Israel and the UN – A Good Relationship that Turned Toxic
Since its earliest years, the UN has discussed Israel often, and at length. Indeed, since its founding in 1948, the United Nations Security Council has adopted around 100 resolutions directly related to the Arab–Israeli conflict.
The United Nations is very much a key part of Israel’s history. Starting with its predecessor, the League of Nations, which was formed in 1920 in the wake of World War One, the organisation charged itself with the lofty goal of maintaining world peace.
The breakup of the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the 20th century led to new independent countries emerging throughout the region from the Balkans to Iraq and across north Africa. After six centuries of Ottoman control, the League of Nations established “Mandatory Palestine” that put the country under the control of Great Britain. The British intended to implement the Balfour Declaration and create independent countries for the Jewish and Arab populations.
However, before that happened the League of Nations failed in its mandate and ceased functioning as World War Two erupted and the shaky peace established after WW1 crumbled. With the victory of the Allies over the Axis powers, the League of Nations was replaced when the United Nations was established in 1945 – again with the honorable, yet ever elusive mandate “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.”
The United Nations picked up where the League of Nations had failed, voting in 1947 to partition Palestine into two separate states – Jewish and Arab – and admitting Israel as a full member. The partition plan was rejected by the Arabs, no Arab state was created and the UN has been dealing with that fallout ever since.
Related reading: How The UN Partition Plan Led to Israel’s Birth
Far from fostering the conditions for peace, after helping to bring modern Israel into existence, the UN became a diplomatic battleground. For decades the UN agenda was dominated by a massively lopsided effort to use the international organization for attacking Israel. The situation was so distorted that several heads of the UN were forced to admit that the international body was institutionally biased against Israel.
I know that the United Nations is regarded by many as biased against the State of Israel… I know that Israelis see hypocrisy and double standards in the intense scrutiny given to some of its actions, while other situations fail to elicit the world’s outrage and condemnations. I know that Israelis are offended when other nations’ delegates leave the room as Israelis rise to speak.
Annan said UN behavior gives “a regrettable impression of bias and one-sidedness,” “deep and painful scars remain” and admitted the UN’s behavior towards Israel had a “troubled history.”
“It has sometimes seemed as if the United Nations serves all the world’s peoples but one: the Jews,” Annan admitted.
The low point in UN-Israel relations came when Israel’s Arab enemies sponsored a resolution that called Zionism – the movement for a national homeland for the Jewish people in Israel – racism. Annan decried that move calling it
…the lamentable resolution adopted by the General Assembly in 1975, equating Zionism with racism and racial discrimination. That was, perhaps, the low-point in our relations; its negative resonance even today is difficult to overestimate. Fortunately, the General Assembly rescinded the resolution in 1991.
The overturning the Zionism-is-racism resolution had little effect on the UN’s fractious relations with Israel. Despite Annan’s “solemn pledge” to “usher in a new era of relations between Israel and the United Nations,” his successor Ban Ki-moon also admitted the situation had not changed in the 15 years since Annan’s promise.
During his 2013 visit to Jerusalem, Ban told delegates to a model UN in Jerusalem that the situation of the UN attitude to Israel was “unfortunate,” saying:
There are some bias against Israel, Israeli people and government… Unfortunately, because of all this conflict situation you have been criticized and you have been suffering from this bias and sometimes discriminations.
That discrimination has continued under the reins of António Guterres, who replaced Ban Ki-moon as the head of the UN in 2017. In 2019 the UN General Assembly passed eight anti-Israel resolutions, finding none of the conflict areas worthy of the same condemnation.
The institutional bodies within the UN like the Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and the Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) are also biased, spending disproportionate resources and time to attack Israel. The UN issues so many condemnations of Israel that an NGO watchdog that monitors the United Nations issued a list of “insane” UN decisions that disproportionately target Israel.
Related reading: The Anti-Israel Bias of the UN Human Rights Council
For years, Israel and others have complained about UNRWA – the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine – established by the UN in the early 1950s that has institutionalized the status of Palestinian refugees, deciding that they are the only people in the world who can pass “refugee” status from generation to generation. The result is a massive, multi-billion dollar behemoth under investigation for mismanagement.
Related reading: The UNRWA-Refugee Controversy Explained
An example of the depths of bias against Israel can be seen on the UN website in a press release posted in 2015 containing a blatantly false and inciting statement.
That press release claimed that “In Jerusalem, a policy of ethnic cleansing was pushing Palestinians out of the city.” Yet in reality, under Israeli rule since 1967 there has been a massive population increase in the number of Palestinians in Jerusalem.
Factual verification that the vicious “ethnic cleansing” allegation is false comes not from an Israeli source, but a verified source of Palestinian data – the Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics. The Palestinians themselves officially recognize that the number of Palestinians in Jerusalem is increasing to unprecedented numbers. Never before in history have so many Palestinians lived in Jerusalem, be it east or west.
There obviously cannot be any “ethnic cleansing” when the ethnic Palestinian population is increasing. The Palestinians’ own numbers show the Palestinian population of their “Quds Governorate” grew from 320,809 in 1997 to 404,165 in 2013 and will continue to grow to an expected 471,834 in 2021.
Despite the falsification of “ethnic cleansing” being pointed out to the UN by an Israeli NGO, the UN chose not to remove the offending factually incorrect quote.
Far from being an open forum where all views and opinions are respected, the UN continues to tolerate anti-Israel bias, and in some cases like the phony “ethnic cleansing” allegation, it is used as a platform for disseminating false and inciting information about a member nation.
The end result is a reinforcement of the Israeli public’s perception that the UN is biased and works in opposition to the goals stated in the UN Charter.