The UN´s PR coup (ISRAEL INSIDER COMMENTARY) By Anne Bayefsky 01/30/05)
ISRAEL INSIDER Articles-Index-Top
On Monday, the United Nations marked the 60th anniversary of the
liberation of the Auschwitz death camp with a day-long special
session of the U.N. General Assembly, followed by the opening of an
exhibition. Throughout the event, the words "never again" were
repeated many times. But what exactly did they mean to U.N. members
Here is the cynical response: They meant that the secretary-general
has been seriously weakened by the Oil-for-Food scandal and ongoing
congressional and criminal investigations, as well as the sexual
abuse of refugees in the Congo by U.N. peacekeepers and the
mishandling of sexual-harassment charges in-house. A secretary-
general seeking to serve out his remaining two years in office finds
throwing something toward the Jews, in the form of commemorating a 60-
year-old catastrophe, a relatively inexpensive means of redemption.
The scope of the exercise was strictly controlled. The Europeans
agreed to promote the special session on the condition that there
were no resolutions and no final declaration --in other words no
lasting statement of purpose or resolve. They were not prepared to do
battle with Arab and Muslim states over texts or outcomes. Not a
single substantive U.N. document was distributed. The ground rules
for the special sessions of the General Assembly for the previous
decade were completely different -- this one would be "commemorative"
One hundred thirty-eight U.N. members agreed with the proposition to
hold the special session, and one more decided to speak at the actual
event. Of the remaining 50 U.N. members, half were from the
Organization of the Islamic Conference.
U.N. member states delivered 41 speeches over the course of the day.
Only five of those speeches mentioned Israel. Even the speeches of
the United States, the European Union, Canada, and Australia failed
to refer to Israel. Nobel-laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie
Weisel, who spoke at the outset, mentioned Israel once; citing a
number of examples of steps that the allies might have taken, he
added "if Britain had allowed more Jews to return to Palestine, now
Israel, their ancestral land ... [I]t would have prevented or reduced
the scope of the tragedy." Weisel also called for condemnation and
prosecution of suicide-terrorism as a crime against humanity (without
mentioning the context).
An evening reception brought hundreds of Jews to the public entrance
of the U.N. where an exhibit containing photographs and artwork from
Yad Vashem was unveiled. Walking through it, one comes across the
word "Israel" on one occasion, in the last sentence, which
reads: "Most of the Holocaust survivors immigrated to the state of
Israel after its establishment in 1945 following a resolution of the
United Nations." When the exhibit was opened, the assembled crowd
sang Hatikva, the Israeli national anthem -- although this breach of
U.N. protocol is said to have been approved on the grounds that the
song was for all victims of the Holocaust.
The rules of the game were articulated by U.S. Deputy Secretary of
Defense Paul Wolfowitz while speaking on behalf of the United
States: "We have agreed today to set aside contemporary political
issues, in order to reflect on those events of 60 years ago in a
spirit of unanimity." And except for an indirect comment by Jordan
and a direct reference to Palestinians by Venezuela during the day´s
speeches, the game plan was followed.
The upshot? The United Nations looks better in the eyes of many. The
secretary-general improved his image. Israel, the perpetual U.N.-
loser, was queen-for-a-day.
But the nagging question is, where does this leave "never again"?
Widening the lens, we notice that last month the U.N. adopted 22
resolutions condemning the state of Israel, and four country-specific
resolutions criticizing the human-rights records of the other 190
U.N. member states. Also in December the public entrance of the U.N.
sported the annual solidarity with the Palestinian people exhibit,
featuring a display about Palestinian humiliation at having to bare
midriffs at Israeli checkpoints. (No mention was made of the purpose
of the checkpoints or the Israelis who have died from suicide belts
on Palestinians who circumvent them.)
On exactly the same day that the secretary-general announced the
holding of the commemorative session, January 11, 2005, he also
pushed forward the U.N. plan to create a register of the Palestinian
victims of Israel´s non-violent security fence. (There are no plans
to create a register of Israeli victims of Palestinian terrorism.)
In March the U.N. will begin its annual session of the U.N. Human
Rights Commission, at which Israel will be the only U.N. member state
not allowed to participate in full because U.N. states continue to
prevent it from gaining equal membership in a regional group. The
U.N. remains without a definition of terrorism, never having
transformed the names of Palestinian terrorists from abstract
entities into the targets of specific U.N. condemnation or
consequences of any kind. And any day now we can expect the secretary-
general to continue his pattern of denouncing Israel´s lawful
exercise of self-defense as "extrajudicial killing" or as a morally
reprehensible contribution to "a cycle of violence." In other words,
U.N. demonization of Israel and the green light to the killers of
Israelis that such demonization portends will not skip a beat. This
is the face of modern anti-Semitism.
Jews everywhere are indebted to the willingness and ability of
Israelis to live and breathe self-determination. When contemporary
political issues are set aside, and an affirmation of the centrality
of the Jewish state´s well-being to the Jewish people´s well-being is
not key to a commemoration of the Holocaust, "never again" is an
empty phrase. Worse, situated in a place where a U.N. General
Assembly resolution said Zionism was racism until 1991 and the 2001
U.N. Durban Declaration delivers the same message, it plays into the
hands of those who would separate Jews from Israel for no other
reason than to divide and conquer.
The speaker of the Italian senate, Marcello Pera, was the only non-
Israeli participant who was prepared to stand against the wheeling
and dealing in the backrooms, telling the General Assembly that the
anti-Semitism of "today ... feeds on ... insidious distinctions ...
made between Israel and the Jewish state, Israel and its governments,
Zionism and Semitism. Or ... when the struggle for life led
by ...Israelis is labelled ´state terrorism.´"
The less-cynical response to our original question --about the
meaning of "never again"? Some Holocaust survivors such as Nesse
Godin and Congressman Tom Lantos were able to speak directly --
during the unofficial lunchtime break organized by Bnai Brith, in a
room far from the General Assembly. Some people listened. Some people
heard. The pictures of Auschwitz are still in the front hall of the
U.N. for a little while longer. A blow was struck against Holocaust
deniers. And for one day, the democratic state of Israel was not the
most reviled member of the U.N. (less than half of whose members can
be called "free" according to Freedom House).
When all was said and done, however, the U.N. got a lot more than it
gave. Improving the image of the U.N. and its secretary-general could
prove more costly than Israelis have bargained. (© 2001-2005 Koret
Communications Ltd. 01/30/05)
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