Jewish Political Studies Review 19:1-2 (Spring 2007)
The Power of Words
Nations United: How the United Nations Is Undermining Israel and the West, by Alex Grobman, Balfour Books, 2006, 192 pp.
Reviewed by Sarah Schmidt
Dr. Alex Grobman, president of the Institute for Contemporary Jewish Life and former director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, has written a highly readable, meticulously researched, fact-filled account of how and why Israel has become the focus of misdirected attention at the United Nations, especially since 1975 and the passage of the “Zionism is racism” resolution. Grobman is a trained historian, but here he writes with a clear agenda: an impassioned defense of Israel in the context of its relationship with the UN. Reflecting his background, however, Grobman provides access to a wide range of supporting sources through extensive use of endnotes plus an up-to-date, comprehensive bibliography.
Nations United traces the UN’s transformation from an organization that in 1947 voted to partition Palestine into two states, thus providing international legitimacy for Israel’s establishment, to one that by 1975 sought to delegitimize its existence. From 1947 until 1967, anti-Zionism was a regional affair, a clash between Arab and Jewish national movements. Since 1975, when the UN General Assembly declared that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination,” its anti-Israeli stance has been incorporated into a range of UN and other programs, including those of NGOs.
For the majority of UN member states, Israel became the “locus of evil” deserving international condemnation. It likewise became the target of the majority of UN sanctions. Even in matters of self-defense the Hague International Court of Justice saw fit to condemn it, and the Geneva Convention singled it out as the foremost world violator of human rights.
Identifying Israel as a racist state both reinforces notions of a country that oppresses minorities and questions Israel’s right to exist. Grobman is concerned that this “Big Lie” will become a stereotype throughout the media and daily speech, that it will not only taint the Jewish state but also become part of the legacy of Western civilization.
The Role of the Soviet Bloc
Soon after the UN passed “Zionism is racism,” the Soviet Union launched a propaganda campaign based on the allegation that Zionism was evil. In effect, the “racism” resolution provided the justification for a final reversal of Soviet policy. In 1947, the Soviets had supported Israel’s establishment. They believed that, as a result of Mandate policies, the Jews had become anti-British and so were on the frontlines of an anticolonial struggle. Moscow also wanted to find a point of entry into the Middle East, particularly out of renewed concern that the West might control vital sources of oil.
At the same time, though, the Soviet ambassador to the UN reassured his Arab colleagues that in the future they could expect the USSR to help them in struggling for their “lawful interests.” By 1955 the Soviets had made good on their promise: a massive arms deal between Czechoslovakia and Egypt provided the Arabs with weapons greater in quantity and quality than those possessed by Israel.
After the Six Day War, Zionism became the Soviets’ euphemism for Jews, their criticism of Israel equated Zionism with Nazism, and they focused on trying to force Israel to leave what they termed “occupied territories.” By identifying Israel as expansionist, colonialist, and racist, the Soviets laid the groundwork for “Zionism is racism” while also buttressing their Arab clients, who now hoped to isolate Israel and press forward with plans to destroy it.
“Zionism Is Racism” and International Discourse
The international sanction provided by the UN resolution also has paved the way to reviving previously discredited forms of anti-Semitism. It has led to the renewal of extreme Jew-hatred in the Arab world, much of it based on Arab dissemination of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, but some of it with a religious dimension. Israel can now more easily be portrayed as the infidel that took over sacred Muslim land, including control over Islamic holy sites.
Arabs have also revived the medieval blood libel; Israelis have been accused of poisoning Arab schoolgirls, stealing vital organs from Palestinian schoolchildren, and even of using Arab blood to prepare holiday foods. Although contrary to traditional Islamic belief, Arab circles now also routinely blame Jews for killing Jesus.
Additionally, “Zionism is racism” has provided a platform for Holocaust denial. Grobman adduces numerous sources showing how Arab media question the existence of gas chambers and deny the systematic Nazi policy to annihilate the Jews. Arab propagandists claim that Zionists have exaggerated the number of Jews killed during World War II so as to gain more compensation from Germany.
Most recently, the Iranians are using Holocaust denial to advance their own agenda. In a postmodern world, where all is relative, who can be sure that the Holocaust was not overstated and embellished as a way to take over Palestinian land? Thus Ahmadinejad can “morally” use nuclear weapons to set things right in the Middle East.
A Destructive Force
The UN’s attacks on Israel help legitimize the recent worldwide increase in anti-Semitism. France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Greece, and the United Kingdom have seen physical attacks, verbal abuse, and vandalism against Jews, synagogues, and cemeteries. Jews have been held responsible for America’s pro-Israeli and other policies, encouraging conspiracy theories about Jews controlling the world. Developing countries like Malaysia, looking for scapegoats for their financial chaos, explain that Jews are responsible for “bring[ing] about the collapse of our economy.”
In addition, the UN has reinforced a tendency to condone violence. In 2002, six European states approved a UN Human Rights Commission resolution approving “all available means, including armed struggle” to establish a Palestinian state. That same year, the UN played a key part in spreading false allegations of an Israeli massacre in the Jenin refugee camp, ignoring the fact that the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), among other things, permits its food warehouses to serve as Palestinian weapons depots.
Dore Gold has pointed out that, while the UN was created to maintain global peace, it has trouble distinguishing between aggressors and victims. The UN’s ongoing betrayal of Israel, he suggests, is a measure of the organization’s total failure. But the UN seems to be more than a failed instrument. In the words of columnist Charles Krauthammer, “it is a bad instrument.” Grobman seems to agree.
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 Dore Gold, Tower of Babble: How the United Nations Has Fueled Global Chaos (New York: Crown Forum, 2004), 228-29, 205.
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DR SARAH SCHMIDT is senior lecturer in modern Jewish history and Zionist history at the Rothberg International School of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where she also teaches an honors seminar, “The American Jew and the Israeli Jew: A Comparative Analysis.”