Seeking Reform at the United Nations

On Wednesday 3rd March, Christian Friends of Israel joined with the Zionist Federation to host two online briefings about the United Nations (UN) record of voting in favour of resolutions that condemn Israel. Even the UK has a shameful record on this, including 11 votes for such resolutions in 2020 alone, with 4 abstentions and just 1 vote against.

Taking a positive approach

The first speaker to address the morning briefing was Sharon Bar-Li, Israel’s Deputy Ambassador to the UK. She noted that more Arab governments are talking to Israel than ever before – no longer prepared to let their own prosperity be held hostage by others.

Sharon Bar-LiSharon Bar-Li was the first guest speaker

Consequently, one would expect the UN to change its discourse about Israel. But this has not happened. The UN continues to act out of line with its own charter; Israel is again being singled out for criticism at the UN Human Rights Council.

Nevertheless, Israel continues to engage positively with the UN, emphasising positive achievements and seeking to improve the situation.


Culture and reform

Second to address the meeting was Gregory Lafitte, co-founder and Director of the Forum for Cultural Diplomacy. He said that we must always look to history to understand the situation, suggesting that Zionism has been mostly misunderstood, even being designated as racism at the UN in 1975 – a resolution that was repealed in 1991.

Gregory Lafitte addressing the meetingGregory Lafitte addressing the meeting

But there is a gap in the storyline told about Zionism, which involves much more than the creation of the State of Israel following the Holocaust. It is a wider movement that involved scientists, writers, engineers and intellectuals – particularly in the 1920s when there was a rebirth of the culture, the language and the people. Little was known about this, especially at the UN.

Similarly, Gregory said that the popular view of the UN is incorrect, it gets a bad press. Unlike individual nations the UN does not have a foreign ministry, rather it is a collection of nations. Consequently, most of the criticism should be directed against the member nations or against the organisations influencing those nations.

He too recommended taking a positive approach to reforming the UN. Changes started to happen in 2012 and for the first time a simple majority was achieved in 2018 on a General Assembly resolution criticising Hamas.

Additionally, the UN Secretary General has promised to act against the rising tide of anti-Semitism, and that is something that the UK could put forward in the Security Council.


Initially favourable

International lawyer Hillel Neuer was the third speaker in the morning briefing, and he reminded the audience that the General Assembly is famous as the body that voted to partition the Mandate area of Palestine.

Hillel Neuer addressing the meetingHillel Neuer was the third guest speaker

Initially, therefore, it was considered favourable towards Israel. But over the years that has changed to the point where in 2020 there were 16 resolutions adopted against Israel, compared to just 1 against Syria, where more than 380,000 people have died in the civil war conducted by the country’s governing regime.

While Israel should be held to UN standards, it should not be demonised in this way. The World Health Organisation only criticises Israel, not China or other countries, and the Human Rights Council has its ridiculous Agenda Item 7 that results in criticism of Israel at every meeting.

If one asks, ‘Why is this happening?’ the obvious answer is that Islamic countries have 56 votes at the UN whereas Israel has just 1. But what may not be widely known is that the UN delegates actually trade votes – they agree to vote for a particular resolution if another delegate will vote for one that favours them.

Fear of terrorism is another factor in the voting patterns, as well as the possibility of sovereign wealth funds investing in countries who are seen to be favourable.

But Hillel ended his message on a more positive note. When it comes to reform of the UN, the votes for Israel may be few in number, but if they come from countries like Australia, Canada, the US and the UK they carry moral weight, which is not insignificant.

News on the afternoon briefing will follow shortly.