By Jonathan S. Tobin
Friday, March 17, 2017
It isn’t easy to get worked up at the United Nations, an institution where the egregious is merely business as usual. But even veteran observers of the world body had to sit up and take notice when its Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia published a report about Israel that Secretary General Antonio Gutteres himself immediately disavowed. The lengthy document purported to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the state of Israel was guilty of “the crime of apartheid” according to international law. As such, it didn’t merely criticize Israel’s policies in the West Bank; it called into question the legitimacy of the Jewish state itself, even with pre-1967 borders.
The immediate reaction to this piece of libel from both the head of the U.N. and the U.S. government was quick and appropriate. Through his spokesman, Gutteres said he was not consulted by the report’s authors and its contents did not reflect his views. Nikki Haley, the American ambassador to the U.N., said that the United States was “outraged’ by the report and demanded that the secretariat officially withdraw it.
Gutteres agrees, and today said the report should be withdrawn from the U.N. website where it was published. But whether or not it is pulled from that site, the damage is already done. The report is a pseudo-scholarly compendium of specious charges, distortions, and outright lies. Even for an institution in which agencies devoted to human rights are run by representatives of Saudi Arabia and Iran — an institution that has made grossly unfair accusations against Israel something of a sport over the years — this one stands out, because it goes beyond merely smearing the Jewish state offering legal justification for future attacks against Israel and Jews. Never before has the U.N. officially tied Israel to apartheid. At a time when, despite the efforts of the Trump administration to revive talks, Middle East peace seems more unlikely than ever, the report’s findings will make it even harder to persuade the Palestinians to compromise and finally accept the necessity of giving up its war on the Jewish state. And by putting the U.N. seal of approval on the “apartheid” libel, the report will provide aid and comfort to those whose anti-Zionist incitement provides a thin veil of legitimacy for the growth of anti-Semitism across the globe.
The report is the work of two Americans, Princeton Law professor emeritus Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley of the University of Southern Illinois. As a 9/11 truther and an anti-Israel extremist, Falk is particularly unqualified to evaluate the conflict. Yet together with Tilley, he has put together a document that lists Palestinian grievances while ignoring those of Israel in a complex conflict where both sides have suffered. And that’s not all: Rather than merely claim that Israel must evacuate the territories it won in a defensive war in 1967, as most of its critics assert, their report goes straight to the heart of the matter by using Israel’s very existence as a Jewish state to justify the apartheid charge.
By arguing in this way, it dismisses the obvious differences between what happened in South Africa — where a tiny white majority denied all rights to the black majority — and Israel, a Jewish-majority country where the Arab minority has full rights, including suffrage, representation, and equality under the law. It similarly considers irrelevant the fact that the standoff over the disputed territory of the West Bank is the result of Palestinian unwillingness to recognize Israel’s right to exist within any borders, stubbornly maintained through repeated refusals of peace offers that would have created a Palestinian state. And by denying legitimacy to Israel’s basis for existence as the one Jewish state on the planet, surrounded by multiple nations that are explicitly Muslim or Arab, it implicitly legitimizes the century-long war that has been waged against the Zionist effort, positing that Jews may be legally denied rights granted to others as a matter of course.
The report comes at a particularly inopportune time for those hoping President Trump’s surprising interest in reviving peace talks might bear fruit. The Palestinians rejected President Obama’s efforts to tilt the diplomatic playing field in their direction. They torpedoed the negotiations sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry, embracing efforts to get the U.N. to grant them statehood without first requiring them to make peace with Israel. Their unwillingness to make compromises will only be strengthened by a report that encourages them to regard Israel as having no rights whatsoever. They are likely to make Falk’s and Tilley’s findings the basis for renewed efforts to sue Israel in the International Criminal Court, as well as for renewed provocations in other U.N. bodies such as the Human Rights Council or even UNESCO, which in the past year has taken up measures that denied the historical Jewish ties to Jerusalem and some of Judaism’s holiest sites.
Just as unfortunate is the way the report will be used to buttress the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement against Israel, which is one of the primary engines of anti-Semitic incitement both in Europe and the United States. While BDS claims to be merely a protest against Israel, wherever its banner is raised, anti-Jewish hate speech and actions soon follow. Those who subscribe to the notion that the Jewish state has no rights that need be respected are not merely promoting bias on the international stage, but also are part of an effort that leads inexorably to anti-Semitic hate speech.
Liberal groups have labeled President Trump as the main source of encouragement for the uptick in anti-Jewish incidents in the United States. This is due in part to his inflammatory statements during the election campaign, the support he received from anti-Semites in the small but loud alt-right and far-right elements of his base, and his refusal to quickly disavow such hate once he became president. Partisans have overstated this argument while failing to take into account Trump’s close Jewish ties, his support for Israel, and the things most of those actively promoting anti-Semitism actually care about. The U.N. report is a reminder that in our time, the singling out of Jews for discriminatory treatment is primarily driven by anti-Israel propaganda, which serves as a thin veil for a new and insidious form of anti-Semitism. Those looking for the reason behind the rising tide of hate against Jews around the globe would do better to read Falk and Tilley than to read Trump’s tweets.