The UN vs Israel

From ignoring the rape of Israeli women to employing Hamas fighters, the UN is not to be trusted.

Daniel Ben-Ami

Topics Politics World

It took a full eight weeks for UN Women, a branch of the United Nations, to condemn the extreme sexual violence perpetrated against Israeli women and girls by Hamas on 7 October. This was shocking, but unsurprising. For decades, the UN has held up Israel as a blight on humanity. Its patent contempt for Israeli women is of a piece with its bigoted approach to the Jewish State.

The depraved sexual violence inflicted on Israeli women and girls during the 7 October pogrom has been documented beyond all reasonable doubt. Hamas may be denying its crimes now, but in the immediate aftermath of the attack it released videos graphically displaying its atrocities. In addition, it took many women and girls, as well as men and boys, into Gaza as hostages. Other terrorist groups, as well as Palestinian civilians who crossed the border, were also involved.

Yet UN Women, an organisation which describes itself as ‘the global champion for gender equality’, proved incredibly reluctant to condemn the murder and rape of Jewish women. On 13 October, it issued a bland generic statement that noted ‘the attacks on civilians in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories’ and their ‘devastating impact on civilians including women and girls’. However, it made no mention of the Hamas onslaught just a few days before. In late November, it did finally post a condemnation of Hamas on its Instagram page, but this was subsequently deleted.

UN Women’s approach was exemplified by Sarah Hendriks, the deputy executive director of the organisation, in an interview with CNN on 29 November. She passionately condemned ‘all forms of violence against women and girls’, but she refused to refer to the suffering of Israeli women specifically. Evidently, she was dismayed by misogynistic violence in the abstract, but was incapable of referring to these flesh-and-blood Jewish women as victims. It was only on 1 December, after concerted pressure, that UN Women finally released a statement that unequivocally condemned Hamas’s sexual abuse and slaughter of Israeli women.

Anyone who has followed the UN’s long-standing hostility towards Israel will not be surprised by its apparent indifference to Jewish life. To be fair to António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, he did condemn what he called ‘the abhorrent attacks by Hamas and others against Israeli towns and villages in the Gaza periphery’ two days after the pogrom. But in the same statement he went on to qualify his remarks, saying: ‘This most recent violence does not come in a vacuum. The reality is that it grows out of a long-standing conflict, with a 56-year-long occupation and no political end in sight.’ The latter comment can easily be read as excuse-making for the Hamas attack.

This gross one-sidedness is consistent with the UN’s stance on Israel over many decades. Back in 1975, the UN General Assembly passed an infamous resolution, declaring that ‘Zionism is racism’. The UN had 144 members at the time, including some of the most dictatorial and discriminatory regimes in the world. And yet Israel was singled out as racist and irredeemable.

In 1991, the resolution was overturned, as America was trying to negotiate peace between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation at the time. But the spirit of that resolution lives on. Nowadays, Israel is singled out as an ‘apartheid state’ or a ‘settler-colonial state’. The malign premise, that Israel is the epitome of evil, remains.

Israel has been condemned by the UN General Assembly far more than any other nation. Incredibly, the assembly has passed more nation-specific resolutions against Israel than all other nations in the world combined. It beggars belief that Israel could be portrayed in this way. In contrast, the Economist Intelligence Unit, a respected research institution, ranked Israel 29 out of the 167 countries surveyed in its Democracy Index 2022. This suggests that Israel, while far from perfect, surely cannot be worse than all of the other countries in the world combined.

Perhaps the most egregious UN institution of all is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). This is generally presented as an organisation that supports Palestinian refugees by maintaining refugee camps and providing education and health services. However, beyond its benign-sounding activities, it has played a key role in maintaining this tragic conflict.

Back in 1948, when Israel was founded, there were 800,000 Palestinian refugees. Now, 70 years later, there are 5.9million Palestinians who are classified as refugees. These include many in the Gaza strip and the West Bank (both areas claimed as part of historical Palestine) as well as in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. And so we now have a bizarre situation in which many Palestinians are classified as second-, third- or even fourth-generation refugees – despite them and their parents and even their parents’ parents living their entire lives in one place. Rather than promote the Palestinians’ integration into the wider communities and nations in which they live, UNRWA, in effect, works to maintain their separation from the broader population.

This is in stark contrast to the treatment of refugees in other conflicts. In the aftermath of the Second World War, there were, tragically, many large-scale population transfers in many parts of the world. These included more than 850,000 Jews, who were forced to flee their homes in Arab lands after the state of Israel was founded. But most of those who suffered in this way integrated into the countries to which they fled. In contrast, UNRWA, together with the Arab regimes, has worked hard to impose permanent refugee status on Palestinians. In other parts of the world, the situation is very different – with refugees falling under the remit of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Worse still, UNRWA has been accused of providing school textbooks that incite violence against Israel. A report by IMPACT-se, an Israel-based non-governmental organisation, points to a violent poem for nine-year-olds that appeared in one such textbook. It calls for ‘sacrificing blood’, ‘eliminating the usurper’ and ‘annihilat[ing] the remnants of the foreigners’. Nevertheless, UNRWA claims that it has a ‘zero-tolerance policy for discrimination and for incitement to hatred and violence’ in its schools.

A significant number of UNRWA staff have even been documented as fighting for terrorist groups, including Hamas. This is actually not surprising, given UNRWA’s relatively large number of employees, drawing in large part from Palestinian society itself. But it is still beyond shameful for a UN agency to have such people within its ranks. Plus, this setup contributes to misinformation about the conflict. UNRWA workers are often reported as having been senselessly killed by Israeli forces, even in cases where they were far from innocent civilians.

The UN is not a neutral arbiter when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to put it lightly. Anyone who suggests otherwise should not be taken seriously.

Daniel Ben-Ami is an author and journalist. He runs the website Radicalism of Fools, dedicated to rethinking anti-Semitism. Follow him on Twitter: @danielbenami

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