On hearing that the United Nations was hosting a daylong forum last week on global anti-Semitism, a colleague asked, “for it or against it?”
Indeed, it’s hard not to be cynical about the actions of the world body created to foster peace and combat hatred being a site and source of ongoing bias against Israel. Last November, for example, the U.N. General Assembly’s 2015 session adopted 20 resolutions that singled out Israel for criticism, and three resolutions for the rest of the world combined. They were against Syria, Iran and North Korea. No resolutions cited gross abuses committed by dozens of countries, including China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen.
But Israel has made strides in terms of recognition, and was a co-sponsor, along with Canada, the U.S. and the European Union, of last week’s session, which highlighted the spread of anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe; dealt with the boundary between legitimate criticism of Israeli policy and anti-Semitism; and discussed and debated efforts to monitor and ban hateful language on the Internet.
Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon didn’t pull any punches in noting the UN’s outrageous history when it comes to Israel. After citing recent anti-Semitic incidents in Poland and France, he said “there is another place where some are not ashamed to spread lies and slander about Israel and the Jewish people, and you are sitting in it.” He noted that several months ago the Palestinian representative at the UN accused Israel of harvesting the organs of terrorists who were killed committing terror acts. “A 21st-century blood libel printed on official Palestinian Authority document?” Danon asked in wonder. On a more positive note, he recalled that after the ambassador from Venezuela blamed Israel for planning to commit a “final solution” against the Palestinians, the UN delegates “came together to demand that he apologize, and he did.”
Danon asserted that anti-Semitism and demonization of Israel “is at the highest levels of our lifetime … returning to everyday life without shame.” But he said the UN was still a place where countries can and sometimes do “come together to fight injustice.”
We should note that we, along with many other skeptics, voiced our concerns at Danon’s appointment earlier this year. We felt his leadership role in the settlement movement and outspoken criticism of the two-state solution to the Palestinian problem, when Jerusalem was on record as supporting such a solution, made him a problematic diplomat. But he has taken to the task with energy, creativity and an open approach.
One of the key discussions at the conference focused on the use and misuse of the Internet, which is a source of vast information as well as a potential weapon against human rights and values. The panel’s moderator, Akiva Tor of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, noted that definitions of free speech seem to depend on “what side of the Atlantic you live on,” with America more liberal, while some in Europe are calling for safeguards and bans against cyberhate and cyber-anti-Semitism.
There is much to be done on these and other fronts. The good news is that key issues were being discussed, and discussed at the U.N., with a recognition that anti-Semitism is not a Jewish problem but one for all governments that value a civil society.