent of identified fatalities. In contrast, “women and children under 15, the least likely to be legitimate targets, were the most underrepresented, making up 71 percent of the population and 33 percent of the known-age casualties.”

So Reuben asked the high commissioner’s office how it explains this statistical anomaly. Here’s the mind-boggling response: “Matthias Behnk, from OHCHR, told BBC News that the organisation would not want to speculate about why there had been so many adult male casualties.”

In other words, confronted with a glaring statistical anomaly, the UN opted “not to speculate” about whether this cast doubt on the credibility of its claim that over 80 percent of fatalities were civilians. Instead, it kept right on feeding that number to journalists–most of whom promptly regurgitated it with no questions asked.

The statistical anomaly is compounded by other known facts: Terrorists don’t usually fight in uniform, so they arrive at the morgue in civilian clothing; the Hamas Interior Ministry explicitly ordered Gazans to identify all casualties as “innocent civilians” even if they aren’t; and Hamas has a history of mislabeling militants as civilian casualties: It did so during the 2009 war in Gaza as well, only admitting years later that, just as Israel claimed, most of the dead were militants rather than civilians. All this provides further grounds for suspecting that many male combat-age “civilians” were actually militants, and thus for caution about declaring them civilians. But the UN evinced no such qualms.

Finally, there’s the minor detail that some civilian casualties were caused by Hamas’s own misfired rockets. We know for certain about some such cases; for instance, an Italian journalist confirmed (after leaving Gaza) that one Palestinian rocket killed 10 Palestinians, including eight children, in a park in al-Shati. But there are undoubtedly many more that we don’t yet know about, because according to IDF data, almost a sixth of all Palestinian rockets launched–475 out of 3,137–landed in Gaza rather than Israel. That statistic is highly credible, because the Iron Dome system tracks every rocket’s trajectory to determine whether it needs intercepting, and couldn’t have achieved the success it did if its trajectory tracking system weren’t extremely accurate. And since Gaza has neither Iron Dome nor bomb shelters, Hamas rockets would be far more lethal there than they were in Israel. Yet the UN unhesitatingly blames Israel for all Palestinian casualties.

Reuben insists the UN shouldn’t be blamed for its misleading data, since “their statistics are accompanied by caveats and described as preliminary and subject to revision.” But that’s ridiculous. If the UN had doubts about the data’s veracity, it should have told the media it “would not want to speculate” about the civilian-to-combatant ratio. Instead, it opted to publish wildly exaggerated civilian casualty counts as unqualified fact while declining “to speculate” about the glaring statistical anomalies in its data.

In short, it collaborated wittingly and willingly with Hamas’s strategy to smear Israel by accusing it of massacring civilians. And most of the world’s media unhesitatingly played along.

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The “Israel Can Defend Itself in Theory but Not in Practice” Crowd

Yesterday the United Nations Human Rights Council endorsed an appalling motion against Israel’s efforts to defend itself from the ongoing Hamas terrorism. That the host of serial human-rights abusing nations that sit on the council endorsed this outrageous document is hardly surprising. What is more shocking is the failure of the European countries to take a stand against this terrible injustice. Given that these same countries have all issued statements purporting to uphold Israel’s right not to have to stand idly by while its civilians are at the mercy of murderous jihadists, the fact they have now failed to take a stand when the opportunity presented itself shows that these statements were utterly meaningless.

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Yesterday the United Nations Human Rights Council endorsed an appalling motion against Israel’s efforts to defend itself from the ongoing Hamas terrorism. That the host of serial human-rights abusing nations that sit on the council endorsed this outrageous document is hardly surprising. What is more shocking is the failure of the European countries to take a stand against this terrible injustice. Given that these same countries have all issued statements purporting to uphold Israel’s right not to have to stand idly by while its civilians are at the mercy of murderous jihadists, the fact they have now failed to take a stand when the opportunity presented itself shows that these statements were utterly meaningless.

What the European countries demonstrated in Geneva yesterday is that they are part of the “Israel can defend itself in theory but not in practice” crowd. They maintain that of course the Jewish state should be entitled to the same right to self-defense that all other nations enjoy, provided that when the Jewish state defends itself, no one on the other side is harmed.

The motion that the European nations acquiesced to was a frightful distortion of basic notions of morality and justice. Which was more grotesque: the claim that Israel targets civilians? The claim that Israel is the occupying power in Gaza? The claim that the blockade of Gaza is collective punishment for which Israel is held solely responsible with no reference to the blockade on the Egyptian border? The claim that the majority of deaths in Gaza have been among civilians when it has not yet been possible for any independent verification of this? The condemning of Israel for its recent military activities in the West Bank with no mention of the three murdered Israeli teens that the Israeli security forces were searching for? The fact that the resolution includes a number of accusations about “extremist Israeli settlers” but not one mention of either Hamas specifically or terrorists generally? And then there was the ludicrous insistence that Gaza cannot be allowed to remain “geographically” isolated from the West Bank (an apparent assault on Israel’s own existing territorial contiguity).

Particularly breathtaking was the accusation that Israel has failed to adequately investigate accusations of past violations against Palestinians, a flagrant lie given that Israel has, where necessary, prosecuted members of its own security forces when they were found to have acted unlawfully. This indeed has been affirmed even by Richard Goldstone, the author of the UN’s previous infamous report on Israel’s 2009 military operation in Gaza.

Also not to be missed was the clause that welcomes as a positive step the recent formation of the Palestinian unity government, which of course includes Hamas! After everything that has happened in recent weeks, could the Europeans really not find it in their cautiously diplomatic hearts to outright reject a motion that celebrates a Palestinian Authority government that involves Hamas?

The Europeans have attempted to whitewash their own complicity in the passing of this motion by claiming that they were responsible for introducing amendments that made the resolution more evenhanded. Yet such activities give the impression that this document has some underlying legitimacy. Furthermore, the additional amendments that they point to with such self-congratulation simply allow for the possibility of Hamas also being investigated for its breaches of international law. At best, all that such amendments achieve is an obscene moral equivalence between the terror group Hamas and the democratic nation-state Israel. In reality, the amended resolution doesn’t even manage to put the two parties on an equal footing–which itself would be an unspeakable inversion—because the vast majority of the resolution is still focused on castigating Israel for a litany of humanitarian offenses.

Still, the question remains of how there could be such a gap between the words of the European governments and their actions, or shameful inaction, at the human rights council. For instance, the British government has not only been steadfast in its commitment to Israel’s right to self-defense, but the country’s newly appointed foreign minister vocally condemned the resolution. The answer to this conundrum would seem to be that Catharine Ashton’s Foreign Service division of the European Union dictated to the European members of the UNHRC that they would vote as a bloc. Finding a consensus between a fiercely anti-Israel country like Ireland and a country friendlier to the Jewish state like the Czech Republic was never going to be easy. The morally vacuous abstention votes would appear to have been the result.

The European countries have consistently singled out Israel’s settlement policy on the grounds that Israel must surrender still more territory as part of the creation of a Palestinian state. But by utterly failing to give any meaningful support to Israel’s efforts to defend its people from attacks emanating from territory it has already surrendered, the Europeans ensure that Israelis will take that much less notice of Europe’s assurances from now on.

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Want Peace? Change UN’s Refugee Policy

As the United States tries again to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, one of the key sticking points in any such negotiation is getting some much-needed scrutiny in a United Nations forum this week. As Israel Hayom reports, a UN panel will discuss an effort to revise the rules under which the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) operates. The pending debate is the result of an initiative pushed by the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Judges and seeks to redefine who can be considered a Palestinian refugee and therefore a recipient of UNRWA’s largesse. While those made homeless by other conflicts are only considered refugees if they personally lost their homes, under current rules anyone descended from someone who fled the British Mandate of Palestine or the territory of the newborn State of Israel during the Jewish state’s War of Independence is eligible for refugee status. Thus, while the refugees of every other conflict or dislocation have ultimately all been resettled, only the Palestinians remain homeless, a tactic endorsed by their leaders and the rest of the Arab and Muslim world in order to keep the war against Israel alive.

While the chances that the UN will act on this issue are virtually non-existent, this discussion not only calls attention to UNRWA’s misguided policies but also highlights an issue that is one of the chief obstacles to peace. Though UNRWA is tasked with helping the Palestinians and is, for lack of a Palestinian government or groups dedicated to providing their people with a path to a better life, their primary source of sustenance, it actually plays a central role in their continued victimization.

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As the United States tries again to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, one of the key sticking points in any such negotiation is getting some much-needed scrutiny in a United Nations forum this week. As Israel Hayom reports, a UN panel will discuss an effort to revise the rules under which the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) operates. The pending debate is the result of an initiative pushed by the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Judges and seeks to redefine who can be considered a Palestinian refugee and therefore a recipient of UNRWA’s largesse. While those made homeless by other conflicts are only considered refugees if they personally lost their homes, under current rules anyone descended from someone who fled the British Mandate of Palestine or the territory of the newborn State of Israel during the Jewish state’s War of Independence is eligible for refugee status. Thus, while the refugees of every other conflict or dislocation have ultimately all been resettled, only the Palestinians remain homeless, a tactic endorsed by their leaders and the rest of the Arab and Muslim world in order to keep the war against Israel alive.

While the chances that the UN will act on this issue are virtually non-existent, this discussion not only calls attention to UNRWA’s misguided policies but also highlights an issue that is one of the chief obstacles to peace. Though UNRWA is tasked with helping the Palestinians and is, for lack of a Palestinian government or groups dedicated to providing their people with a path to a better life, their primary source of sustenance, it actually plays a central role in their continued victimization.

The Palestinians have a unique status in the world of the UN. While all other refugees are handled by a single organization, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the Palestinians have their own UN agency in UNRWA. But unlike the UNHCR, UNRWA’s goal is not to resettle the refugees and help them build new lives. UNRWA’s purpose has always been to keep them in place, living in squalid camps that long ago were transformed in concrete cities where they remain waiting for the day when they will “go home” to a Palestine that hasn’t existed for 66 years. Thus, rather than help the refugees to adjust to reality, UNRWA’s policies have dovetailed nicely with a Palestinian political identity that regards accommodation to Israel’s existence as tantamount to treason. The Palestinian belief in a “right of return” for not just the original Arabs who totaled a few hundred thousand but for the millions who claim to be their descendants is only made possible by UNRWA’s willingness to go on counting second, third, fourth, and now even fifth generations of Palestinians as refugees.

One aspect of this problem is the sheer inconsistency of international standards with regards to different kinds of refugees. In 1948, the Palestinians were counting on defeating and/or wiping out the Jewish community in the Mandate and therefore rejected the UN partition resolution that would have created the independent Palestinian state they now clamor for. Were they treated like other groups whose leaders gambled on aggression and lost—the millions of Germans who were brutally forced out of their homes in Eastern Europe come to mind after 1945—the Palestinians would have been helped to find new homes in the rest of the Arab world. Instead they were kept in place to continue to fuel the war against the one Jewish state in the world. Significantly, the roughly equal numbers of Jews who fled or were forced to flee their homes in the Arab and Muslim world after 1948 were given no such sympathy or UN aid. Those refugees were resettled in Israel and the West by Jewish groups and are now ignored when talk turns to restitution for the Middle East conflict.

Aside from the double standard here, the net effect of this policy is that in doing so UNRWA is serving to fuel the conflict rather than to seek its solution. UNRWA’s manifold problems—including education programs that foment hate against Israel and employees who aid terrorists—are well known. But so long as the Palestinians believe they have the support of the world in their effort to undo the verdict of the war they launched in 1948, the millions who call themselves refugees will never give up their goal of eradicating Israel’s existence. During the last 15 years the Palestinians have rejected three offers of independence and peace from Israel as well as walking away from a fourth such initiative this year. It’s clear the leaders of the Palestinian Authority do not think they have the support of their people for any treaty that will recognize the right of a Jewish state to exist no matter where its borders are drawn.

Rather than focus on forcing Israel to make more concessions that will endanger its security, those who wish to promote peace should focus their efforts on institutions like UNRWA that made a resolution of the conflict impossible. While it might be asking too much of a United Nations that is still rife with corruption and anti-Semitism to do the right thing on this issue, it is vital that the effort be made to change UNRWA before its actions help create more generations of angry refugees bent on destroying Israel. As much as the Israelis, the Palestinians would benefit from such a reform.

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Iran Promoted to UN Rights Bodies

Yesterday was business as usual at the United Nations, with Iran and a host of other despotic regimes winning seats on leading human-rights bodies. What should by any estimation be considered an astonishing inversion of the principles that the institution purports to champion somehow seems barely remarkable coming from the UN. For decades it has rendered its human-rights bodies Orwellian caricatures by handing them into the charge of the world’s worst human-rights abusers. It is completely absurd to imagine that the bodies that are supposed to be responsible for policing human rights can be administered by the very countries that ought to be subject to investigation.

The UN’s Commission on the Status of Women can now look forward to the assistance of the Iranians in fulfilling its worthy mission of promoting the welfare of the world’s women. Similarly, Iran will no doubt be eager to make itself useful in its new position on the UN’s NGO Committee, which is tasked with determining which NGOs are to be accredited by the UN. For years now tyrannical leaders have been seeking to use such positions of influence to drive out those NGOs that dare to publicize and criticize their shameful human-rights records. Iran’s ascent to a seat at this table is just another victory for the world’s dictators, hell-bent not only on tormenting their own peoples but also on ensuring that these crimes are kept far away from the world’s attention.

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Yesterday was business as usual at the United Nations, with Iran and a host of other despotic regimes winning seats on leading human-rights bodies. What should by any estimation be considered an astonishing inversion of the principles that the institution purports to champion somehow seems barely remarkable coming from the UN. For decades it has rendered its human-rights bodies Orwellian caricatures by handing them into the charge of the world’s worst human-rights abusers. It is completely absurd to imagine that the bodies that are supposed to be responsible for policing human rights can be administered by the very countries that ought to be subject to investigation.

The UN’s Commission on the Status of Women can now look forward to the assistance of the Iranians in fulfilling its worthy mission of promoting the welfare of the world’s women. Similarly, Iran will no doubt be eager to make itself useful in its new position on the UN’s NGO Committee, which is tasked with determining which NGOs are to be accredited by the UN. For years now tyrannical leaders have been seeking to use such positions of influence to drive out those NGOs that dare to publicize and criticize their shameful human-rights records. Iran’s ascent to a seat at this table is just another victory for the world’s dictators, hell-bent not only on tormenting their own peoples but also on ensuring that these crimes are kept far away from the world’s attention.

As for Iran’s newly found place in a forum supposedly devoted to women’s rights, this move would surely be deemed laughable if it weren’t also so tragic. The lot of women in Iran is particularly appalling. The mullahs’ regime there enforces one of the most draconian versions of Islamic religious law. Iran’s laws regulate everything from how women are to dress to the myriad areas of their lives that are to be governed by their husband’s consent. And women in Iran have fallen victim in large numbers to Iran’s liberal use of the death penalty, executed unsparingly for crimes ranging from adultery to drug-related offenses.

Not surprisingly, the monitoring group UN Watch has been particularly scathing in its assessment of these events. Hillel Neuer, the organization’s director, responded by announcing, “Today is a black day for human rights. By empowering the perpetrators over the victims, the UN harms the cause of human rights, betrays its founding principles, and undermines its own credibility.” The United States has similarly expressed its opposition to seeing Iran assume membership of these committees, just as administration officials have been compelled to protest Iran’s choice of one of the 1979 U.S. embassy hostage takers for its new envoy to the UN. But given that move, and if the administration really finds the thought of Iran sitting on a human-rights body so deplorable, then why does the U.S. government continue to legitimate the regime in Iran by continuing to push the line that President Rouhani is a moderate with whom it is advisable to negotiate?

There is little point in American officials protesting this kind of thing as long as the UN continues to remain what it has long been: a club for the dictatorships that dominate its membership. Some protest the disproportionate power of the UN’s Security Council and the five permanent members that dominate that body. Yet the real travesty of the UN is that in the General Assembly and throughout its maze of committees and bodies, it gives a vote to regimes that don’t even allow their own people the most basic right to vote in free and fair elections.

Surely international law, and the human-rights norms these laws are supposed to protect, will remain a mockery so long as countries that have nothing but disregard for human rights and the rule of law continue to have equal say in halls of the international community. If the UN ever wanted to get serious about human rights, it would start by not letting the criminals assume the position of judge and jury.

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UN Bodies Double-Edged Sword for Palestinians

Speaking on Thursday night, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas declared that he would rather “become a martyr” than withdraw the applications that the Palestinians have submitted to 15 international treaties and conventions, as Israel has insisted he must do. Not one to pass up the opportunity for melodrama, Abbas’s pronouncement will hardly cause any shockwaves, but if he continues with this reckless policy of joining international bodies then Abbas may well find himself hoisted by his own petard. While legal experts are divided about the practical ramifications of these latest moves, there are certain international organizations that, were the PA to join them, would likely render Abbas open prosecution himself.

The events surrounding this latest Palestinian action–that likely symbolize the final blow to the latest round of talks–have already been pored over in detail, and no doubt will continue to be contested and fought over a great deal more. The simple chronology is that on Tuesday, shortly before Abbas was to meet with Secretary Kerry and while Israel was awaiting a response from Abbas to its ludicrously generous offer to release more than 400 Palestinian prisoners and partially freeze settlements in return for extending peace talks, Abbas had the PA submit requests to join 15 international conventions and treaties. This, it should be recalled, is despite the fact that the PA is obligated to refrain from such actions while talks continue through to the end of April, although strictly speaking the Oslo accords prohibit such actions in any event.

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Speaking on Thursday night, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas declared that he would rather “become a martyr” than withdraw the applications that the Palestinians have submitted to 15 international treaties and conventions, as Israel has insisted he must do. Not one to pass up the opportunity for melodrama, Abbas’s pronouncement will hardly cause any shockwaves, but if he continues with this reckless policy of joining international bodies then Abbas may well find himself hoisted by his own petard. While legal experts are divided about the practical ramifications of these latest moves, there are certain international organizations that, were the PA to join them, would likely render Abbas open prosecution himself.

The events surrounding this latest Palestinian action–that likely symbolize the final blow to the latest round of talks–have already been pored over in detail, and no doubt will continue to be contested and fought over a great deal more. The simple chronology is that on Tuesday, shortly before Abbas was to meet with Secretary Kerry and while Israel was awaiting a response from Abbas to its ludicrously generous offer to release more than 400 Palestinian prisoners and partially freeze settlements in return for extending peace talks, Abbas had the PA submit requests to join 15 international conventions and treaties. This, it should be recalled, is despite the fact that the PA is obligated to refrain from such actions while talks continue through to the end of April, although strictly speaking the Oslo accords prohibit such actions in any event.

It is unclear whether the Palestinians ever directly responded to the initial Israeli offer, but instead they issued a counter-set of demands for agreeing to continue with negotiations. That list of demands essentially amounts to an itinerary of all the things that one would presume would be covered during the talks themselves. In other words, Abbas is demanding that Israel flatly agree to meet all his requirements on borders, Jerusalem, security, etc., prior to talks being resumed, at which point there would of course be nothing left to discuss. It hardly passes for what most would understand by the term “negotiation.” And if Israel doesn’t submit to all of this then apparently the Palestinians will plow ahead with their strategy of joining UN bodies.

There is, however, significant disagreement about just how damaging these moves could really be for Israel. So far it appears that in this latest round of applications the Palestinians have restricted their requests to joining treaties and conventions rather than actual UN organizations. Among the 15 they requested to join on Tuesday are the Fourth Geneva Conventions, the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, the Hague Convention respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. It has been suggested that the move toward joining the Hague Convention may be part of preparation to try and prosecute Israel over construction in Jewish communities over the 1949 armistice lines, which would include any building throughout most of Jerusalem. Other observers, such as professor Robbie Sabel of the Hebrew University, have claimed that since Israel is already bound by the Fourth Geneva Convention, it will not make any difference whether the Palestinian Authority were also to become a member.   

Predictably, Amnesty International has welcomed these moves and condemned Israel for the threats that Cabinet ministers have made about sanctioning the Palestinian Authority for its breach of its obligations. Indeed, Amnesty International is even urging the Palestinians to go further, encouraging the PA to also submit requests to join both the International Criminal Court and the Rome Statute. Yet there is good reason why the Palestinians have not already attempted this. While the statement by Amnesty International was naturally gleeful about the prospect of opening the way to bringing charges against Israel for its presence and activities in the West Bank, the statement further noted that such a move would also allow for holding the Palestinian Authority to account for its “alleged” violations. Of course, one can’t help but come away from Amnesty’s statement with the impression that Israel’s “abuses” are presumed genuine; the Palestinian Authority’s are merely “alleged,” with the statement referring to how this move would “spur the Palestinian Authority into bolstering its commitment to upholding the rights of all people.” Well, that’s certainly one commitment that if ever made, could surely do with some bolstering.

The PA’s human-rights violations against other Palestinians may not be well publicized but they are no secret either. Israel’s Economy Minister Naftali Bennett has even spoken of pursuing the PA at the ICC for its sponsorship of terrorism. That is certainly a reminder that in the event that the Palestinians were ever to join these more significant bodies, we need not assume that attempts at prosecution would be all in one direction. And it is for that very reason that Abbas will no doubt be far more cautious about applying to join the international organizations that actually carry the most significant clout. In the meantime the diplomatic war of words, threats, and counter-threats goes on. We are pretty much back to where we were before Kerry’s embarrassingly ill-conceived process began: negotiating about negotiating. 

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The U.N.’s Parallel Universe

In the midst of the greatest threat to European stability since the Balkans war of the 1990s, and perhaps back to the Berlin Crisis of 1961, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon just announced that the European Union’s primary focus should be on fighting climate change. Ban, who has been singularly unsuccessful in having any positive impact on the Syrian civil war, Chinese coercion in the East and South China Seas, North Korea’s nuclear program, and the like, now sees a Europe in which climate change is more of a threat than Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea and continued threat to Ukraine and possibly other parts of Eastern Europe.

While the pillars of the post-World War II international order tremble in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, the secretary general’s statements could be mistaken for parody, but they are manifestly in earnest. The unilateral redrawing of borders in Europe, along with Putin’s deeply paranoid, grievance-driven, and aggressive speech of March 18, might spark a level of personal commitment and concern on the part of the U.N.’s leader commensurate with the threat. Instead, Ban reveals the deeply irrelevant nature and unshakeable ideology of the world’s leading multilateral organization. The only worse news would be if the EU itself, facing violent transformation of its continent, were to endorse such folly as its primary goal.

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In the midst of the greatest threat to European stability since the Balkans war of the 1990s, and perhaps back to the Berlin Crisis of 1961, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon just announced that the European Union’s primary focus should be on fighting climate change. Ban, who has been singularly unsuccessful in having any positive impact on the Syrian civil war, Chinese coercion in the East and South China Seas, North Korea’s nuclear program, and the like, now sees a Europe in which climate change is more of a threat than Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea and continued threat to Ukraine and possibly other parts of Eastern Europe.

While the pillars of the post-World War II international order tremble in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, the secretary general’s statements could be mistaken for parody, but they are manifestly in earnest. The unilateral redrawing of borders in Europe, along with Putin’s deeply paranoid, grievance-driven, and aggressive speech of March 18, might spark a level of personal commitment and concern on the part of the U.N.’s leader commensurate with the threat. Instead, Ban reveals the deeply irrelevant nature and unshakeable ideology of the world’s leading multilateral organization. The only worse news would be if the EU itself, facing violent transformation of its continent, were to endorse such folly as its primary goal.

To functionaries such as Ban, process is everything, thus, he calls for a European action plan on climate change to come into effect no later than 2030. By then, of course, no one can any longer be certain what Europe’s borders will look like, whether there will have been actual conflict, or how many other depredations on territorial sovereignty there will have been in Europe and elsewhere.

Perhaps, though, Ban is actually providing a useful vision of the future of multilateralism. Were Washington and its liberal allies to accept that the U.N., and many organizations like it, is fit only to focus on soft issues such as food relief, health care, and environmentalism (regardless of its actual ability to make a meaningful impact), then we can move beyond the fiction that it has any real role to play in responding to global threats. If Washington can free itself from bondage to the “legitimacy” of the U.N. Security Council, then perhaps we can more creatively respond to Russia’s aggression, North Korea’s threat, and Syria’s bloodbath. That might prevent, or at least delay, the continued erosion in international norms. Call it the Ban Doctrine.

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Meet the New Special Rapporteur, Same as the Old Special Rapporteur

Having 9/11 truther Richard Falk retire from his position as “United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories” might have been cause for celebration if it hadn’t been almost inevitable that Falk would simply be replaced by someone no less off the wall. That is what has now happened. Under pressure from the Arab League, the United Nations Human Rights Council’s president Remigiusz Hencze has rejected the candidacy of Georgetown Law lecturer Christina Cerna despite the fact that Cerna had the unanimous endorsement of the UNHRC’s five-member vetting committee. Although initial reports from diplomats suggested that the decision had been made to have Indonesia’s former UN envoy Makarim Wibisono as a replacement for Falk, it now emerges that the position will likely go to the equally dubious Christine Chinkin, one of the authors of the infamous Goldstone report.

What was it that got Christina Cerna disqualified? Well, going by the letters that the Arab League sent to the UNHRC’s president it would seem that what counted against Cerna was that she had no previous record of condemning Israel. Without a resume peppered with pro-Palestinian statements she just couldn’t be considered up to the job. Chinkin, on the other hand, has an impressive record of anti-Israel statements to recommend her.

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Having 9/11 truther Richard Falk retire from his position as “United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories” might have been cause for celebration if it hadn’t been almost inevitable that Falk would simply be replaced by someone no less off the wall. That is what has now happened. Under pressure from the Arab League, the United Nations Human Rights Council’s president Remigiusz Hencze has rejected the candidacy of Georgetown Law lecturer Christina Cerna despite the fact that Cerna had the unanimous endorsement of the UNHRC’s five-member vetting committee. Although initial reports from diplomats suggested that the decision had been made to have Indonesia’s former UN envoy Makarim Wibisono as a replacement for Falk, it now emerges that the position will likely go to the equally dubious Christine Chinkin, one of the authors of the infamous Goldstone report.

What was it that got Christina Cerna disqualified? Well, going by the letters that the Arab League sent to the UNHRC’s president it would seem that what counted against Cerna was that she had no previous record of condemning Israel. Without a resume peppered with pro-Palestinian statements she just couldn’t be considered up to the job. Chinkin, on the other hand, has an impressive record of anti-Israel statements to recommend her.

Falk was always going to be a tough act to follow. This is the man who has accused the Jewish state of “slouching toward nothing less than a Palestinian Holocaust.” Yet, the monitoring group UN Watch has compiled a rogues gallery of some of the other candidates. Many had their money on Falk’s friend and close associate Phyllis Bennis who assisted Falk in compiling a number of his reports, some of which were so pro-Hamas that the Palestinian Authority actually blocked Falk from presenting one of them.

Then there was the application from British lawyer Michael Mansfield, who along with the eminent Pink Floyd guitarist Roger Waters served as a leading “juror” for the Russell Tribunal, which has been described as a Stalinesque show trial of one-sided evidence against Israel. Mansfield also acted as the attorney defending the Palestinian bombers convicted of the 1994 attack on London’s Israeli embassy and has condemned the killing of Osama bin Laden. Among the other applicants was the already mentioned Makarim Wibisono, who has gone out of his way to talk down Israeli suffering, referring to “the handful of Israelis who have died,” and claimed that Israel uses terrorism as a “flimsy pretext” for its acts of aggression. Then there was former Dutch ambassador to Saudi Arabia Jan Wijenberg who has claimed that the European Union is an instrument of Israeli foreign policy and that a “creeping genocide” is taking place in Gaza.

The woman now most likely to get the job, London School of Economics professor Christine Chinkin, can certainly hold her own among this crowed. Chinkin served as an author of the infamous Goldstone report despite the fact that she was on record accusing Israel of war crimes before the “investigation” even began. Her role in the Goldstone enquiry earned Chinkin a rare rebuke from one of her British legal colleagues Sir Nigel Rodley, then Chairperson of the UN Human Rights Committee, who questioned her impartiality, as did a large group of academics under the umbrella of the respected foreign policy think tank Chatham House. When Justice Richard Goldstone later retracted many of the allegations made against Israel in the report, Chinkin came out in publicly criticizing him.

While at one point it had appeared that Falk’s position would go to Indonesia’s Wibisono, it seems that even he was not hostile enough towards Israel for the tastes of the Arab Group, by all accounts acting in line with the wishes of Ramallah. No less outrageous is the announcement that Falk’s wife, former Turkish government adviser Hilal Elver, is to be appointed to another top UN human rights post. Still, none of this should be considered surprising. Among the UNHRC’s current member states are Algeria, China, Congo, Cuba, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam. The UNHRC was supposed to be the more credible successor to the UN’s Human Rights Commission. That body’s loss of legitimacy may have had something to do with the fact that as of 2003 it was chaired by Libya.

Groups such as UN Watch have been calling on the U.S. to use its position on the UNHRC to step in and put pressure on Remigiusz Hencze so as to prevent the appointments of Chinkin and Elver from going ahead. Whether or not this will happen still remains to be seen. 

This post has been updated. 

   

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EU, UN Blame Settlements, not Palestinian Violence

In recent days both the European Union and the United Nations have issued statements condemning Israel for issuing housing permits to build additional homes in West Bank Jewish communities. Naturally, both statements equated these moves to Israel sabotaging the peace process, a completely dishonest claim that only makes it easier for the Palestinian side to use these moves as the very pretext that they are looking for to flee negotiations. In opposing the building of homes for Jews in communities that under just about any conceivable arrangement would remain part of Israel, these international bodies utterly ignore the most critical threat to peace in the area: the growing levels of Islamist violence in the territories, and the Palestinian Authority’s total neglect of its responsibility to confront this.

Indeed, the same Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO), which issued the statement condemning the settlement construction, issued another statement only days earlier criticizing the activities of Israeli security forces operating in the West Bank, calling for investigations of any violations of international law.

In response to the publication of Israeli plans to move ahead with the construction of new housing projects in existing West Bank settlements, the EU’s Catherine Ashton said she was “deeply disappointed by the Israeli plans to expand settlements” and bemoaned how “unilateral action prejudging final status issues threatens the current peace negotiations.” Yet this is simply a misrepresentation of what is actually happening here. The talk of “expanding” settlements gives the sense of more territory being enveloped by Israel. In reality all building in these communities takes place within the existing perimeter boundaries of already established settlements. And the suggestion that creating more homes in these towns in any way prejudges “final status issues” is no less problematic. It has long been understood that the major settlement blocks would be annexed to Israel under any peace agreement.

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In recent days both the European Union and the United Nations have issued statements condemning Israel for issuing housing permits to build additional homes in West Bank Jewish communities. Naturally, both statements equated these moves to Israel sabotaging the peace process, a completely dishonest claim that only makes it easier for the Palestinian side to use these moves as the very pretext that they are looking for to flee negotiations. In opposing the building of homes for Jews in communities that under just about any conceivable arrangement would remain part of Israel, these international bodies utterly ignore the most critical threat to peace in the area: the growing levels of Islamist violence in the territories, and the Palestinian Authority’s total neglect of its responsibility to confront this.

Indeed, the same Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO), which issued the statement condemning the settlement construction, issued another statement only days earlier criticizing the activities of Israeli security forces operating in the West Bank, calling for investigations of any violations of international law.

In response to the publication of Israeli plans to move ahead with the construction of new housing projects in existing West Bank settlements, the EU’s Catherine Ashton said she was “deeply disappointed by the Israeli plans to expand settlements” and bemoaned how “unilateral action prejudging final status issues threatens the current peace negotiations.” Yet this is simply a misrepresentation of what is actually happening here. The talk of “expanding” settlements gives the sense of more territory being enveloped by Israel. In reality all building in these communities takes place within the existing perimeter boundaries of already established settlements. And the suggestion that creating more homes in these towns in any way prejudges “final status issues” is no less problematic. It has long been understood that the major settlement blocks would be annexed to Israel under any peace agreement.

For those who support the two-state proposal, there is a fundamental question to be answered about why settlements are indeed so problematic for their plan. Two-state plans almost always envisage the settlements either being annexed to Israel or otherwise evacuated. Yet, the need for such arrangements only highlights the fact that just as the Palestinians are refusing to agree to live alongside a Jewish state, they even refuse to live peacefully alongside Jewish neighbors. They have made it very clear that they have absolutely no intention of tolerating a Jewish minority within their state in the same way that Israel has always embraced having an Arab minority within its borders. When Ashton addresses the settlement issue, it seems she does not stop for a moment to ask herself why she is backing the establishment of a Jew-free state.    

Even if EU and UN officials genuinely believe that unilateral actions will hurt prospects for an agreement, where are all their statements giving equal condemnation of Palestinian moves? It would seem that they are deaf to what are now almost daily statements coming from president Abbas, declaring his refusal to sign up to the U.S.-sponsored framework and his intention to end the talks and return to pursuing Palestinian statehood unilaterally.

Given that Palestinian schools and broadcast media (in many instances funded by both the EU and the UN) put out a never-ending stream of incitement against Israel, in direct contravention of agreements that the PA is signed up to, wouldn’t you expect to occasionally hear some protest about this from Ashton or the UN’s special Middle East envoy Robert Serry? Instead, both of these figures pave Abbas’s way to fleeing talks by endorsing his narrative that settlement construction warrants just such a reaction.

These international diplomats live in a topsy-turvy version of reality in which homes for Jews are antithetical to peace, while the proliferation of Islamist terror groups in the West Bank are unworthy of comment. Indeed, in his Bloomberg interview President Obama repeatedly described settlements as “aggressive” so as to create the sense that building homes for Jews is comparable with acts of violence. Meanwhile Obama praised Abbas as having rejected violence. In truth Abbas’s PA continues to glorify and honor terrorism, but it also now seems that Abbas has adopted a parallel policy of inaction that only makes the proliferation of terrorism against Israelis more likely.

The growing threat of terror coming from the West Bank has become ever more apparent in recent months. It appears that, under pressure from a Palestinian public supportive of jihadist groups, the PA security forces have simply stopped policing certain neighborhoods of such radicalized cities as Jenin and Nablus. This has obliged the Israeli military to step up its involvement in these areas and over the weekend the IDF was engaged in a firefight in Jenin as they pursued Hamas operative Hamza Abu al-Hija, having already attempted to arrest him back in December. Despite the fact that these measures were necessitated by PA inaction, the Palestinian Authority actually condemned this incursion by Israel.

On Sunday Israeli border police officers were also injured by Palestinian rioters during a violent flare-up close to the Jewish holy site of Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem. Meanwhile Palestinians assaulted an Israeli man near a Nablus village after PA police dispersed a group of Israelis visiting the site of the former Jewish community of Homesh. These are the kinds of activities that by their very nature break the peace and yet while Robert Serry apparently chooses to remain silent about the activities of terrorist groups, his office has no such qualms about chastising the Israeli security forces that have to try and deal with this threat.

Ashton accuses Israel of “squandering” opportunities for peace. What word, then, would she use to describe Abbas’s policy of presiding over a government that at once promotes and permits this kind of violence?   

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Why Replace Richard Falk?

Many here at COMMENTARY and elsewhere have written regarding the sorry legacy of Richard Falk, the United Nations special rapporteur on “the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.” Falk has, for example, blamed Israel for the Boston Marathon bombing; he has described the murderous Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as a paradigm of human rights, used his platform to promote anti-Semitism, and engaged in 9/11 conspiracy theories. In short, Falk has been an embarrassment to the United Nations and confirmed the worst accusations of the UN’s critics.

Fortunately, Falk’s term is coming to an end. Hillel Neuer, who does yeoman’s work at UN Watch, recently published a “rogues’ gallery” of those seeking to replace him. The list is not pretty: Hard-core Stalinists, unabashed anti-Semites, and political activists who oppose the peace process on the ground that Israel should cease to exist.

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Many here at COMMENTARY and elsewhere have written regarding the sorry legacy of Richard Falk, the United Nations special rapporteur on “the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.” Falk has, for example, blamed Israel for the Boston Marathon bombing; he has described the murderous Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as a paradigm of human rights, used his platform to promote anti-Semitism, and engaged in 9/11 conspiracy theories. In short, Falk has been an embarrassment to the United Nations and confirmed the worst accusations of the UN’s critics.

Fortunately, Falk’s term is coming to an end. Hillel Neuer, who does yeoman’s work at UN Watch, recently published a “rogues’ gallery” of those seeking to replace him. The list is not pretty: Hard-core Stalinists, unabashed anti-Semites, and political activists who oppose the peace process on the ground that Israel should cease to exist.

If the United Nations cannot operate with a modicum of professionalism and if Ban Ki-moon sees his job to subsidize opponents of peace and those with an ideological axe to grind, perhaps it is time for the United States and other liberal democracies to ask just why such a position should continue to exist on the back of their contributions to the UN. If the UN Secretary General and UN cheerleaders like U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power are serious about reforming the UN, ending its worst excesses, and restoring its credibility, perhaps they should ask why Falk’s position should be filled, and why such mendacious positions, which do more to harm reconciliation than promote it and which undercut serious human-rights advocacy, should exist in the first place.

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The U.N.’s War on Religious Liberty

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child didn’t break any new ground when it issued a report criticizing the Catholic Church for the sexual abuse scandal in which priests were found to have abused large numbers of children while the church hierarchy protected the priests. The egregious nature of the scandal has been amply documented, as has the church’s shameful record in responding to the accusations. While it can be argued, as the UN Committee did, that more can be done, the fact is the church has already paid a terrible price both in terms of its reputation and the drain on its wealth because of the legal restitution it has paid to survivors. As investigations of these crimes continue, that price is likely to go higher and it is to be hoped that Pope Francis will ensure that the institution he leads will make good on its promises to create the necessary safeguards to make certain that the church will never again turn a blind eye to the victimization of children entrusted to its care.

But while the UN Committee was justified in speaking of the church’s past sins, the world body did not content itself with harsh rhetoric about the sexual abuse scandal. It went further, denouncing the Vatican for a number of its religious doctrines. As the New York Times reports:

The report, issued in Geneva, addressed issues far beyond child sexual abuse, taking the Vatican to task for its opposition to contraception, homosexuality and abortion in cases of child rape and incest. The committee even suggested that the church amend its canon laws to permit abortions for pregnant girls whose lives and health are at risk.

The views of the UN committee may represent the views of many associated with the world body and, indeed, perhaps, of the majority of Americans. But for a United Nations agency to demand that one of the world’s great religions change its beliefs in this manner is outrageous. The “suggestions” of the UN not only have nothing to do with the sexual abuse scandal, they represent a symptom of the contempt for religious freedom that is increasingly popular among global liberal elites, including some in the United States.

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The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child didn’t break any new ground when it issued a report criticizing the Catholic Church for the sexual abuse scandal in which priests were found to have abused large numbers of children while the church hierarchy protected the priests. The egregious nature of the scandal has been amply documented, as has the church’s shameful record in responding to the accusations. While it can be argued, as the UN Committee did, that more can be done, the fact is the church has already paid a terrible price both in terms of its reputation and the drain on its wealth because of the legal restitution it has paid to survivors. As investigations of these crimes continue, that price is likely to go higher and it is to be hoped that Pope Francis will ensure that the institution he leads will make good on its promises to create the necessary safeguards to make certain that the church will never again turn a blind eye to the victimization of children entrusted to its care.

But while the UN Committee was justified in speaking of the church’s past sins, the world body did not content itself with harsh rhetoric about the sexual abuse scandal. It went further, denouncing the Vatican for a number of its religious doctrines. As the New York Times reports:

The report, issued in Geneva, addressed issues far beyond child sexual abuse, taking the Vatican to task for its opposition to contraception, homosexuality and abortion in cases of child rape and incest. The committee even suggested that the church amend its canon laws to permit abortions for pregnant girls whose lives and health are at risk.

The views of the UN committee may represent the views of many associated with the world body and, indeed, perhaps, of the majority of Americans. But for a United Nations agency to demand that one of the world’s great religions change its beliefs in this manner is outrageous. The “suggestions” of the UN not only have nothing to do with the sexual abuse scandal, they represent a symptom of the contempt for religious freedom that is increasingly popular among global liberal elites, including some in the United States.

It is important to note that none of these beliefs has anything to do with the abuse of children or the toleration of sexual predators. The crimes of which some priests were accused were entirely unrelated to Catholic doctrine and, it must be emphasized, constituted a gross violation of the church’s beliefs. To imply anything to the contrary is a terrible libel that should be retracted.

One need not share the church’s views on homosexuality, contraception, or abortion to understand that when governments or world bodies such as the United Nations venture into the realm of what faiths may or may not practice or preach, it constitutes a mortal threat to religious liberty. Here in the United States we have seen a conflict over the Obama administration’s efforts to impose a mandate forcing religious institutions and their adherents to pay for services that offend their faith. If upheld by the courts, that ObamaCare mandate would constitute an intolerable infringement on the First Amendment rights of religious freedom from government intrusion.

But what the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has done here is to suggest that the beliefs of the Catholic Church on social issues somehow fall outside of the pale of the civilized world. One doesn’t have to delve too deeply into Europe’s dark history of religious persecution to see what happens when unpopular beliefs are branded in this manner. Just as Catholics are now advised what they may or may not believe about these issues, Jews are being told by some of the same liberal elites in Europe that religious practices such as circumcision or kosher slaughter may likewise be prohibited by law. Despite the fact that those issuing these pronouncements claim they are doing so in the name of the rights of children or some other seemingly laudable cause, such efforts are a well-worn shortcut to tyranny and the abrogation of religious liberty.

The church should unequivocally reject the UN Committee’s pronouncements about faith. So, too, should everyone who values and wishes to preserve freedom of religion for all people. 

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Palestinians Move to Breach Process

Despite having made a commitment to refrain from taking actions to pursue statehood unilaterally during the course of the current U.S.-sponsored negotiations with Israel, on Monday Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas chaired a meeting preparing plans to do precisely that. While the State Department has been quick to condemn as “offensive and inappropriate” the remarks made by Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon regarding Secretary of State John Kerry’s obsession with the negotiation process, this move by the Palestinians risks having far more serious repercussions for the likelihood of achieving a negotiated settlement. Indeed, the fact that Abbas is already making contingency plans, months before negotiations are due to conclude in April, suggests that the Palestinians also lack confidence in the efficacy of Kerry’s strategy.

Under the framework for the current round of talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Israel agreed to release a cohort of convicted terrorists and in return the Palestinians would halt their campaign to gain membership in an increasing number of United Nations agencies. Previously this had been the PA’s preferred strategy for avoiding making peace with Israel while gaining international recognition of statehood. By successfully gaining a seat at ever more international bodies, the Palestinians have been positioning themselves to be able to better manipulate international law against the Jewish state.

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Despite having made a commitment to refrain from taking actions to pursue statehood unilaterally during the course of the current U.S.-sponsored negotiations with Israel, on Monday Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas chaired a meeting preparing plans to do precisely that. While the State Department has been quick to condemn as “offensive and inappropriate” the remarks made by Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon regarding Secretary of State John Kerry’s obsession with the negotiation process, this move by the Palestinians risks having far more serious repercussions for the likelihood of achieving a negotiated settlement. Indeed, the fact that Abbas is already making contingency plans, months before negotiations are due to conclude in April, suggests that the Palestinians also lack confidence in the efficacy of Kerry’s strategy.

Under the framework for the current round of talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Israel agreed to release a cohort of convicted terrorists and in return the Palestinians would halt their campaign to gain membership in an increasing number of United Nations agencies. Previously this had been the PA’s preferred strategy for avoiding making peace with Israel while gaining international recognition of statehood. By successfully gaining a seat at ever more international bodies, the Palestinians have been positioning themselves to be able to better manipulate international law against the Jewish state.

Since negotiations began in July, Israel has stood by its part of the agreement and so far released 78 of the 104 Palestinian prisoners due for release. As part of this arrangement, the final group of prisoners is to be released ten weeks from now, at the end of March.

During this same nine-month period the Palestinian Authority was obligated not to take unilateral moves toward statehood outside of the agreed-upon negotiation framework. This period is due to end in April. Israel has requested that this window for negotiations be extended, but Abbas has already stated that the Palestinians will not continue peace talks beyond that date. Now, at a meeting Abbas chaired in Ramallah on Monday, the Executive Committee of the PLO announced the decision to resume its moves to seek membership in U.N. bodies, in direct contravention of the agreed-upon peace framework.

The Palestinian News Agency WAFA reports that the statement released by the PLO announces that the Executive Committee has called on its political committee to immediately prepare an operative plan “to implement [the] UN General Assembly resolution that granted Palestine a non-member observer status that allows it to join all UN international agencies.” This move should be of far more critical concern to Secretary Kerry and the State Department than the throwaway remarks of Minister Ya’alon. If the Palestinians are serious about pursuing this breach of their commitments, then Kerry’s peace plans could unravel even faster than many observers already expected them to.

The fact that over the weekend Abbas insisted that the Palestinians would never recognize Israel as a Jewish state, that Jerusalem would have to be the Palestinian capital, and that the Palestinian refugees, or rather their descendants, would have to have a right of return to their lands, by which he means Israel, hardly bodes well for the outcome of Kerry’s talks. Nor does the fact that the Palestinians seem unwilling to countenance an extension of peace negotiations beyond April, or that from the beginning there have been constant noises from Palestinian negotiators about an imminent collapse of the talks.

The State Department can express its deep sense of offense at Ya’alon’s cynicism about the peace process if it wishes. Yet the fact that the Palestinians are already making contingency plans for the failure of the talks is an indication of just how much faith they really have in these negotiations reaching any kind of successful conclusion.    

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Correct Translation? The UN Is a Joke

That the United Nations long ago became a cesspool of anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist incitement is not news. Indeed, the prejudice against the State of Israel that is on display at virtually every General Assembly session as well as those of its component agencies, especially those supposed to be devoted to the cause of human rights, is so blatant that few involved even bother to deny the disproportionate nature of the proceedings. While the struggle between Israel and the Palestinians has created victims on both sides, the numbers of those who are affected or even inconvenienced are miniscule compared to far greater ongoing tragedies in nearby Arab and Muslim countries or elsewhere in Africa and Asia. But when it comes to the world body, all other causes are mere sideshows when compared to the crusade against Israel. But it’s nice to know that at least some of those who work within the UN are aware of this travesty.

That was made manifest yesterday when the GA voted on nine separate resolutions condemning Israel while ignoring every other conflict on the globe, almost all of which concern far greater numbers of people. But the monotony of this ritualized singling out of the Jews for sacrifice was broken when, during the course of the votes in which 150 or more UN members voted in lockstep against Israel, one of the translators was heard to comment on the absurd nature of what she was forced to transmit. Speaking over a hot mic that caught her genuine feelings about the proceedings, the anonymous translator said the following at the 1:55 mark of this instant UN YouTube classic:

I think when you have… like a total of ten resolutions on Israel and Palestine, there’s gotta be something, c’est un peu trop, non? I mean I know… There’s other really bad s**t happening, but no one says anything about the other stuff.

Never have truer words been spoken at the United Nations.

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That the United Nations long ago became a cesspool of anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist incitement is not news. Indeed, the prejudice against the State of Israel that is on display at virtually every General Assembly session as well as those of its component agencies, especially those supposed to be devoted to the cause of human rights, is so blatant that few involved even bother to deny the disproportionate nature of the proceedings. While the struggle between Israel and the Palestinians has created victims on both sides, the numbers of those who are affected or even inconvenienced are miniscule compared to far greater ongoing tragedies in nearby Arab and Muslim countries or elsewhere in Africa and Asia. But when it comes to the world body, all other causes are mere sideshows when compared to the crusade against Israel. But it’s nice to know that at least some of those who work within the UN are aware of this travesty.

That was made manifest yesterday when the GA voted on nine separate resolutions condemning Israel while ignoring every other conflict on the globe, almost all of which concern far greater numbers of people. But the monotony of this ritualized singling out of the Jews for sacrifice was broken when, during the course of the votes in which 150 or more UN members voted in lockstep against Israel, one of the translators was heard to comment on the absurd nature of what she was forced to transmit. Speaking over a hot mic that caught her genuine feelings about the proceedings, the anonymous translator said the following at the 1:55 mark of this instant UN YouTube classic:

I think when you have… like a total of ten resolutions on Israel and Palestine, there’s gotta be something, c’est un peu trop, non? I mean I know… There’s other really bad s**t happening, but no one says anything about the other stuff.

Never have truer words been spoken at the United Nations.

Of course, as soon as she realized that the official broadcast of the meeting was picking up her comments, the translator apologized repeatedly while the official running this kangaroo court merely smiled and noted that there had been “a problem with the interpretation” as some nervous laughter was heard. Undaunted by the unscheduled bout of candor, the delegates went on and finished their work passing a few more anti-Israel resolutions before patting themselves on the back for their principled support for human rights and adjourned.

As UN Watch’s Hillel Neuer wrote about this in the Times of Israel:

By the end of its annual legislative session next month, the General Assembly will have adopted a total of 22 resolutions condemning Israel—and only four on the rest of the world combined. The hypocrisy, selectivity, and politicization are staggering.

As Neuer rightly notes, one of the resolutions condemned Israel’s continued presence in the Golan Heights, which it took from Syria in a defensive war in 1967. Since then, various Syrian dictators have turned down several feelers from Israel about negotiating a withdrawal as the Assad clan preferred a continuation of the conflict to peace since the strife helped prop up their dictatorship. But no matter what one thinks about the rights and wrongs of that issue, the fact that Syria came up at the UN this week with Israel without one mention of the brutality of the Assad regime or the fact that over 100,000 have been killed during the civil war there is considered unremarkable. Israel was unfairly condemned for being on the Golan and for supposedly mistreating Syrian citizens, but the world body could find no time to address Assad’s ongoing depredations or his use of illegal chemical weapons to slaughter his foes.

Nor, during the course of the standard flaying of the Jews for building communities in Jerusalem and the West or for having the temerity to defend themselves against terrorists, did the UN pause even for a moment to condemn Palestinian terrorism against Israel, the tyranny of the Hamas rulers of Gaza, or the fomenting of hatred and anti-Semitism on official Palestinian Authority print and broadcast outlets.

Only Israel’s alleged wrongs are worthy of discussion and censor at the UN. Everything else is merely an unimportant detail to be swept under the rung no matter how many lives are lost or how awful the circumstances.

Let there be no mistake that what is on display there is nothing short of anti-Semitism no matter how high-minded those involved pretend to be. By treating the one Jewish state by a different standard than every other country and singling it out for condemnation for acting no differently than any other sovereign state under attack, the UN is promoting and practicing prejudice.

It would be nice to think this incident will set off some serious soul searching in Washington about a change in attitude toward the UN. But given President Obama’s infatuation with the world body, that is about as likely to happen as him conceding that ObamaCare was a mistake. We should be grateful to this translator and must hope that she has not been fired for her offensive truth telling. But the real shame here is that civilized people, including the government of the United States, still treat the UN as if it were a legitimate institution rather than a parody of world government run by a corrupt gang of anti-Semites.

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What the Saudis Really Care About

As I noted yesterday, the idea that ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could help stabilize the Middle East is fatuous. Yet many world leaders continue to espouse it. In his UN address last month, for instance, President Barack Obama proclaimed that while this conflict is “not the cause of all the region’s problems,” it has been “a major source of instability for far too long,” and resolving it would help lay “a foundation for a broader peace.” In August, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius termed the conflict “one of the issues, perhaps the central one, for the region.”

Given that the events of the past few years would seem to have decisively disproved this theory–nobody would seriously argue, for instance, that ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would ease the sectarian bloodletting in Syria or Iraq or the feud between the army and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, while the Syrian conflict alone has been far more destabilizing to the region than the Israeli-Palestinian one has–the question is why so many world leaders still cling to it. A good place to look for answers is Saudi Arabia’s unprecedented decision not to address the UN General Assembly last week.

Riyadh billed this decision as a protest against the UN’s position “on Arab and Islamic issues, particularly the issue of Palestine that the UN has not been able to solve in more than 60 years, as well as the Syrian crisis.” If you took that at face value, you’d naturally assume that what upsets Riyadh most is the Israeli-Palestinian issue: The bulk of its statement was devoted to this issue, with Syria seemingly thrown in as an afterthought. The problem is that objectively, this makes no sense: After all, by Riyadh’s own admission, the conflict has gone on for 60 years now, yet it never boycotted the UN before. So why now of all times–precisely when Washington has finally succeeded in restarting Israeli-Palestinian talks after a five-year freeze?

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As I noted yesterday, the idea that ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could help stabilize the Middle East is fatuous. Yet many world leaders continue to espouse it. In his UN address last month, for instance, President Barack Obama proclaimed that while this conflict is “not the cause of all the region’s problems,” it has been “a major source of instability for far too long,” and resolving it would help lay “a foundation for a broader peace.” In August, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius termed the conflict “one of the issues, perhaps the central one, for the region.”

Given that the events of the past few years would seem to have decisively disproved this theory–nobody would seriously argue, for instance, that ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would ease the sectarian bloodletting in Syria or Iraq or the feud between the army and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, while the Syrian conflict alone has been far more destabilizing to the region than the Israeli-Palestinian one has–the question is why so many world leaders still cling to it. A good place to look for answers is Saudi Arabia’s unprecedented decision not to address the UN General Assembly last week.

Riyadh billed this decision as a protest against the UN’s position “on Arab and Islamic issues, particularly the issue of Palestine that the UN has not been able to solve in more than 60 years, as well as the Syrian crisis.” If you took that at face value, you’d naturally assume that what upsets Riyadh most is the Israeli-Palestinian issue: The bulk of its statement was devoted to this issue, with Syria seemingly thrown in as an afterthought. The problem is that objectively, this makes no sense: After all, by Riyadh’s own admission, the conflict has gone on for 60 years now, yet it never boycotted the UN before. So why now of all times–precisely when Washington has finally succeeded in restarting Israeli-Palestinian talks after a five-year freeze?

Regarding Syria, however, the UN did just do something that upset Riyadh greatly: At Russia’s initiative, it passed a resolution on disarming the Assad regime of its chemical weapons that not only killed American plans for imminent airstrikes, but essentially guaranteed Assad immunity from Western intervention for the foreseeable future and legitimized him as a partner, thereby effectively reversing two years of Western demands that he step down. For Saudi Arabia, which has backed Syria’s rebels heavily with both money and arms, this was a major blow.

Indeed, anyone tracking Riyadh’s actions rather than its words can easily see which issues it cares about and which it doesn’t: In contrast to its massive support for the Syrian rebels, or the $5 billion it pledged to Egypt’s military government after July’s coup, its financial support for the Palestinians is meager. UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees, gets almost all its funding from the West; Saudi Arabia gave it a mere $12 million last year–less than half the sum provided by Holland alone. Western states are also the Palestinian Authority’s main financial backers; Arab countries not only pledge less to begin with, but serially default on their pledges.

There are various reasons why Arabs feel the need to cloak their real concerns behind a façade of verbiage about the Palestinians. The truly puzzling question is why the West hasn’t yet learned to look behind this verbiage to the telltale actions–what Arabs care enough to spend money on, or, as I’ve written before, to put their lives on the line for. But until it does, it will keep right on believing that fatuous claim of Israeli-Palestinian centrality. 

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Should Omar al-Bashir Be Arrested?

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is a war criminal. That he is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands in Darfur and elsewhere is disputed by few besides Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and blogger Juan Cole. Regardless, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has indicted Bashir and ordered his arrest.

Bashir will now put the White House’s embrace of the United Nations to the test. Sudan has announced that it is seeking a U.S. visa for Bashir to come to the United Nations General Assembly later this month. The question now arises: While it seems clear the United States should issue the visa as part of its role as host of the United Nations, many activists are also suggesting that Bashir should be arrested when he steps onto U.S. soil. The ICC has issued a statement “remind[ing] the United States of America of the two outstanding warrants of arrest against Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir and the requests for arrest and surrender.”

What should the United States do?

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Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is a war criminal. That he is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands in Darfur and elsewhere is disputed by few besides Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and blogger Juan Cole. Regardless, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has indicted Bashir and ordered his arrest.

Bashir will now put the White House’s embrace of the United Nations to the test. Sudan has announced that it is seeking a U.S. visa for Bashir to come to the United Nations General Assembly later this month. The question now arises: While it seems clear the United States should issue the visa as part of its role as host of the United Nations, many activists are also suggesting that Bashir should be arrested when he steps onto U.S. soil. The ICC has issued a statement “remind[ing] the United States of America of the two outstanding warrants of arrest against Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir and the requests for arrest and surrender.”

What should the United States do?

I tend to agree with Julian Ku—law professor, prolific blogger on issues relating to sovereignty, and a college classmate—in his opinion expressed at Opiniojuris:

If the U.S. arrests Bashir, they are violating at least one, and maybe two, important international legal obligations.  And, as the ICC chamber makes clear, the U.S. has no legal obligation to detain Bashir.  So from a purely legal point of view, this is a no-brainer: the U.S. should grant Bashir a visa, and let him come and go unmolested. In this light, we seem to be back to the “illegal but legitimate” conversation that we were having over a possible U.S. strike into Syria.  Kevin’s post on that comparison makes a similar point. But here is a difficult question for international lawyers.  Arresting Bashir would plainly be illegal, but it would almost certainly be legitimate to most people, like Mia Farrow… Still, is legitimacy enough to act illegally?  And if it is, why wasn’t that standard good enough to justify a US strike into Syria?

Regardless, the Bashir visit should provide the plainest test to those in Obama’s constituency that place the ICC, responsibility to protect, and the sense of the United Nations above other considerations. Bashir should be treated like a pariah and U.S. officials should not make him feel welcome, but neither should they molest him. That might be unfortunate, but so long as the UN remains in New York, it is fact. That Obama’s ICC-embracing constituency will see that their emperor has no clothes is the only silver lining to the situation.

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Brahimi Fiddles While Syria Burns

Lakhdar Brahimi, the former Algerian foreign minister, has since August 2012 been both the Arab League and United Nations special envoy to Syria. That United Nations mission costs big bucks, but it has little to show for its budget, beyond a large expense account, frequent flier mileage, and 5-star hotel suite bookings. Certainly, Brahimi’s ministrations have not brought peace any closer to Syria; the death toll has escalated sharply over the past year. Neither the Assad regime nor the Syrian opposition appear to take Brahimi’s finger waving seriously.

So what is Brahimi doing? On July 22, along with Jimmy Carter, former Finnish President Marti Ahtisaari, and former Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher, Brahimi will be discussing… the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He is doing so as part of the Elders, a self-professed group of wise men and women who say they “offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity,” they are better known for espousing moral equivalence, selectivity, and legitimization of terrorists.

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Lakhdar Brahimi, the former Algerian foreign minister, has since August 2012 been both the Arab League and United Nations special envoy to Syria. That United Nations mission costs big bucks, but it has little to show for its budget, beyond a large expense account, frequent flier mileage, and 5-star hotel suite bookings. Certainly, Brahimi’s ministrations have not brought peace any closer to Syria; the death toll has escalated sharply over the past year. Neither the Assad regime nor the Syrian opposition appear to take Brahimi’s finger waving seriously.

So what is Brahimi doing? On July 22, along with Jimmy Carter, former Finnish President Marti Ahtisaari, and former Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher, Brahimi will be discussing… the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He is doing so as part of the Elders, a self-professed group of wise men and women who say they “offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity,” they are better known for espousing moral equivalence, selectivity, and legitimization of terrorists.

How sad it is that such a wise man—when tasked with the life-and-death mission of ending bloodshed in Syria—would instead choose to use his time to address the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Perhaps nothing symbolizes the international obsession with Israel more than Brahimi’s fiddling while Syria burns.

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